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I recently took part in the panel “25 Ideas in 25 Minutes” at the Email Insider Summit in Park City, UT. While my fellow panelists and I were unable to get through all of our ideas, one idea I mentioned caused quite a bit of chatter, both on Twitter and in the hallways after the session. I suggested that brands ditch traditional preference centers and focus on the behavior of the subscriber for better targeting. I said that preference centers are hard to maintain and, in many cases, irrelevant because brands either don’t use the data collected or because subscribers rarely go back to update their preferences as their relationship with the brand evolves.
As I work with clients to understand the challenges they face, I am more inclined to recommend that they invest their marketing dollars in tools that can track and record subscriber and customer behavior, and lead to better targeted email campaigns. Traditional preference centers are static and rarely record on an ongoing basis the amount of valuable data needed for email marketing programs to evolve and optimize to the subscribers’ individual preferences.
Of course, there were opponents to my idea at the conference, on twitter, and in emails sent directly to me. While I respect these opinions, there were a few people who took what I proposed out of context. First and foremost, I am not indicating preference centers are dead. There are organizations that leverage preference center data to target and optimize their email programs exceptionally well. There are organizations that spent $800,000+ building out global preference centers which are models for how traditional preference centers should operate. Preference centers will never be dead, but they will certainly run their course unless organizations allocate a significant amount of resources and money building out update reminders that will have to be messaged to the subscriber on an ongoing basis. In addition, maintenance alone on a robust preference center with stagnant and often outdated preferences that are never leveraged can be a tremendous cost burden.
If your organization has a preference center that collects data but never uses or promotes it, then why have one? Ditch it and invest in tools that can append data to existing subscribers, track their habits both on your website or in store (if you have a brick and mortar presence), or invest in social and mobile channels to create a rich profile of them to then test, target and optimize your program to. This type of investment is proactive, rather than a traditional preference center that is static or reactive.
What I’m saying isn’t easy. In fact, it’s really really hard. However, building out a behavioral-driven program will not become static in the long run. It will not require any updating from the subscriber because what they do is basically updating their preferences on an ongoing basis and giving you the marketer the ability to become laser-targeted in your communication with them.
Loren McDonald wrote an excellent piece at MediaPost explaining the various types of preference centers and the arguments for and against the use of them. It’s worth a parallel read to this post, and you can find it here.
The idea I shared at the Email Insider Summit was geared toward organizations that have built out front end preference centers that upon signup subscribers are asked for preferences, but never message the subscriber to update (or opt-in, as Loren puts it). There are various arguments around some other types of preference centers (e.g. opt-down, communications center etc.) but I’m strictly focusing on traditional, front end types.
So I say to you … ditch your traditional front end preference center and evolve your program to the future: subscriber behavior that is constantly shifting and changing in all channels should dictate what you send to them, not the other way around.
I can’t wait for the debate to begin.