Some Good Thinking

Using Subscriber Preferences to Increase Email Engagement

Sending more personalized, targeted content is one of the best ways to increase engagement and revenue for your email marketing program. Today’s consumers demand it, really. Accenture’s Pulse Survey reports that 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands that provide offers and recommendations that are relevant to them and that 80% of consumers are willing to share their data to create a more personalized experience. In a survey conducted by Gongos, more than half (56%) of millennials said they would switch brands for one that customized more to them.

It’s clear that personalization and relevancy matter to consumers. Many brands, especially in retail, are making headway (and a lot more money!) with messages that are triggered by customer behaviors like making a purchase, adding products to a cart, or browsing specific product categories or individual product pages. This strategy works because you are paying attention to what matters to your customer and delivering that to their inbox.

But there is another way to find out what matters to your customers, one that is often overlooked: You can actually ask your subscribers what they want. You can ask them which kind of emails they want to receive and even ask them how often they want to receive them. In the email world, this is called a preference center. Building a preference center that allows your customers to choose what and how often they hear from you can increase engagement and keep them on your list longer.


When to capture preferences

The best approach is to capture some basic preferences at the time of sign-up so you can tailor the email experience from the beginning. Keep the options simple and focused on which types of email the customer wants to receive.

If you want to capture preferences for your existing list, you can create a preference center and then promote it in your emails. In our experience, subscriber response to a preference survey sent after sign-up isn’t very high, but it’s still worth asking. Rather than simply promoting your preference options as a one-time launch, consider including a banner on periodic emails to remind your subscribers that they have the option to customize the emails they receive.

Linking the preference center in the footer of your emails (right next to the unsubscribe button) gives people an ongoing option to manage their preferences over time. By offering a preference center with options to choose emails based on category or frequency, you’ll likely reduce your unsubscribe rate as well.


Category-based preferences

A category-based preference form lets your subscribers choose which types of emails they receive. For example, a clothing retailer might have a preferences form that lets you indicate you want emails about women’s clothing but don’t want emails about kids’ clothing. A law firm that offers services for family law, estate planning and criminal law might have a preference center that lets people choose emails from those three categories.

Offering category-based preferences requires two key things: a clearly defined category or topic for each email you send and a segmentation strategy that aligns with your preferences form. If every email you send includes multiple categories of products, a category-based preference form isn’t the best approach. In most cases, the segmentation strategy is as simple as creating segments or lists in your ESP that align with the choices you’ve provided on your sign-up form or preference center. If you’re also suppressing inactive subscribers or segmenting emails in other ways, it might take a little more effort to configure your segments and ensure you’re honoring subscriber preferences over time, but it’s worth it.


Frequency-based preferences

Did you know some brands send up to four emails a day? Yes, four! Receiving four emails a week from the same brand can feel overwhelming to some people, even when they love your brand. This is where frequency-based preferences can come into play.

There are typically two ways to implement frequency-based preferences, though the specific steps will vary based on the technical capabilities of your ESP. Some ESPs have a built-in frequency cap that allows you to limit subscribers to X number of emails in a day or week. However, it’s important to understand what types of emails are covered by the frequency cap. Some ESPs include all emails in their frequency cap, while others don’t include triggered emails in the frequency cap.

The other option for creating frequency-based preferences is to use dynamic segments and exclusion or suppression lists. Again, the specific terminology and steps to do that will vary by ESP, but this approach involves creating a segment of people who have received X number of emails in a set period of time and then suppressing that segment automatically from all email sends. A dynamic segment will update automatically as new emails are sent, so the system will constantly be adding or removing people from that suppression list as they receive emails.


Honor subscriber preferences

The most important piece of advice we can offer about subscriber preferences is this: Don’t ask about preferences if you don’t intend to honor them.

While asking your subscribers about their preferences and tailoring your email strategy to them can help boost your engagement, failing to honor their preferences will do the opposite and could lead to an increase in opt-outs. If you’re going to create a preference center for your subscribers, be sure you have the technical details and corresponding email strategy in place to honor those preferences.


Keep it simple

Our second piece of advice is this: Only capture data you intend to use. You don’t want a sign-up form or preference center to feel overwhelming for your customer, nor do you want it to feel intrusive. Ask for some quick preferences that you’re actively using in your email strategy and leave it at that.


Final thoughts

Even with clear data that supports tailoring the email experience to the customer, a lot of companies haven’t embraced it as part of their email strategy. That means there’s plenty of room for improvement and opportunity to stand out from the crowd by making subscriber preferences a key part of your email marketing strategy.