Increasing Relevance in Email without Being Intrusive

Updated: July 13, 2010

There are three inexpensive and relatively pain-free methods to create more relevant content without asking customers directly or engaging in expensive market research.

  1. The creation of Soft Preferences.
  2. Updating older user preferences.
  3. The use of Search data.

Actions speak louder than words
Many times a marketer will offer dozens of interest categories for their customers to select from. The idea is to only send content a user told you they want to receive, and this does perform well.

However, readers will also engage with other categories, but marketers miss the opportunity to collect this data. The collection, aggregation and assignment of this data creates what is known as a "Soft Preference".

A "Soft Preference" is assigned to a reader once they have engaged in an interest category more than one time. For example, if a user clicks on a "baby clothing" link more than one time, the user can be marked with a Soft Preference for babies' clothes. It is important that the interaction occur more than once, as a single category click may be a mistake or a passing interest.

There are some considerations when looking to build Soft Preferences into your database. First and foremost, Soft Preferences do not trump user-selected interest categories (sometimes referred to as Hard Preferences). If a user indicates their desire to read about a specific topic, provide it to them when possible; the customer is always right.

Secondly, it is important that you build your email campaigns to allow for the easy creation of the Soft Preference. For example, if you can give a tracked URL a name for reporting, rather than the URL itself, it will help organize the data for preference assignment.

That was SO last year
Amazon revolutionized online marketing by providing recommendations to consumers based on similar consumer behavior. As a marketer, one usually knows what products, services or interests work for our customer base, but without the complex algorithm that major marketers have access to, we often forget to leverage our own knowledge to communicate to our base.

In keeping with the baby clothing theme, a simple question arises: How long can a consumer look at baby clothing? Unless they own an orphanage, the answer is likely less than two years. But, are you updating consumer data to now send toddler clothing? Probably not.

When a subscriber selects an interest category, that selection should be time-stamped. This will provide a marketer with the ability to update the interest based on time-on-file, or purchase behavior. As a marketer you should have a good understanding of your customer lifecycle, so be sure to leverage your experience and let customers know what's next.

Reviewing existing consumer preferences should be undertaken whenever a re-engagement strategy is considered; typically every six months. At this interval, one can decide if user preferences should be updated based on the time on file or if a purchase has been made.

To validate your changes, try splitting a customer segment in half; one half will keep their dated preference, the other half will receive content based on an updated preference. If the change was effective, you'll often know in the first campaign pushed.

Search and Rescue
Search is the best means of bringing a customer to your website. Search is about the 'here and now'; it's what the general population is using to find you. Search data from your website is even richer, as it is specific to your customers immediate needs. Ultimately, all search data is a great tool for understanding what people need now and should be given high priority when looking for content to send via email.

What is more relevant than sending email on the topic/content everyone is searching your website for? Nothing. If you are stuck for ideas for your next email campaign, simply look at keyword trends on the big search engines, and your own website.

Taking this idea further, use these search trends and keywords as verbiage in your subject line. It will increase open rates and will demonstrate your ability to be relevant in the here and now.

Search is a tool that creates continuously changing data. It is current, relevant and can outline what is important to your customers. Using the data from search will increase your ability to be relevant and doesn't require any direct consumer interaction. Once again, the customer is telling you what they want, and the customer is always right.

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