Elsa singing Let It Go applied to email marketing best practices means let go of control by building a customized preference centerHave you see “Frozen” yet? If you haven’t, you need to, if for no other reason than to know why the 3-year-old at the back of the airplane is belting out the words “Let it gooooo… Let it gooooo” as your plane is cruising through the air. (Although you should also see it because it’s a cute movie…and it’s taking over our lives.)

Popularity and pop culture aside, the song “Let It Go” is more than iconic, however. It’s a lesson that can be applied all over the place, from relationships to, yes, email marketing best practices. I’m talking, of course, about preference centers.

Preference centers just might be the ultimate “let it go” of email marketing. And that letting go can have big payoffs when you let your customers call the shots. I’m calling it the Elsa approach to email marketing. In the movie, Elsa walks away from having to pretend to be someone she’s not. In email marketing, you can walk away from having to control how and how often your customers hear from you. It might sound counter-intuitive, but letting go and giving up that control can actually pay off big time.

Why have a preference center?
You know who wants control of your customer’s inbox? Your customer. People are much happier when they get to say what kind of content they get, and how and when they get it. By offering a preference center, you give them this control. It might be a scary thought, letting them determine how and when they hear from you, but it’s a “letting go” with a big payback, because you’ll have more satisfied customers who actually want what shows up in the inboxes.

Preference centers also help you avoid the spam button. Why do people click the spam button? Because your email frequency is too high, or else your email content is too irrelevant, or a combination of both. People also click spam (or go to the effort of unsubscribing) when they feel inundated by email and need to get off some lists. If you’re one of the marketers sending emails of little interest, you’re likely to be one of those cut off from that inbox.

A preference center can make your job easier too. In a way, your subscribers are doing your work for you when you have a preference center. Rather than you gleaning through data to determine what’s relevant for a subscriber, he or she can tell you by using your preference center.

Finally, a preference center can help to improve your email deliverability by giving subscribers the control that actually makes your emails more engaging to them. And engagement is not only good for your bottom line. It’s something ISPs look at and judge you by.

Why customize your preference center?
If you do nothing else, definitely offer a preference center, as basic as it might be. To do a little more and gain even more traction among your subscribers, however, you’ll want to think about customizing your preference center. Although you’re still “letting go” and letting them determine the how and when of your email messages, you’re also going to learn a lot more about your customers and be an even better marketer.

What might a customized preference center do that a plain Jane one doesn’t? It will get you more than a name and a ZIP code, for sure! I like Petsmart’s customized preference center as an example. After your initial signup, you can go in and add as much contact information as you want, and you can indicate how you want to be contacted. You can sign up for Deal Alerts or uncheck that box. You can choose to get marketing messages by email, direct mail or phone, or none at all. Dig deeper, and you can add your pets too…all of them. Talk about data! You can enter your pet’s birthday, breed and gender! Or you can choose not to enter anything at all. But think of the extreme relevance of an email directed at someone with an energetic 5-year-old lab vs. a message sent to someone with a geriatric 15-year-old cat.

In addition, you can tell people other ways to hear from you, like link to your blog and social media sites. For each of those, include a very short description of what people might find there. (Note: This would also be something you could do on an unsubscribe page. I’ve never seen this, but imagine an unsubscribe page that lets someone opt out but offers other ways to stay in touch, like Facebook or a blog?)

(For a plethora of ideas, see Hubspot’s 28 quick tips for customizing your preference center.)

Admittedly, the trick is finding a way to get someone there to use it. Then the next step is getting them to input the information. Let’s face it: It’s hard to make people tell you stuff! Petsmart makes it easy by offering the preference center as an option when you first subscribe. And maybe it’s not that it’s hard, but that it requires thinking very differently about your email program.  Make your preference center as engaging as your emails, so people want to go there. And remember to emphasize the benefits of giving you the information, so people want to tell you.

If you don’t get people there right from day one, you can always offer the link to your preference center in your marketing emails and most importantly in your welcome email, which brings us to my next point…

Be welcoming from day one
In addition to the customized preference center, have a good welcome email (or series of emails) in place to get the relationship off to a good start. Your welcome email can even invite new subscribers to use the preference center, enabling them to customize their content and frequency from the very beginning. (To improve your welcome emails, register for an upcoming webinar on welcome email do’s and don’t’s, presented by the Association of Strategic Marketing.)

The caveat to preference center customization
Although preference centers do rank high among email marketing best practices, there is a catch: You need to actually use the data you glean. That means, you should only ask for data you will actually act on. Otherwise you run the risk of asking for too much, on the one hand, and making your data cumbersome by collecting what you don’t need, on the other.

I can’t guarantee that letting go means you’ll be traipsing through deep snow finding the freedom to be yourself. But customizing your preference center to give customers greater control over content can only be a good thing…if not a box office hit.

P.S. If you need help customizing that preference center, call on ClickMail.

About the Author: Sharon

Sharon Ernst from BetterFasterWriter.com is on a mission to improve the business and marketing writing skills of today’s workforce with her blog, newsletter and online classes. Her newest class on intermediate email copywriting covers 19 tips and techniques non-copywriters can put to use right away for better results. The class has real-life examples and before/after comparisons to make the lessons stick. Find her class at www.betterfasterwriter.com/intermediate-email-copywriting-class. When she’s not busy helping employees, managers and marketers master their writing skills, she and her husband are busy raising pigs, cows, chickens and vegetables on their 20-acre farm.

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