Preference Centers – Where Do I Start?

Define what you need and understand the different "flavors" of preference centers

A preference center is defined as a vehicle by which a customer or subscriber dictates the content, format, frequency, and other interests for marketing communications. But the truth is preference centers range in functionality from the unauthenticated state of a simple opt-in, opt-out page, to a fully authenticated application that allows the subscriber to manage not only opt data, but account registration and profile data as well. It is important to understand the purpose of the preference center, the data the preference center needs to capture, and how that data will be used to build customer brand loyalty and trust.

It’s All About the Data

Yes, a preference center is focused on building customer loyalty, enhancing a company’s marketing rate of return, and increasing revenue for business owners, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the data the preference center collects and how businesses intend to use that data. Preference data is often the only information a company has about their customers until they start browsing, buying, clicking, or downloading. Preference options must help customers tailor and manage their own shopping or information seeking experiences but also help businesses create more relevant messages and learn more about their customers.

Start Simple

So what data should businesses be collecting? Capturing too little data for the sake of getting as many email addresses into the database sacrifices data richness, and asking for too much information can be detrimental for form completion rates. Marketers should start with the data they need to target and segment, plain and simple. One of the biggest mistakes a business can make is collecting data they don’t use. Do not ask for birthdate unless the data is used to send birthday content or offers based on age, for example.

Best Practices

There are some key best practices to consider for a successful preference center.

  1. Functions: an effective preference center should offer the following functions:
    1. Address update (email, physical, mobile, phone, fax)
    2. Communication type selections (i.e., interest topics, offers, subscriptions/newsletters)
    3. Channel preference selections (i.e., email, direct mail, SMS)
  2. Access and Security: the preference center should be easy to access and should only require authentication if the subscriber intends to update their address information.
  3. Reset password: always offer the subscriber the ability to reset their password for authenticated access via a Forgot Password link or similar functionality.
  4. Consider the subscriber’s intent: Create different experiences based on the subscriber’s intent and the link they click; e.g., Unsubscribe vs. Update email address and preferences.
  5. Intuitive layout and navigation: focus on ease of completion and ensure the layout is organized in logical groupings of preferences or interests.
  6. Responsive design: preference centers should be mobile friendly.
  7. Collect only pertinent data: avoid collecting data you won’t use. As stated above, asking for too much information can be detrimental for form completion.
  8. Required vs. Optional fields: DO NOT make every field required. This point goes back to only collecting pertinent data. Form completion has a better success rate when the user is presented with optional fields. Only require the most critical data you need to communicate to your subscriber. If the subscriber opts into email, then the preference center should require email address. If the subscriber opts into direct mail, then physical address should be required, if they opt into SMS, then mobile number should be required, and so on.
  9. Pre-populate: Whenever possible, pre-populate forms with data you already have. This saves the subscriber time and provides a more personal experience.
  10. Global unsubscribe: always offer a global unsubscribe option. CAN-SPAM requires marketers to enable subscribers the ability to opt out of all communications.
  11. Offer the ability to opt down.
  12. Frequency selections (i.e., weekly, monthly, or max number of messages per week)
  13. Keep your promises: A preference center is able to collect all kinds of powerful data, but ultimately it comes down to the marketer’s ability to execute on the data that is captured. If a business offers newsletters or collects interest data, communications should be tailored to those selections. If a subscriber chooses to opt down by decreasing frequency, then the onus is on the marketer to honor that request – otherwise businesses are likely to see opt-in rates decrease as opt-out rates increase.
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