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Implicit Preferences: Tracking Behaviors

by: Shawn Fowler (@IBMforMarketing)
03 April 2014

In my last blog post, I discussed the value of implicit preferences — the preferences you can infer from customer behaviors — and the importance of using these preferences to tailor your marketing efforts to individual customers and contacts. In this post, we’re going to focus on putting systems in place to track customer behaviors. Like most things in digital marketing, everything starts with data.

Data is perhaps the least “sexy” aspect of digital marketing. In a field filled with glossy images, sharp copy, social networking, mobile apps, iBeacons and the constant pushing of technological boundaries, talking about data seems downright stodgy. However, data is the most fundamental part of any digital marketing program. No matter how awesome your idea is, if you don’t have the data to drive it, it’s not going to happen. That’s why setting up the right infrastructure is so important.

Building Your Data Infrastructure

For many marketers, making sure you have the right infrastructure sounds a lot like climbing a mountain — ill-defined and intangible. How do you know if you have the right data infrastructure? How do you know what data you need? How can you determine what steps you should take next?

It’s really not that hard, though. You just have to answer two questions:

  1. What data sources do I want to track?
  2. How do I get that data into my marketing database?

Let’s dig into each one and help you build the infrastructure you’ll need to capture implicit preferences.

What Data Sources Do I Want to Track?

To answer this question, you need to assess your marketing technology ecosystem. Every organization has a different mix of technologies that facilitate customer interactions. All of these should be considered when determining what to track. Common examples include:

  • Email
  • Web
  • Mobile App
  • Ecommerce
  • POS
  • Social
  • Ads

Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gives you an idea of the types of technologies you should consider. Combined, these technologies comprise a significant part of the customer experience that your brand creates. Every item in that list represents a touchpoint, an opportunity for your customers to interact with your brand. And every one of those interactions is an opportunity for your customers to tell you more about who they are and what they want.

This is precisely the type of data you need to capture. And it’s how you’ll move from working with a rough sketch of an audience to developing a rich, detailed portrait of each customer.

The types of data you collect from each technology will vary. For email, you’ll be more concerned with opens, clicks and conversions. For the Web, it will be based more around visits, page views, clicks and abandons. The table below provides a bit more detail about the types of data you’ll want to track across these technologies:

Interactoin Point Table

The key point to consider is that, in addition to the data you want to track for your marketing efforts, you also need to collect identifying data so you can tie it back to the appropriate contact in your marketing database. For instance, if you’re tracking data from the POS system, you’re primarily concerned with purchase data such as total purchase amount, items purchased, date of purchase, and perhaps transaction number. However, you also need to collect first name, last name, address and ideally something more unique like email address, phone number or customer ID.

Identifying data varies across technologies. On the Web, it will probably be a cookie ID or visitor ID. In email, it will be email address or contact ID. On Twitter, it’s the customer’s Twitter handle. For each technology or channel you’re considering, make sure you determine which identifying information you’re going to collect and ensure you have a corresponding field in your marketing database so you can sync that data at the individual contact level.

How Do I Get That Data into My Marketing Database?

The answer to this question will vary according to the specific technologies you use on each channel. That said, the answers can be organized into two broad categories:

  • Productized Integrations
  • Custom Integrations

By productized integrations, I mean data integrations that require no (or very little) setup by you. The most basic example is email data. Virtually every email and marketing automation provider automatically tracks email data such as opens, clicks, etc. and pushes that data into the marketing database at the individual level.

This type of integration may extend beyond email tracking. For instance, Silverpop’s Web Tracking automatically tracks activity on your website at the individual visitor level and pushes it back to the contact’s record in the marketing database in real time. Additionally, newer technologies, such as Silverpop’s Universal Behaviors and Mobile Connector, make it easy to cast a wider net and track activity in mobile apps and a variety of other marketing (and non-marketing) technologies.

Ideally, most of the data integrations you need will be productized. However, you’ll likely run across some data sources that require a custom integration. In these scenarios, the solution is often simpler than it sounds. Most custom integrations can be handled by something as basic as a recurring export or query from the third-party system and a recurring import into the marketing database. The key is to have a flexible data architecture in the marketing database so it can sync with the incoming data.

Getting Started

For many marketers, the prospect of getting all of this data may seem like a lot of work. And for some, it can be. For instance, if you don’t have the technical resources to assist in custom integrations, they can be difficult to accomplish. Fortunately, you don’t have to do everything at once. Start by identifying the data source that would provide the most powerful behaviors while requiring the least work. Never let perfection get in the way of progress!

Related Resources:

1) Blog: “The Importance of Gathering Implicit Preferences

2) Video: “The New Preference Center

3) Blog: “Behavioral Data: The Greatest Untapped Marketing Asset



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