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Let consumers tell you how they want to be contacted

Ping. “Do not disturb me.”

Consumers don’t like being reminded to buy something. But they will tolerate it if they have a say in how they are advised.

Preference centers are emerging as a way for digital marketers to stay in touch with their customers without displeasing them. Brands can set up a front-end where consumers can choose how often they want to be notified, through which channel, as well as what type of information they want to hear.

The technique produces zero-game data and can be used to establish a long-term customer relationship. But trust is necessary, so don’t be mean. Customers will be in this business as long as you promise to respect their wishes and keep their data private.

Back to the stone age…

…marketers struggled to determine how often they could contact their customers, usually by email. Even the time of day and the substance of the message were taken into account as ‘judgement factors’. But this approach was not foolproof.

“Email marketing can lead to inbox fatigue.” noted Alex Cash, chief strategy officer at OneTrust PreferenceChoice, which offers a consent and preference management platform. “While people have been inundated with marketing emails over the past few years, they become irritated and sometimes ignore inboxes altogether. Unfortunately for marketers, this means fewer opens and more unsubscribes.

“Our pockets buzz and beep more [in] the years that have passed since the introduction of the iPhone. said Nirish Parsad, privacy, identity and marketing technology practice leader at Tinuiti. “We have text messages, push notifications, and various forms of in-app notifications, all of which are battling for attention. So, the flaws? If your communication strategy in 2022 is just email , that’s a lot of effort for a 20% open rate, if you’re lucky.”

“In the past, both B2B and B2C had very detailed and granular preference centers, hoping to limit the number of unsubscribes, but that made it too complicated.” said Lauren Harrison, senior marketing consultant at CloudKettle, a consulting firm. Sometimes companies asked for too much information. “Preferences were ignored and recipients stopped wanting to fill out the whole form.” she said.

Ready, Ask, Aim, Shoot

So why not ask the customer how they want to be informed and let them define the controls? Sounds easy. But marketers need to seriously think about how they want to set up a preference center. What information can you request without frustrating the customer? You don’t need to know their entire life story when asking them to fill out a form.

“Think about your onboarding experiences, quizzes and surveys, and where preferences can be remembered to improve the experience.” said Parsad. “Customers want personalization, so it’s important to use this information to transform the web experience. You learn a lot more about them than just their name, email and address.

Cash places the preference center in a strategic context, as part of a data management strategy. “Marketers should look for solutions that can integrate with existing customer journeys and user interfaces such as web forms, while providing flexible out-of-the-box user interfaces for additional data and consent capture. ” he said.

“A preference center is not a great place to collect data for B2B and B2C because it should really let the user manage how they want to be communicated.” said Harrison. “By collecting information about [the customer] and their preferences, you allow them to control the content.

Build it right and they will come

Marketers can make strategic choices when building the preference center. But those choices need to be backed up with data. Here, A/B testing comes into play. “Develop a few different versions of the form, ask different questions, and measure which has the most forms filled out and which has the most people giving up along the way.” said Harrison.

“Another method is to hold focus groups with customers to get feedback directly from them on what works and what doesn’t.” Harrison added. “It’s good practice to have someone outside of marketing/sales review the form to make sure it makes sense and isn’t overly complicated.”

“Marketers can gauge success from multiple metrics: opt-in and opt-out rates, unsubscribes, or first-party and zero-party dataset development.” Cash said. The analysis can determine “which initiatives are most effective and shed light on how trust and transparency lead to return on investment”.

“Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a great metric, and I’d like marketers to use customer satisfaction metrics to guide various strategies.” said Parsad. “Customer loyalty and retention are other great metrics to look at.”

Read next: How to extract value from zero-part data

Don’t miss these steps

Pay attention to the details, because errors will compromise the preference center and undermine your marketing strategy.

Harrison emphasized the need to work with a graphic designer to ensure electronic forms look good and display correctly on all browsers and devices. Avoid asking for information you don’t need. Make sure you can keep your promise, whether it’s communication limited to certain topics or at a certain frequency. “If you provide the ability to set communication boundaries, make sure you actually have the technical ability to comply with that request.” said Harrison. “Finally, ask yourself if you follow anti-spam laws. Remember that this is based on the location of the recipient, not your business.”

“Think of a preference center as a growing component of the user experience.” Cash said. “Do winning marketers create a marketing plan one year, then rinse and repeat the same plan every year? Of course not, and the management of preferences is the same.

Parsad compiled this checklist:

  • A preference center attracts any part of your organization that communicates or interacts with the customer. Marketing, sales, customer service, operations, billing, etc.
  • Map all interactions and identify all areas where you capture data – both zero-party and first-party.
  • Be transparent and be prepared to give your customers control of their data.
  • Choice, control and transparency are necessary.
  • Deliver immediate value.

About the Author

William Terdoslavich is a freelance writer with a long experience in the field of information technology. Prior to writing for Martech, he also covered digital marketing for DMN. A seasoned generalist, William has covered IT industry employment for, big data for Information Week, and software as a service for He also worked as a Features Editor for Mobile Computing and Communication, as well as a Features Section Editor for CRN, where he had to cover 20-30 different technology topics in an editorial year. Ironically, it was the human factor that drove William to write about technology. No matter how hard people try to organize and control information, it never quite works out the way they want it to.


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