The preference center is one topic that touches off continuous debate among digital marketers.
Do preference centers benefit both marketers and customers? Or, are they a waste of time because customers don't use them? Doesn't behavior beat preferences anyway?
I've always maintained in my work with marketers that a preference center is a useful tool when set up, used and promoted correctly.
That means collecting the data you need initially and encouraging customers to update and share even more data, which you then incorporate into your digital messaging program all the way through the customer journey.
Taking a “If we build it, they will come” approach is a recipe for disappointing ROI on a preference center.
Instead, rethink your concept of the preference center to be a customer data center across all messaging channels.
This revised view of the preference center is one that houses not just content and channel preferences but also purposes, intents and interests, which you actively encourage your customers to share and update regularly.
Three Ways to Think About Preference Centers and Data Capture
Too many marketers think of their preference centers as a set of static forms instead of a data resource that can be constantly refreshed and expanded.
Your customers will be motivated to visit your preference center for some things, because that's where your opt-in or unsubscribe links take them. For others, you need to prompt them.
The list below outlines three concepts, although only the first is thought of as a traditional preference center.
1) Customer-motivated: These are actions your customers take to serve their own interests and needs.
- Opt in
- Set preferences (subscriptions, interests, frequency, etc.)
- Provide billing, contact and demographic information
- Update profile/account/contact information
- Update interests
- Provide new preference data
- Update email address
- Change email subscriptions or frequency
- Opt out
- Change or add message channels (direct mail, social media, mobile app, SMS, etc.)
2) Customer-prompted: These are actions your customers take as a result of emails or other messages you send, asking them for new or updated information. Many of these prompts are designed to get your existing customers to take the actions listed above.
Not all of these involve trips to the preference center page. Instead, you add their answers to the storehouse of preference data you already have on these customers. Examples include:
- Filling out new-member surveys
- Changing preferences or message channels as alternatives to opting out
- Updating information in reactivation campaigns
- Answering short questions on website page popovers
- Filling out progressive profiling surveys that build on previously shared data
- Updating contact or billing information in response to alerts about expiring or expired data
3) Behavior/Implicit: Here, you're gathering information on what customers tell you implicitly through their email activity, Web, SMS, mobile app, social and offline behaviors. This also includes purchase, account and RFM activity.
To make this work, think about your CRM and marketing databases and what you're doing to capture all of these individual behaviors. Then, marry them into a universal view of each customer.
This is the kind of activity that anti-preference center marketers are talking about when they say, "Behavior is the new preference center." These behavioral preferences aren’t presented in a transparent, customer-facing preference center but often are actionable in real time. When combined with a customer’s explicit preferences, they can provide a much more powerful and accurate view of the customer.
The Preference Center's Role in Customer Journey Messaging
Here's the key question: "What are the X number of data points we need to deliver on our digital marketing programs, and where can we get them?"
The answer lies in your customer journey road map and all the touchpoints along the way. Each touchpoint requires customer data, which can come from your preference center, customer behavior and data incorporated from across your organization and outside sources.
Identify which data points you collect already and which ones you’re missing. Look for ways you can capture missing data, especially from prompted sources, and then tie this data in with your marketing and CRM databases to drive your digital marketing programs.
Takeaway: Think Differently
Preference centers are far from dead. Marketers just need to understand the different types and approaches to make them successful. Keys to success in this different mindset include prompting customers to provide preferences and data and marrying that with implicit data from across channels and the customer lifecycle.
1) White Paper: “21 Tips for Building a Modern-Day Preference Center"
2) Blog: “7 Ways You May Be Getting Mobile Emails Wrong”
3) White Paper: “Unsubscribe Best Practices: How to Decrease Database Churn and Strengthen Your Marketing Program”