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Subscriber Needs Your Preference Center Should Address

Peter Briggs
Director on the Strategic Services team at Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting

Despite having many tools to optimize contact frequencies based on changing subscriber behaviors, most companies' reliance on last-click attribution strategies and their focus on short-term campaign-centric goals have created a strong bias toward ever-increasing frequencies across all channels. Inevitably, this will leave many of your customers feeling over-messaged and overwhelmed.

The clearest measure of this frustration is in your active and passive email list churn. Your active list churn includes those who opt out by unsubscribing or reporting your messages as spam, while your passive list churn includes those who opt out by ignoring your messages, eventually becoming long-term inactive subscribers.

A preference center can be a powerful tool in reducing both types of churn, allowing customers to openly and clearly express their current communication desires—not only for contact frequency but also for a range of preferences. In most cases, your preference center replaces your unsubscribe page, making it the last touchpoint you'll have with many of your subscribers.

Preference center options to consider

The goal of a preference center is to persuade a customer to continue receiving marketing messages—even if it's at a reduced frequency or via a lower-ROI channel—because any communication is better than no communication.

To effectively persuade them, first understand what's driving the initial desire to unsubscribe, including:

  1. Content preferences. "I need different content. The messages your brand sends me aren't relevant."
  2. Contact frequency preferences. "I need to receive fewer messages. I receive too many from your brand."
  3. Delivery preferences. "I need to change how I get your messages. How I get them now doesn't work for me anymore."
  4. Opt-out preferences. "I'm not interested in hearing from your brand anymore."

Let's talk about potential preference center options you can use to address each of those needs.

Content preferences

You can't demonstrate value if you're sending content that's not interesting to your subscribers. At the same time, content preferences offer many opportunities to get your subscribers to opt up into additional mailstreams and increase their engagement with your company. To address this, consider including the following options in your preference center, as appropriate:

Brand or line-of-business selection. If you operate a family of brands, allow your subscribers to select which ones they would like to hear from regularly. This is a great way to grow your share of wallet with your customers and deepen the relationship.

Topic preferences. If you offer many different kinds of products or services, provide your customers with a way to indicate which ones are of interest. For example, if you're a sporting goods retailer, let them tell you which sports they're into. If you're a business services firm, let them tell you which services are pertinent to their company. If you sell apparel, let them tell you whether they're interested in buying menswear or womenswear (and don't assume based on their gender).

Newsletter selections. If you're a media or B2B company, you might organize your content in terms of newsletters dedicated to specific topics, perhaps each with its own unique cadence. Surface these options in your preference center to create opt-up opportunities.

Favorite location. If you have multiple locations—and particularly if you have clusters of locations—allow your subscribers to tell you which one is their favorite so you can personalize your communications around that preference. Don't assume that a subscriber's favorite location is the one that's nearest to their home, as they may prefer one that's closest to their work or a family member.

Fan favorite. Particularly around sports, a person's interest can be focused on their favorite team or player. Make sure you know who your subscribers are rooting for.

Platform access. Knowing which platforms or services a subscriber has access to allows you to customize your content so that it's much more relevant. For example, if your campaigns promote video games, knowing which gaming consoles each of your subscribers has is critical. Or if you're promoting new movies and TV shows, knowing which streaming services each of your subscribers has access to would allow for accurate content targeting.

In each of these cases, the information collected could be used to send dedicated content streams about the preferred content, to send segmented emails that highlight the preferred content, or to personalize messages with a module highlighting the preferred content. It's not all or nothing. You just want subscribers to clearly see you acting on their stated content preferences.

Contact frequency preferences

Contact frequency is a common complaint, and it's one that's intertwined with content relevance. After all, if the content isn't interesting, then you're always going to think you're getting too much of it. But sometimes, a customer likes the content but simply wants it less often. To address this, consider including the following options in your preference center.

Frequency selections. Often, brands provide options purely on a frequency basis. For instance, if they send daily, they'll offer subscribers the option to receive messages "three times a week" or "once a week."

However, sometimes keeping frequency feedback more generalized is a better approach, as it allows for more flexibility to send seasonal campaigns, such as around the holidays. For instance, a retailer might provide frequency options such as "I want to get every deal" or "Only send me your best deals."

Snooze. Sometimes a customer only wants to stop receiving messages for a little while, like during a vacation or until the end of a selling season. For example, suppose a subscriber is going out on parental leave or going on short-term disability because of an accident. In that case, they might want to pause your B2B newsletter to help manage their inbox while they're away. This is one of the options that we offer in the preference center for the Oracle Marketing Consulting newsletter, allowing subscribers to pause their subscription for three months. More frequent senders should consider shorter pauses, such as one month.

Oracle Marketing Consulting preference center

Important dates. Depending on your business, it may make sense to collect calendar dates important to both your business and your subscriber, such as their birthday or wedding anniversary. Before collecting such information, make sure you have triggered communications in place and clearly articulate the value you'll provide on those dates. Additionally, be wary of offering margin-hurting coupons via those triggered messages, as you may see many "birthdays" occur immediately after someone updates their account because they're hoping to receive a coupon.

When creating your contact frequency options, keep in mind that while most subscribers will be interested in opting down so they receive fewer messages, some super-fans will be open to opportunities to receive more, so between your content preferences and your contact frequency preferences, consider offering that opportunity.

Email delivery preferences

Sometimes a subscriber's needs have nothing to do with what you're sending and everything to do with how and where you're sending it. To address this, consider including the following options in your preference center.

Update contact information. Email addresses, postal addresses, and phone numbers are all subject to change. This is particularly true among B2B subscribers because of job changes.

Regardless of whether you're B2C or B2B, we highly recommend that you give your customers the ability to update their email address, phone number, postal address, and other contact information in your preference center. Otherwise, you run the risk of customers opting out and then resubscribing with their updated info. That creates a new customer file that's potentially disconnected from all their previous customer behavior, hurting your ability to serve them as they would expect.

Channel selection. Hand-in-hand with the option to update contact information is allowing customers to indicate the channels through which they'd like to hear from your brand. While preference centers are often email-centric, we recommend that you use yours as a holistic central hub for your brand's communications ecosystem, letting visitors opt in to receive messages via SMS, push, direct mail, and other channels.

Preferred language. For companies that operate across many countries and languages, allowing subscribers to select a language at signup and change it later is wise.

Email opt-out preferences

Customers' interests change. They change jobs. They retire. They move to places where you don't operate, or they can't do the activity that initially caused them to buy from you. There are many legitimate and insurmountable reasons why a customer wouldn't want to hear from your brand anymore.

So, after presenting other preference options, all preference centers should provide an option to opt out of all marketing communications. Moreover, that option should be a simple one-click button or toggle, just like a dedicated unsubscribe page would provide. At the same time, you should also briefly clarify what a subscriber would lose by opting out.

Other preference center best practices

Here are four other best practices to keep in mind:

  1. Keep it simple. The selections you present should be easy to understand with as few words as possible. Confusion on this page will most likely result in frustration that leads to elevated opt-outs.
  2. Be transparent. Explain what a subscriber's selections mean, particularly if they're opting in to additional mailstreams or providing additional information like their birthday.
  3. Make it comprehensive. Provide a single experience for a customer to manage all of their marketing communications across all the channels you use, whether it's email, SMS, push, or direct mail. This single source of communication preferences will empower your customers and provide them with meaningful control over their interactions with your brand.
  4. Follow through. Only collect data you can act on and will use to improve the experience. Failing to follow through—when customers have gone to the trouble of telling you what they want—is a guaranteed way to erode trust and foster dissatisfaction.

Execute on those best practices and you'll have an effective preference center—perhaps so effective that you won't want to only use it as an unsubscribe page.

Preemptive uses of your preference center

While a robust preference center is a critical part of an email ecosystem, it is also essential to recognize that many unhappy subscribers may never make it there. That's because plenty of subscribers opt out by using the "report spam" button, clicking native unsubscribe links powered by list-unsubscribe functionality, and respond to unsubscribe prompts by inbox providers such as Gmail's Smart Unsubscribe. Altogether, subscribers have more options than ever to opt out without giving you a chance to rescue them or capture information via your preference center.

While this reinforces the need to send relevant emails at a frequency that meets your subscribers' four principal needs, it also presents an opportunity to promote your preference center options preemptively to reduce opt-outs. In addition to adding an "Update your preferences" link right before your "Unsubscribe" link in your footer, here are two key opportunities:

  1. During times of elevated opt-outs. For example, retailers tend to see higher than average opt-outs during January after customers have completed their holiday shopping. Adding a banner to your footer that says "Send me less email" might encourage more people to use your preference center rather than circumvent it. You could also test a banner above your header asking subscribers to "Update your preferences" and see if that more prominent placement makes it perform better in terms of reducing churn.
  2. With subscribers who are at elevated risk of opting out. When managing your inactive subscribers, consider including a prominent preference center call-to-action in your re-engagement campaigns. At the other end of the spectrum, also consider integrating a preference center CTA into your onboarding and welcome campaigns to help get the relationship off on the right foot, to expose new subscribers to all that you have to offer, and to demonstrate that you're empowering them to be in control of the communications they receive from you.

Do some A/B testing and see if these tactics work for your brand and your audience.

Customers' communication preferences are a moving target. While analytics, modeling, and machine learning can help predict many preferences, sometimes the most efficient and most respectful thing is for a marketer to empower their customers to make their needs known clearly and directly.

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Need help building a preference center? Oracle Marketing Consulting has more than 500 of the leading marketing minds ready to help you to achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including Creative Services and Analytic & Strategic Services experts who can help you build out an effective preference center.

Reach out to us at CXMconsulting_ww@oracle.com.

 

 

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