The Preference Center, Mission Control for your Subscribers

The preference center is a highly
intriguing, untapped resource for Email Marketers and could be used in a
variety of ways.  It has the potential to
establish critical ground rules with both newfound and dormant subscribers.  When subscribers are awarded mission control to
continuously manage their preferences, the amount of information that marketers
can glean is truly unlimited.  During
last week’s Email Insider Summi
t,
Greg
Cangialosi
spoke about a “master preference center” which, in essence, puts
the subscriber in complete control of different online messaging streams.  Additionally, subscribers would be able to
divulge their social media and mobile credentials within the preference
center.   By adding social media and
mobile to the preference center, users garner an added benefit: they can proactively
engage with your subscribers within the “online” marketing channel they
prefer.  As Jeannie Mullen points out in
her recent
Web 3.0 column,
subscribers now receive emails through a plethora of online channels.
Optimizing the preference center will make for a more satisfying subscriber
experience.

Balanced Online Messaging

When it comes to email, we understand
the basics. How often do you, the user, wish to receive emails?  What email format do you prefer? However, to
get to the next level of online messaging, we need to move beyond basic queries
and product of interest questions.  The key
to reaching the next level lies in adhering to your subscribers’ wishes and preserving
a “balance of online messaging.”  To
achieve the goal of balanced messaging, give subscribers social media and mobile preferences as well.  For example,
subscribers may prefer to utilize Twitter for customer service inquiries, while
other subscribers may choose to receive more “entertaining” messaging via Facebook.  I envision a preference center design, where subscribers can populate a matrix of radio buttons or checkboxes and choose the type of messaging and preferred online channel.  
Tweetdeck's latest version is a good example, where the "notifications" tab allows clients to choose the level of detail on each type of message stream.  Perhaps in the future, we'll see more formal messaging dispatched through email instead, which underscores why the vision of a master
preference center is so significant.   
We’ve learned that subscribers engage with brands through various
different online and mobile channels. 
Engaging them through their preferred method will pique their interest
and ultimately entice them to orbit your brand successfully.

Mini Surveys in the Preference Center

If we continue to explore the potential
of a well-structured preference center, we will discover a way that marketers
can induce a higher level of participation, intimacy and engagement.  To do this, marketers can devise a “mini
survey” (just one or two questions) that updates regularly with relevant and
timely questions.  The survey would be
integrated into preference center itself. 
By adding a mini survey to poll your subscribers, you’ll increase the
attributes for a given record in a database, and thereby allow future messaging
that is more detailed relevant to your subscribers’ needs and interests.  We learned last week that FedEx has 144
attributes associated with each subscriber. 
FedEx utilizes this wealth of information to tailor their marketing to
the needs of individual subscribers, which will increase intimacy and
engagement.

When your subscribers develop their profiles via the "mini survey," they become "active" subscribers.  In doing so, they give you permission to ameliorate their experience with you even more.  By asking leading questions that will result in a more profound relationship, you will allow your subscribers to modify their behavior and attain a greater degree of engagement with your brand.  Leading questions can invoke a higher level of brand awareness, and the use of time sensitive questions will enable you to increase that level of engagement with your brand sooner rather than later.  For instance, pose questions such as, "How likely are you to purchase from us the holiday season?"  Or, something along the lines of "Do you anticipate making a purchase from use within the next 90 days?"  (Make sure to phrase questions in a sensitive manner, so that they will not alienate your subscribers!)  Questions like these effectively create a sense of urgency and may give you greater insight as to what types of promotions you can successfully "initiate" with each active subscriber.  

Detailed Information: A Prerequisite
for Customized, Detailed Messaging

Now, if a newly active subscriber has
been dormant since immediately after answering your leading questions, you
should take steps to re-engage that subscriber. 
When this situation arises, you have a valid excuse to send a
re-engaging or “reminder” email with a single survey question that will lead
the subscriber to a preference center landing page, without necessarily prompting
a smattering of complaints.  A strategy
you might consider is utilizing  the
preference center as the landing page of choice when formulating re-engagement
campaigns. In that case, installing follow up questions there can help you in
your mission to engage subscribers. 
Using these methods should significantly reduce your spam complaints in
the event that the subscriber chooses to end your relationship.

Inevitably, preference centers will get more sophisticated over time,
and as
Morgan Stewart of
ExactTarget quoted
Amazon’s chief scientist, who opined, “The future of marketing is based on how
we enhance the digital experience of a subscriber and provide more detailed
messaging by asking the subscriber for more detailed information.”  You may wonder, “How can I ask my subscribers
for more detailed information without seeming intrusive and drawing spam
complaints?”  If that is your question,
preference centers hold the key to a successful mission with your subscribers. 

 Fred Tabsharani

 Port25 Solutions, Inc.

@tabsharani

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9 Responses to “The Preference Center, Mission Control for your Subscribers”

  1. Maayan Roman
    December 14, 2009 at 9:08 pm #

    I like the mini-survey idea. If you position it right it could be something as fun and addicting as the questions on hunch.com. This type of survey can lend valuable psychographic data on your subscribers.

    Not to say that preference centers aren't always a good idea, but my concern in focusing on them is that less engaged subscribers tend not to go to the preference center because they are unaware of it or do not want to expend much effort. Part of the idea is to allow subs to reduce the frequency with which they receive emails, but if they already receive so many that they don't open the email how will they ever know the option is available?

    I think the solution is to take a customer-centric value-added approach. Tailor your messaging to make it as easy as possible for the subscriber to see, understand, and use your preference center. This should happen as part of the welcome series to establish cognizance of the pref center from the start, with reminder emails every ~6 months and/or based on subscriber activity/inactivity.

    Love to hear more of your thoughts on this. Seems like pref centers are a hot topic all around (Four Email Marketing Predictions for 2010 http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=118680)

  2. Fred Tabsharani
    December 14, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    Thanks Maayan! I appreciate your insights on this. I like the idea to lead them to the preference center much more often than every 6 months. Perhaps even a "preference center" mailing every month with rotating and inviting questions. The whole idea behind the mini-survey within the preference centers is to develop more attributes for each record. The more detailed information you have, the more refined your messaging can be.

    One of the ways you re-engage dormant subscribers is to drive them to the preference center and use it as a landing page. When customers have control and given a choice, they'll most likely shy away from the "spam" button. By asking dormant subscribers a few leading questions about how engaged they are with your brand, will lead them to opt-down, or opt-out. Or better yet, answer one of the leading questions, to help you tailor a more customized message.

    This will eventually strengthen your brands sending reputation, since the chances to click the spam button has been dramatically reduced.

  3. Stephanie Miller
    December 15, 2009 at 4:47 pm #

    Fred,
    Wonderful post, thank you! I agree – in the not too distant future, subscribers will have a better sense of what sorts of things they want to receive via email vs. SMS vs. Twitter, etc. Certainly, I suspect that we will not want to recieve eveything in every channel ;)

    So marketers will want to demonstrate their willingness to meet customer and prospects in those preferred channels.

    Here's the rub for any pref center – at any level of sophistication or depth…. if you build it, they will not come.

    Pref Centers – just like any website feature, must be marketed.

    The commitment to do so must be there, or why bother?1 Subscribers must find it and find it useful, and visit often for any preference center to add value.

    THANKS
    Stephanie
    @StephanieSAM

  4. Andrew Kordek
    December 15, 2009 at 10:07 pm #

    Fred,

    Great post. One of the things that I do find interesting is that a lot of companies have put up preference centers over the course of the last 18 months, but fail to honor those preferences that the users have chosen. This especially rings true during the Holiday Season whereby I am now getting hit with emails once a day from organizations where I know had a preference center and they are failing to send me relevant content that I specifically asked them to send me.

    Its great to build it and its great to continue the conversation with the customers, but the first thing that needs to happen is that companies need to honor the choices or the whole concept becomes obsolete.

    Andrew

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    One of the ways you re-engage dormant subscribers is to drive them to the preference center and use it as a landing page. When customers have control and given a choice, they'll most likely shy away from the "spam" button. By asking dormant subscribers a few leading questions about how engaged they are with your brand, will lead them to opt-down, or opt-out.

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    Perhaps even a "preference center" mailing every month with rotating and inviting questions. The whole idea behind the mini-survey within the preference centers is to develop more attributes for each record. The more detailed information you have, the more refined your messaging can be.

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