Stated Preference Data Collection
By Julie Graham / March 18, 2015

Step one of every email marketing strategy: ensure your data collection methods are sound. Because the effectiveness of your targeting and personalization efforts are only as good as the data used to power them.

In this article, we will focus on the first step in deploying lifecycle campaigns that evolve as customers’ or subscribers’ preferences and behaviors change over time: a sound data collection method based on asking subscribers to tell you about themselves and their interests: this information is called stated preference data.

In executing stated preference data collection techniques, email marketers tend to fall into one of two categories: those who don’t collect adequate or the right preference data to help them create relevant campaigns, and those who don’t effectively use the preference data they’ve got. Addressing both issues, in addition to some other related points, is a key part of an overall data collection strategy that will facilitate effective lifecycle messaging.

Collecting the Right Data
There are, of course, the basic guidelines for collecting the right data: first name, last name, email address, and postal code.

But to truly understand your customers’ lifecycles and message accordingly, you’ll need to ask yourself and your team questions to inspire a preference data collection method that is unique to both the needs of your business and your subscribers. These questions must be based on your overall email marketing objectives.

If you want to generate more online sales—but aren’t using online behavior or purchase behavior data in your email initiatives yet—you could simply ask new subscribers how many times they purchase from your website each year, then use this data to drive and measure increases in purchase frequency.

Another key driver to your data collection approach is how subscribers engage with your products or services. Survey them to find out. Depending on the answers, you can develop interest options in your stated preference data fields, and then send content targeted to those interests.

Segmenting by interest allows you to send manual or triggered campaigns based on the feedback you’ve received directly from your subscribers.

In addition to specialized preference data targeted to your business needs, you may also consider subscription management. If you send multiple emails—e.g., a quarterly newsletter, monthly special offer emails, weekly tips, etc.—give subscribers the option to manage each of these subscriptions individually, adding and removing at will, rather than opting out of your entire program.

Creating a place where subscribers can manage their email preferences is a best practice in all effective data collection methods. It’s a straightforward, effective, subscriber-controlled way of figuring out the kind of information that each unique subscriber wants to receive from you.

Data Collection & Asking for “More”
Although the sign up page may be your best opportunity to get subscribers to tell you why they are interested in your company, it might not be the best time or place to get all the information you need.

To avoid this common pitfall, simply start slow.

Long and complicated signup pages usually mean fewer people will complete them. A better data collecting technique for email marketers who wish to achieve better list growth is to simply collect the basics up front—first name, last name, email address and opt-in permission.

Often, the time to collect additional preference data comes after the opt-in process is complete. So start by collecting very simple information on multiple pages of your website—perhaps just first name and email address. Take subscribers to your preference page afterward.

Effectively Using the Data You’ve Got
If you are going to ask your subscribers for information, make sure to use it. For example, if you request information a birthday, be sure and send a birthday greeting when the time comes! If you request information on a subscriber’s line of work, make sure you send appropriately targeted content.

A good preferences page will allow subscribers to uncheck interests and change their preferences easily, without opting out of the program entirely. Be sure you monitor and test the effectiveness of your data collection strategy and methods. Don’t be afraid to make changes.

Managing expectations by appropriately responding to preference selections is not just a data collection best practice: it is a business and relationship-building best practice.

Keeping Your Stated Preference Data Current
Review your data often, and encourage your subscribers to do the same. Some data may need to be updated, some might need to be stored away for later use, and some may need to be tossed altogether.

Include an “Update Your Preferences” link in the footer of your emails. Or, develop an automated promotional email that sends a discount or special offer to subscribers who update their preferences. Set the promotional email as a recurring message that triggers automatically once a subscriber has been part of your email program for one year. The discount or offer code can be delivered via the “thank you” page subscribers get once they submit the updated form data.

It’s easy to improve your stated preference data collection methods and strategy right away, and there are no sophisticated backend integration or budget impacts. What’s more, asking the right questions at the right time is an excellent way to show your subscribers that you respect their time, value their input, and want to enter into a long, mutually beneficial relationship with them.

Quality stated preference data collection means quality data, and quality data is the foundation of effective lifecycle email messaging.

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