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The Importance of Gathering Implicit Preferences

by: Shawn Fowler (@IBMforMarketing)
10 January 2014

Marketers, meet Mary. Like a lot of women, Mary is interested in shoes and fashion. So when she filled out your preference center form a couple years ago, those are the things she selected as her interests. Since then, a lot has changed. Mary got married. She bought a house and got a dog. She had a baby. Mary’s life is different now, and her buying habits reflect this. While she’s still interested in shoes and fashion, there are a lot of other things she’s spending her money on now. Don’t you think your marketing should reflect that

Here’s the problem: You don’t know these things. Why?  Because the marketing data you have on Mary is based on the preference center she filled out three years ago. You see, when Mary got married, she didn’t go back to your preference center to let you know that. When she bought a house, she forgot to let you know. Same with the dog. And the baby. That’s the thing about preference centers; they’re static. Most people only go to preference centers once — when they opt in. And those people who do go to a preference center a second time usually only do so for one reason — to opt out. Why do they opt out? Because you’ve been sending them irrelevant content. It’s a vicious cycle.

Explicit Versus Implicit PreferencesSo what do you do about it? You’ve spent all this time putting together a great preference center specifically so you could avoid sending Mary irrelevant content, yet here you are, lumped together with everyone else. One answer lies in capturing implicit preferences. As opposed to stated preferences, which your customers explicitly give you through tools such as surveys and preference centers, implicit preferences are those you can infer through your customers’ interactions. Every open. Every click. Every page view and purchase. When your customers interact with your brand, they’re trying to tell you what they want. The trick is that you have to be listening. 

So how do you listen? You do it by paying attention to the ways your customers are interacting with your brand. The preference center is a good starting point – especially if you make it easy for customers to update their preferences throughout their relationship with you – but if you really want to see what your customers want to buy right now, you’ve got to pay attention to their behaviors.

What are your customers doing on your website right now? Which pages are they visiting? Which links are they clicking? What are they doing in your app? What are they purchasing? How are they interacting with you on social media? These are the ways your customers’ and prospects’ latest preferences are revealed. Marketing is no longer a broadcast-based effort. Rather, it’s an ongoing conversation between you and your customers, one in which you have to listen to what they’re telling you and respond with relevance.

Take off your marketer hat for a moment. How many marketing messages do you get every day? How many different things do you have vying for your attention? According to one estimate, consumers on average are exposed to around 1,200 marketing and advertising impressions per day. How many of those do you actually pay attention to? If you’re like me, you pay attention to the handful of messages that are relevant to what you want right now. Now put your marketer hat back on. Which experience are you providing for your customers? How many of your customers are happy to see your messages, and how many just see them as noise?

Thankfully, listening to your customers’ implicit preferences isn’t hard, but it does require some preparation:

Step 1: Have systems in place to track those behaviors.

The only way to listen to your customer’s implicit preferences is to track the ways they interact with your brand. I’m not just talking about tracking the activity in your emails and on your site. I’m also talking about tracking the activity in your app, online purchase data, in-store purchase data, social media interaction and more.

Step 2: Create opportunities to capture implicit preferences in your interactions with your customers.

A lot of marketers are tracking clicks, conversions, browsing history, etc., but the best marketers are designing content and messages specifically to gather information and gain insight into customer preferences.

Step 3: Turn those interactions into meaningful insights that inform your messaging.

This means going beyond basic segmentation and personalization, and using the data at your disposal to customize the overall experience for every one of your customers.

Over the course of the next month, I’ll discuss each of these steps in greater detail so you can begin to provide your customers with the experience they’re looking for. In the meantime, please share your questions in the comments field below.

Related Resources:

1) Blog: “21 Common Preference Center Mistakes – and How to Fix Them

2) Video: “The New Preference Center

3) Blog: “Tim Duncan, Sports Illustrated and the Perils of Broad Segmentation


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