We find ourselves at an interesting point in the evolution of the Internet. Advances in technology have put us at the crossroads of a truly integrated, multichannel approach to marketing where messages are converging across the channels, including e-mail, mobile devices, and social media. Demonstrating an understanding of your customers’ wants, needs, and preferences has become essential to a successful communications strategy and for building trust with your audience, yet many marketers lack this basic knowledge – information that could be easily obtained simply by asking for it.
One of my favorite movie quotes that I have always found applicable to our industry is from the movie “Arthur” (not the aardvark or the Russell Brand reboot). At one point in the movie he says, “Aren’t waiters wonderful? You ask them for things and they bring them.” Folks, it’s really that simple. Give your customers the opportunity to tell you what they want and bring it to them. Preference centers are an ideal way to get this information.
Currently, most preference centers are focused around e-mail communications. What type of information do you want to get, when do you want to get it, and what format do you want it in? While this is important, it’s only a small part of knowing how your customers want to interact with you. For example, they may not want any e-mail communication from you but will follow you closely on Facebook and then go to your website to make a purchase. Sending e-mail to that person (and like others) will at best result in a non-responsive message. Cumulatively it will taint your IP reputation and negatively affect your relationship with the ISPs.
As communication channels evolve, so too should your preference center. This is the perfect opportunity to educate your customers, and in turn, be educated by them. Consumers want marketers to demonstrate knowledge of their interests, the types of products or services they like, the kinds of offers they want, and importantly, their communication and shopping preferences. In fact, you may well find they’ll accept more frequent messaging in return for honoring these preferences. The preference center is the vehicle to tell them about and get permission for things like:
- Product categories. Most consumers want marketers to know what products or services they like. Marketers must ask for this information in their preference centers, and can even improve the ability to capture it by placing a bookmark capture function, such as “Add this category to my preferences” on product description pages.
- Message type. Does your consumer like offers and discounts? Product recommendations based on items they’ve purchased? Surveys or other interactive activities? Rich media like video? New product announcements? Personal alerts or follow-up messages? Make sure you find out the types of messaging they’re most likely to engage with and combine that knowledge with their preferences for channel type and frequency.
- Communication channels. Provide greater options for consumers to choose the manner in which you interact with them, for example, e-mail, mobile, or social messaging. Until unlimited data plans are ubiquitous and it doesn’t cost a consumer extra to receive your texts, it is extremely important to gain permission to send SMS messages to them. Further, there are channels and tactics you may not even have considered using yet, like IM (which Facebook Messages employs), or behavioral retargeting messages. With all the talk about Do-Not-Track, now is the time to get to know your customers, their preferences, and the types of communications they’ll opt in for.
- Frequency. Survey your subscribers about message frequency and ask them within the preference center how often they want to receive messages on a monthly or weekly basis. You can even manage frequency by message type. For example, marketers could increase frequency when soliciting product review data or alerting subscribers that a new review had been posted to the website.
The preference centers of the future will play an essential role in establishing a 360-degree view of your customer, providing the customer intelligence needed to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time – through the right channels. This doesn’t mean you will abandon channels; rather you will use each in the most effective and integrated way.
The industry continues to evolve toward more targeted, relevant messaging mapped to consumer preferences. From an e-mail perspective in particular, this will drastically reduce bounces and complaints and increase engagement metrics, which translates to good IP reputation and ultimately delivery to an inbox. It comes down to giving the people what they want in the channel they want it – an approach that’s a win-win for your customers, ISPs, and marketers.