The preference center: mission control for your subscribers by Fred Tabsharani @tabsharani


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 given mission control to continuously manage their preferences, the amount of information that marketers can glean is truly unlimited.  During last week’s Email Insider Summit, 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 a social media preference 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.  In the future, more formal messaging may be dispatched through email instead, which underscores why the vision of a master preference center is so significant.  For example, envision a preference center design, where subscribers can populate a matrix with radio buttons choose the type of messaging and preferred online channel.  Tweetdeck does something very similar under their notifications tab, where you can choose the level of detail on each type of message being streamed.  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 attain a much 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 the level of engagement with your brand sooner rather than later.  For instance, pose questions such as, “How likely are you to purchase from us this holiday season?” Or, something along the lines of “Do you anticipate making a purchase from us within the next 90 days?”  (Make sure to phrase questions in a sensitive manner so that they will not intimidate or alienate your subscribers!)  Questions like these effectively create a sense of urgency, and may give you greater insight into 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 your answer.

Takeaway: Don’t underestimate the value of the preference center, by giving more control to your subscribers, it allows them to navigate your brand confidently.

Meet the author:

Fred Tabsharani

Fred Tabsharani

Fred Tabsharani is engaged in strategic marketing initiatives for Port25 Solutions, Inc., a globally recognized email software company which serves Email Service Providers and leading enterprises. After receiving his MBA from John F. Kennedy University, Fred immersed himself into the world of email deliverability and constantly discovers new insight from thought-leaders in the email industry. He is a columnist for a few industry blogging portals and is also a member of several email based organizations including but not limited to MAAWG and the Email Experience Council. Fred’s goal is to continue honing his skills and knowledge in this space and to build timeless industry relationships that transcend business goals.

Connect with: Fred Tabsharani

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  • Andrew Kordek
    May 26, 2011 at 12:05 am


    Great post as always, however I think one thing should be pointed out here. Preference centers, while having a tremendous amount of value in some organizations are hard to build and even harder to maintain.

    I have seen quite a few “beautiful”/”fancy” preference centers from organizations. They have it all decked out with everything that you want tell the company, but what some of them fail to do is honor my preference. In fact some of these companies did almost the exact opposite of the information that I gave them. It was almost as if they were trying to append my email address with data just for modeling purposes.

    As email marketers we talk about how this and that can add value to your subscriber but often we leave out that this stuff we talk about is an ongoing effort for both the organization and the subscriber. My advice to companies who want to achieve great relevancy through segmentation and the use of the preference center is to take baby steps in the creation of one and ensure that you honor the preferences from the get go. In addition, companies need to call out in almost every email that a preference center exists so as their subscribers needs change, the organization can capitalize on it.

    Sticking up a preference center and driving traffic once or upon sign up is like buying a new car and expecting it to run on one tank of gas for its lifetime.

    Here are my top 3 (yes..I have more) rules for a preference center

    1. Ask for only the information you are going to use.
    2. Honor the information that you get. In other words, use it.
    3. Keep the preference center top of mind for your subscriber in almost every communication or experience that they have.

    Andrew Kordek
    Co-Founder, Trendline Interactive
    A Cross-Channel Messaging Agency
    Twitter: @andrewkordek & @trendlinei
    Email: [email protected]

    • Chief eMail Officer
      May 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm

      Great points Andrew….

      Add the complexity of dual languages and then you have even a bigger kettle of fish.

      I myself am a big fan of preference centers, but I do know how hard they are to build and maintain.

      In the end, they are worth their weight in gold.

      Plus…stick with the KISS rule (keep it simple smartguy)

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