3 Ways (Plus 1 Key) to Succeed at Progressive Profiling

  |  April 1, 2014   |  Comments

In order to collect more information about your subscribers and send more relevant content, use progressive profiling to ask questions of your customers over time to gain a better picture of who they are.

Understanding your customer is key to delivering relevant content and maximizing conversions. Most marketers intuitively understand this. But getting that understanding - otherwise known as customer or profile data - is easier said than done.

Most brands have moved passed the days of 10-field sign-up pages (all required fields of course). The rule of thumb "More fields = less conversion" is integrated into today's best practices, and many brands today simply ask for the minimum amount of information to begin messaging - an email address, social authentication, or single sign-on authentication.

This simple conversion process works great for getting sign-ups, but then what are you supposed to do to get more information and send more relevant content?

One way that is effective and unobtrusive is to progressively profile your customer. This means that you will ask questions of your customer over time to gain a better picture of who he or she is.

Once you've captured more data on your customer, you can leverage that data to add more relevance to your messaging.

The Key to Progressive Profiling Success

The key to success in progressive profiling is to give the user clear value in exchange for the data they share. Users are willing to share data with a brand if that brand uses the data to help the customer meet his or her needs.

For example, someone shopping for televisions is happy to share the details of the room where the television will be located in exchange for expert advice on what kind of television to purchase (i.e. data in exchange for expert advice).

Another example - a customer who is willing to share his or her birthday in exchange for a birthday coupon (i.e. data in exchange for a discount).

Below are three strategies to get started with progressive profiling.

Progressive Profiling Strategy 1: Why Did You Sign Up?

As part of a welcome or onboarding program, if it's not obvious from your offering or the source of acquisition, ask the user why they decided to opt in to your messaging. Place the question in your email and offer several options based on the common things people sign up for. You can also leverage cluster analysis or a demographic study of your audience to determine the options you will offer.

Every option should offer immediate value to the user for providing the answer. For example, if a user indicates that he signed up for a curated men's clothing site to "upgrade his style," that user should immediately be directed to an article about how to take his clothing choices to the next level. A woman who signs up for a discount travel site to save money on international travel can be sent content (such as a video or article) describing tips to save money when traveling internationally.

Once that data is collected, follow-up messages should serve relevant content. Note that some preferences have an expiration date and some are lasting preferences. Preferences that expire should influence messaging only as long as it makes sense.

Progress Profiling Strategy 2: What Went Wrong?

When customers abandon a cart, cancel a subscription, or decide not to convert on any process, it can be tough to understand why. So why not ask?

For example, say a customer saves a certain travel itinerary but doesn't end up purchasing it. You can send a quick note after the travel dates have passed, asking the following:

We're always trying to improve, and we're wondering what didn't work for you. Let us know by clicking one of the reasons below.

  1. It was too expensive 
  2. I decided not to go
  3. I found what I needed elsewhere for less
  4. I wasn't sure you would provide everything I needed
  5. I'd rather not say

Now you can respond appropriately and get a sense of why your customers are abandoning.

Progressive Profiling Strategy 3: What Would You Like Most?

This strategy lets you refine current offerings and test new initiatives (and even find early adopters).

Pick a few products, features, or potential benefits you have or are considering and ask your users which they prefer.

You'll get an idea of the most desired features, plus you'll get a data point on each responder that will tell you exactly what to promote to each customer.

(A word of caution: While this resembles a survey, it is technically not valid as survey data, since you have a responder bias: the results will represent the preferences of those who respond to the message, and not necessarily the broader audience).

Progressive profiling is easy to implement and can add relevance that is difficult to obtain from other sources. The strategies above are simple ways to get started, but the possibilities are as complex as your imagination allows. Just remember the key to progressive profiling success: Give the user clear value in exchange for the data you collect.

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Justin Williams

As one of StrongView's in-house marketing strategists, Justin Williams helps email marketers develop and implement strategic lifecycle marketing campaigns that are continually optimized to increase engagement and revenue. For the past five years, Justin has applied his expertise in email marketing, social media, web design, and other interactive marketing disciplines across a variety of industries, including retail, finance, media, and technology. In addition to founding his own consulting company, Justin has built go-to-market strategies for early-stage startups and worked with brands like Cisco, Qualcomm, and Geeknet. Justin holds a BA in cognitive science from the University of California at San Diego.

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