Let customers drive email’s cadence
Don't annoy your subscribers with email overload. Columnist Len Shneyder explains how preference centers can empower customers and help email marketers know how much is too much.
Email is the default medium for communication across the internet. It can reach new customers through lead-gen campaigns and rejuvenate old customers with fresh insights into their respective industries. But the longstanding question for most emailers is this: How much email is too much email?
There is a simple answer to that admittedly complex question: Just ask your audience. The best way to ask your audience is with the humble preference center.
Preference centers are powerful tools that can be used to tailor both email content and cadence. It also arms marketers with the information they need for a better understanding of what customers want from a given organization. A good preference center aims to empower readers with just enough relevant insight without overwhelming them with irrelevant promotions.
These centers also can help email marketers better segment their lists and receive feedback from interested parties, driving more accurate information to marketers and more relevant advertisements to receptive audiences.
Highly relevant content in inboxes — as long as whatever is sent is not a nuisance — improves brand stickiness and overall messaging relevance. With a preference center, consumers are empowered to adjust the frequency, type and cadence of email to their particular needs.
Turning preference centers into opportunities
For inventive brands, preference centers can be a great marketing opportunity. All it takes is a direct message coupled with an image and an invitation for your readers to make their own decisions.
For example, National Geographic lovers may see a comforting image of two zebras with a great subject line like “Tell us your preferences. Love your inbox again,” to entice readers to adjust their email preferences. Customers who click the “update your interests” category are taken to a preference center that details the types of emails they can receive and the option to unsubscribe from all of National Geographic’s communications.
This useful page serves several purposes:
- Customers feel empowered to minimize the noise in their inbox.
- The email that brought them to this page enhances engagement in the inbox, which improves National Geographic’s overall sending reputation and ability to reach the user in the inbox.
- By giving potentially disengaged users the ability to unsubscribe from future mailings, National Geographic is protecting its reputation by preventing messages from being marked as spam.
This powerful approach works across all audience types, including business-to-business. Take, for example, Litmus, the maker of creative tools to help marketers design better emails. (Disclosure: Litmus is a partner of my employer.) Litmus took the added step of making their email an opt-in campaign. Customers who don’t click the green button affirming they want to continue to receive marketing emails are unsubscribed.
This is a good and necessary step in keeping compliant with privacy regulations outside of the United States. But it’s also a move that underscores Litmus’s understanding of their audience and how too much email can become more noise than signal.
The same can be said of Bonobos, which uses humor in its preference center.
Preference centers are the new normal — if today’s consumers have the ability to determine the channel that the conversion will happen in, then marketers should give them the option to determine how often the brand will contact them.
Tone-deafness to consumer preferences ensures your reputation will suffer needlessly, and degradation from emails being marked as spam will mean that even your biggest fans may not see you in the inbox.
Humor and relevance come in all shapes and sizes. Room and Board uses the concept of space to underscore absence or lack of engagement with their emails.
Building a powerful preference center
A few things to consider when building out your preference center:
- Don’t password-protect the page — You’ll lose customers at the login.
- Don’t ask for the customer’s email address — You should be able to pass this information through the URL redirect.
- Don’t make this a multipage process — A single page will suffice. The idea is to make it simple to use.
- Use humor if it’s appropriate to your audience.
- Don’t fear the unsubscribe — If customers choose to leave, they can always return. If they mark your email as spam, that action has a much longer and more profoundly felt reverberation throughout your entire email program.
- Make sure you have the means to honor preference centers — It’s not enough to provide one; if someone only wants to hear from your brand once a week, don’t send them three to five emails on one day.
- Consider dropping unengaged customers from your lists — If they don’t respond, and haven’t for a considerable length of time, then don’t assume it’s business as usual.