Today there are still marketers who operate under the old adage of, 'if I want to say it, they will listen'. However as anybody who has an Inbox will know - not everybody wants to read everything they receive. Furthermore, not everybody wants to read the same type of messages.
Research has proven that customers want control over the emails they receive. Users polled by IMT Strategies said that the ability to control communications and to self-select content were their two favourite forms of personalisation.
With preferences, the recipient controls more of the communication than the sender does. Allowing recipients to specify their own content and mix of messages ensures that they anticipate your emails, and it increases the likelihood that they will respond.
Preferences also enable marketers to consider customer's receptiveness, interests, and frequency needs. Some customers, for example, may be responsive to advertising messages; others may see them as annoyances. Some customers may want to receive messages once a week; others may not want to hear from a marketer more than once a month.
But preferences do not only work in favour of the recipient - they also serve the sender. When recipients control what messages they get, their relevancy goes way up, and with it their open and click-through rates. Nearly 75% of people surveyed by DoubleClick said they were more likely to open emails that contained information based on interests they had specified to a company. A pre-specified interest was an even more compelling reason to open email than relevance (67%), according to customers.
If you ask the right questions of your customers via preferences, you'll learn more than you would from many forms of customer analytics. And if you handle your preferences correctly, your relevance and email brand value will increase dramatically.
Preferences are good for your email brand value, but if they aren't handled with great care, they can actually frustrate your customer. Some companies, for example, try to pack twenty or more options onto a single preference page. Choices are good, but if you give your customers too many, they'll give up and click to another site before they finish filling out the preference form.
Try to limit your questions at this early stage of the relationship to the most basic, and necessary. If you ask only for a name and email address at the first opt-in, you can always gather more information through surveys, polls, etc., as your relationship progresses. The less you ask from your customers up front, and the more reward you offer in return, the greater the likelihood that your next interaction will be more impactful.
Preferences can get sticky when it comes to opting-out. If you encourage recipients to opt-out via an email reply, how do you handle the unsubscribes? Do you remove customers from just one preference, or go all the way and remove them from all preferences? No right answer to these questions exists, so whenever possible, drive your customers to your web site for opt-out or preference changes.
Letting the recipient control the frequency of your communications is great idea and it makes good business sense. When you let customers control how often they hear form you, they will respond more often and your email brand value will go way up.
Consumers have made it very clear that they consider frequency to be a major issue. When asked by Gartner Inc. what most concerned them about their inboxes, frequency of permission-based email (42%) came in second only to spam. People also said they prefer different frequencies for different types of communications. They want news and weather daily, but they would rather receive special offers weekly and billing statements monthly.
When deciding on frequency rules and customer allowances; always bear in mind that frequency is tough to control from a process perspective and only certain types of messages lend themselves to recipient-controlled frequencies.
Greg Reardon practiced Commercial Law for six years in Durban before completing an MBA at the GSB, University of Cape Town in 1999, specialising in eCommerce. Since then Greg Reardon has been involved in the management of Telecommunications and Internet businesses. In November 2004, Greg co-foundered Low Fat Digital Communications, an eMarketing company based in Johannesburg.