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Let consumers tell you how they want to be contacted



Let consumers tell you how they want to be contacted

Ping. “Don’t bother me.”

Consumers don’t like being reminded to buy something. But they will tolerate it if they have some say in how they are notified.

Preference centers are emerging as a way for digital marketers to stay in touch with their customers without displeasing them. Brands can set-up a front-end where consumers can choose how often they want to be notified, through which channel, as well as what kind of information they are interested in hearing about.

The technique yields zero-party data and can be used to build a long-term customer relationships. But trust is required, so don’t be evil. Customers will enter this bargain so long as you promise to respect their wishes and keep their data private.

Back in the Stone Age…

…marketers tried hard to figure out how often they could contact their customers, usually via e-mail. Even time of day and the substance of the message were taken into account as “judgment factors”. But that approach was not foolproof.

“Email marketing can cause inbox fatigue.” noted Alex Cash, director of strategy at OneTrust PreferenceChoice, which offers a consent and preference management platform. “As people have become flooded with marketing emails over the past few years, they become irritated and sometimes ignore inboxes altogether. Unfortunately for marketers, this means fewer opens and more unsubscribes.”

“Our pockets have been buzzing and beeping more [in] the years since the introduction of the iPhone.” said Nirish Parsad, practice lead for privacy, identity and marketing tech at Tinuiti. “We’ve got text messages, push notifications, and various forms of in-app notifications, all fighting for some attention. So, the shortcomings? If your comms strategy in 2022 is just email, that’s a lot of effort for a 20% open rate, if you’re lucky.”

“In the past, B2B and B2C both had very detailed and granular preference centers, with the hopes of limiting the number of unsubscribes, but that over-complicated the operation.” said Lauren Harrison, senior marketing consultant at CloudKettle, a consulting firm. Sometimes firms asked for too much information. “Preferences were ignored, and recipients stopped wanting to fill the whole form out.” she said.

Ready, ask, aim, fire

So why not ask the customer how they want to be informed, and let them set the controls? That sounds easy. But marketers must give a lot of thought to how they want to set up a preference center. What information can you ask for without frustrating the customer? You don’t need to find out their entire life story when you ask them to fill out a form.

 “Think about your onboarding experiences, quizzes and surveys, and areas where preferences can be remembered to make the experience better.” Parsad said. “Customers want personalization, so it’s important to use this information to transform the web experience. You’re learning a lot more about them than just their name, email and address.”

Cash put the preference center in a strategic context, as part of a data management strategy. “Marketers should look for solutions that can integrate with existing customer journeys and UIs like webforms, whilst also providing flexible UIs out of the box for additional data and consent capture.” he said.

“A preference center is not an ideal place for data collection for B2B and B2C, as it really should empower the user to manage how they would like to be communicated.” Harrison said. “In collecting information about [the customer] and their preferences, you are allowing them to control the content.”

Build it right and they will come

Marketers can make strategic choices when constructing the preference center. But those choices should be supported by data. Here A/B testing comes into play. “Develop a few different versions of the form, asking different questions and measure which has the most form fill-outs, and which has the most people drop off part way through.” Harrison said.

“Another method is doing focus groups with customers to obtain feedback directly from them on what works and doesn’t.” Harrison added. “It is a good practice to have someone outside of marketing/sales review the form to ensure it makes sense and is not too complicated.”

“Marketers can gauge success from several metrics: Opt-in and opt-down rates, unsubscribes, or the development of first-party and zero-party data sets.” Cash said. Analysis can determine “which initiatives are most effective, and shine light on how trust and transparency are leading to ROI.”

“Net promoter score (NPS) is a great indicator, and I wish marketers used customer delight metrics to guide various strategies.” Parsad said. “Customer loyalty and retention are other great metrics to start looking at.”

Read next: How to extract value from zero-party data

Don’t miss these steps

Pay attention to the details, since mistakes will compromise the preference center and undermine your marketing strategy.

Harrison pointed out the need to work with a graphic designer to make sure the e-forms look good and render well across all browsers and devices. Avoid asking for information you don’t need. Be sure you can deliver on your promise, whether it is a communication limited to certain topics or frequency. “If you give an option to set communication limits, make sure you actually have the technical ability to comply with that request.” Harrison said. “Finally, ask yourself if you are compliant with anti-spam laws. Remember that this is based on the location of the recipient, not your business.”

“Consider a preference center as a growing component of the user experience.” Cash said. “Do winning marketers develop a marketing plan one year and then rinse-and-repeat the same plan every year after? Of course not, and preference management is the same.”

Parsad put down this checklist:

  • A preference center pulls in any part of your organization that communicates or interacts with the customer. Marketing, sales, customer service, operations, billing, etc. 
  • Map out all the interactions, and identify all the areas where you are capturing data – both zero party and first party. 
  • Be transparent, and prepare to give your customers control over their data. 
  • Choice, control and transparency are what are necessary. 
  • Deliver immediate value.

About The Author

William Terdoslavich is a freelance writer with a long background covering information technology. Prior to writing for Martech, he also covered digital marketing for DMN. A seasoned generalist, William covered employment in the IT industry for, big data for Information Week, and software-as-a-service for He also worked as a features editor for Mobile Computing and Communication, as well as feature section editor for CRN, where he had to deal with 20 to 30 different tech topics over the course of an editorial year. Ironically, it is the human factor that draws William into writing about technology. No matter how much people try to organize and control information, it never quite works out the way they want to.

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Email Marketing Trends 2023: Predictions by the Industry Stalwarts



Email Marketing Trends 2023: Predictions by the Industry Stalwarts

Every year, we see new trends entering the world of email marketing.

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5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve the Content Experience for Readers



5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve the Content Experience for Readers

Who doesn’t like to have a good experience consuming content?

I know I do. And isn’t that what we – as both a consumer of content and a marketer of content – all want?

What if you create such a good experience that your audience doesn’t even realize it’s an “experience?” Here’s a helpful mish-mash of easy-to-do things to make that possible.

1. Write with an inclusive heart

There’s nothing worse than being in a conversation with someone who constantly talks about themselves. Check your text to see how often you write the words – I, me, we, and us. Now, count how often the word “you” is used. If the first-person uses are disproportionate to the second-person uses, edit to delete many first-person references and add more “you” to the text.

You want to let your audience know they are included in the conversation. I like this tip shared in Take Binary Bias Out of Your Content Conversations by Content Marketing World speaker Ruth Carter: Go through your text and replace exclusionary terms such as he/him and she/her with they/them pronouns.

Go through your text and replace exclusionary terms such as he/him and she/her with they/them pronouns, says @rbcarter via @Brandlovellc @CMIContent. #WritingTips Click To Tweet

2. Make your content shine brighter with an AI assist

Content published online should look different than the research papers and essays you wrote in school. While you should adhere to grammar rules and follow a style guide as best as possible, you also should prioritize readability. That requires scannable and easily digestible text – headings, bulleted text, short sentences, brief paragraphs, etc.

Use a text-polishing aid such as Hemingway Editor (free and paid versions) to cut the dead weight from your writing. Here’s how its color-coded review system works and the improvements to make:

  • Yellow – lengthy, complex sentences, and common errors
    • Fix: Shorten or split sentences.
  • Red – dense and complicated text
    • Fix: Remove hurdles and keep your readers on a simpler path.
  • Pink – lengthy words that could be shortened
    • Fix: Scroll the mouse over the problematic word to identify potential substitutes.
  • Blue – adverbs and weakening phrases
    • Fix: Delete them or find a better way to convey the thought.
  • Green – passive voice
    • Fix: Rewrite for active voice.

Grammarly’s paid version works well, too. The premium version includes an AI-powered writing assistant, readability reports, a plagiarism checker, citation suggestions, and more than 400 additional grammar checks.

In the image below, Grammarly suggests a way to rephrase the sentence from:

“It is not good enough any longer to simply produce content “like a media company would”.


“It is no longer good enough to produce content “as a media company would”.

Much cleaner, right?

3. Ask questions

See what I did with the intro (and here)? I posed questions to try to engage with you. When someone asks a question – even in writing – the person hearing (or reading) it is likely to pause for a split second to consider their answer. The reader’s role changes from a passive participant to an active one. Using this technique also can encourage your readers to interact with the author, maybe in the form of an answer in the comments.

4. Include links

Many content marketers include internal and external links in their text for their SEO value. But you also should add links to help your readers. Consider including links to help a reader who wants to learn more about the topic. You can do this in a couple of ways:

  • You can link the descriptive text in the article to content relevant to those words (as I did in this bullet point)
  • You can list the headlines of related articles as a standalone feature (see the gray box labeled Handpicked Related Content at the end of this article).

Add links to guide readers to more information on a topic – not just for SEO purposes says @Brandlovellc via @CMIContent. #WritingTips Click To Tweet

You also can include on-page links or bookmarks in the beginning (a table of contents, of sorts) in longer pieces to help the reader more quickly access the content they seek to help you learn more about a topic. This helps the reader and keeps visitors on your website longer.

5. Don’t forget the ‘invisible’ text

Alt text is often an afterthought – if you think about it all. Yet, it’s essential to have a great content experience for people who use text-to-speech readers. Though it doesn’t take too much time, I find that customizing the image description content instead of relying on the default technology works better for audience understanding.

First, ask if a listener would miss something if they didn’t have the image explained. If they wouldn’t, the image is decorative and probably doesn’t need alt text. You publish it for aesthetic reasons, such as to break up a text-heavy page. Or it may repeat information already appearing in the text (like I did in the Hemingway and Grammarly examples above).

If the listener would miss out if the image weren’t explained well, it is informative and requires alt text. General guidelines indicate up to 125 characters (including spaces) work best for alt text. That’s a short sentence or two to convey the image’s message. Don’t forget to include punctuation.

General guidelines indicate up to 125 characters (including spaces) work best for alt text, says @Brandlovellc via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

For both decorative and informative images, include the photo credits, permissions, and copyright information, in the caption section.

For example, if I were writing an article about Best Dogs for Families, I would include an image of a mini Bernedoodle as an example because they make great family pets. Let’s use this image of my adorable puppy, Henri, and I’ll show you both a good and bad example of alt text.

An almost useless alt-text version: “An image showing a dog.”

Author’s tri-colored (brown, white, black, grey wavy hair), merle mini Bernedoodle, Henri, lying on green grass.

It wastes valuable characters with the phrase “an image showing.”

Use the available characters for a more descriptive alt text: “Author’s tri-colored (brown, white, black, grey wavy hair), merle mini Bernedoodle, Henri, lying on green grass.”

It’s more descriptive, and I only used 112 characters, including spaces.

Want to learn more? Alexa Heinrich, an award-winning social media strategist, has a helpful article on writing effective image descriptions called The Art of Alt Text. @A11yAwareness on Twitter is also a great resource for accessibility tips.

Improve your content and better the experience

Do any of these suggestions feel too hard to execute? I hope not. They don’t need a bigger budget to execute. They don’t need a lengthy approval process to implement. And they don’t demand much more time in production.

They just need you to remember to execute them the next time you write (and the time after that, and the time after that, and the … well, you get the idea.)

If you have an easy-to-implement tip to improve the content experience, please leave it in the comments. I may include it in a future update.

All tools mentioned in the article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please feel free to add it in the comments.

If you have an idea for an original article you’d like to share with the CMI audience, you could get it published on the site. First, read our blogging guidelines and write or adjust your draft accordingly. Then submit the post for consideration following the process outlined in the guidelines.

In appreciation for guest contributors’ work, we’re offering free registration to one paid event or free enrollment in Content Marketing University to anyone who gets two new posts accepted and published on the CMI site in 2023.


Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023



The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023

Product marketing is essential, even if you only sell one or two products at your organization.


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