Anyone who has or does work in email marketing knows how powerful of a tool it can be, you can reach an extremely large audience with the click of a button. Not only are you able to reach a large audience, but you are also able to target specific consumer groups with content for them – it’s a win for both parties!  Don’t get me wrong, email marketing is not an easy thing to do… You have to make sure the content is appropriate for the intended audience, you don’t want to send too many or too little emails, and you want to provide useful information that your customers will actually value, along with many other “best practices” you should follow. Nowadays, consumers have more control over their inbox than ever, so how can you make sure that all your hard work doesn’t go to waste by someone simply choosing to unsubscribe?

The answer is preference centers.

Email preference centers are used as a way for customers to manage their emails by giving them a choice of what they subscribe to and how often they receive emails.  Having a preference center for your recipients is so important because it gives them an option. Instead of your customers thinking that the only way to reduce the amount of emails they receive, or to change the content of their emails is to unsubscribe, they are given the choice. This will still leave room for marketing opportunities and they receive the content they’re interested in, which is another win-win.

“54% of respondents unsubscribed from emails because the emails came to frequently and 49% of respondents unsubscribed because the content became repetitive or boring over time.” -Hubspot

One may think that they can just keep emailing people and not give them a choice of how they want to receive their emails, but not only is that unethical, but it’s also breaking the CAN-SPAM Act. This is a law that sets the guidelines and rules for all commercial emails and messages. Below are the main requirements included in the CAN-SPAM Act.

  • Don’t use false or misleading header information.
  • Don’t use deceptive subject lines.
  • Identify the message as an ad.
  • Tell recipients where you are located.
  • Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future emails from you.
  • Honor opt-out requests promptly.
  • Monitor what others are doing on your behalf.

Preference centers are a way to avoid violating this law and can also give you a deeper view of who your customers are. However, it’s difficult for many companies to implement them. Creating a preference center is much more complex than creating a list of questions, and if that’s all you do, chances are your preference centers will not produce the results that you are hoping for.

Develop your preference center strategy

The first step that one should take when creating their preference center is to develop the strategy. The strategy should cover the practical aspects of running a preference center, one that is not only useful for your customers, but also for your email intentions. This is the most important phase in the development of your preference center (and the hardest!). If you go straight to the tactics and have no plan behind it, chances are high that it won’t work. There are many components that your strategy should include, but just a few are listed below:

  • What information do we want?
  • How should we launch the preference center?
  • How should we ask customers to update their preference data?
  • What’s the value exchange of our preference center?
  • And many more….

It’s crucial that your preference center provides value for everybody!

Understanding your data and using it correctly

The next challenge that is commonly faced is using the data. Those who will actually take the time to tell you about themselves, what their expectations are, and what they like, will expect to see those preferences reflected in the emails they receive. Therefore, if you ask someone their shirt size and they tell you they wear a size large, but then you only send them shirts that come in small, you will have an angry customer. If you ask for customer’s data, they are going to want you to remember it and use it. The other issue that comes along with data is the age of it – even if you get a large amount of data that you can use for triggered messaging and segmentation, it has an expiration date. Consumers preferences change frequently, so it’s important to act on the data you receive in a timely manner.

Validate your audience preferences

Finally, it’s so important that you validate and cross-reference your preferences. When customers choose their preferences, it will only tell you part of the story. For example, your customers might tell you that they prefer football over basketball and only have sons, however their buying behavior shows them looking at basketball shoes and girls’ clothing. Are your customers lying about what they like? No, they are most likely shopping for gifts. Suppose you see data that implies gift-buying, such as heavy shopping near traditional holidays, or your checkout form includes a spot for customers to check if their purchase is a gift. Now you have preference data that is distinguished by a behavior and you can use it to create a segment of customers who buy specific products for gifts. Those customers might value gift suggestions that are triggered at the product purchase anniversary.

After becoming aware of these challenges, you can now see how creating a preference center can be very challenging and why many companies are not successful at it. However, that’s not to say that it’s impossible!

With the right mindset and having a clearly defined strategy, you can have a preference center that will provide many benefits for your company. Here are a few tips that you should keep in mind:

Allow recipients to choose the type of content they receive. 

Instead of taking a stab at what types of content your readers want to see, why not give them the option to choose? Most readers enjoy receiving a variety of content, but for those that have more specific wishes, you won’t be wasting time sending them emails that they simply are not interested in reading – or opening. Your email preference center should allow readers to choose what type of content shows up in their inbox, the more you can cater to each individual user, the higher return on investment. If you want to take it a step further, you could provide information and news on topics that are relevant to specific subscribers, by doing so you will build trust and hopefully improve conversion rates.

Allow recipients to control the frequency in which they receive emails.

One way to surely increase your unsubscribe numbers and spam complaints are to blast your customers with emails. For people who are constantly checking their emails just to keep up with their daily life, it will get frustrating to see the same company sending them emails multiple times in a given day. The first few times they may just delete the email and move on, however it won’t take long before your company name gives them a negative perception in their mind. Suddenly, all of your hard work that you put into your emails has backfired and your email subscriber is now a former email subscriber. However, by simply providing your reader with the option to choose how frequently they receive emails, they will feel respected and know you value you them as a customer. But, there is no such thing as too many emails, as long as they appeal to customers interests. Generic emails that aren’t relevant to customers interests can get irritating, but if you’re providing value, high email frequency may be beneficial. Customers may forgive you once or twice if you don’t speak to them or know who they are, but once your emails become consistently irrelevant, that’s where they will draw the line.  

Make it easy for your recipients to update their preferences.

The position of your preference center can also influence its effectiveness. Not only should readers be presented with preferences when they subscribe, but you also want them to be reminded of the preference center when they click on the unsubscribe button. This will be a gentle reminder that they have the option to receive fewer emails – or even pause messages from your brand until after your latest promo or holiday season is over.

A link to your privacy is also another way to that will increase the effectiveness of your preference center. Some email marketing has been involved in some dishonest activities that have made some consumers nervous about sharing information. By including your privacy policy, you will reassure readers that you participate only in industry best practices and you will make sure you protect their privacy.

Preference centers have many benefits, including understanding customer behavior, creating a higher level of customer satisfaction and the ability to tailor your marketing messages directly to your customers. By knowing the challenges that come along with them and some tips to help make your preference center valuable, you can now create your own! Or contact us, we’re happy to help.