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Let consumers tell you how they want to be contacted

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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

Let consumers tell you how they want to be contacted
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 Insights.Dice.com, big data for Information Week, and software-as-a-service for SaaSintheEnterprise.com. 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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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

Did you follow the Apple iPad Pro content debacle?

Here’s a quick recap. A recent online ad for the new iPad Pro showed a large hydraulic press slowly crushing various symbols of creativity. A metronome, a piano, a record player, a video game, paints, books, and other creative tools splinter and smash as the Sonny and Cher song All I Ever Need Is You plays.

The ad’s title? “Crush!”

The point of the commercial — I think — is to show that Apple managed to smush (that’s the technical term) all this heretofore analog creativity into its new, very thin iPad Pro.  

To say the ad received bad reviews is underselling the response. Judgment was swift and unrelenting. The creative world freaked out.

On X, actor Hugh Grant shared Tim Cook’s post featuring the ad and added this comment: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

When fellow actor Justine Bateman shared the Tim Cook post, she simply wrote, “Truly, what is wrong with you?” Other critiques ranged from tone-challenged to wasteful to many worse things.

Actor Justine Bateman shared Tim Cook’s post on X, which featured the ad, and added this comment: "Truly, what is wrong with you?".

A couple of days later, Apple apologized and canceled plans to air the ad on television.

How not-so-great content ideas come to life

The level of anger surprises me. Look, the ad does show the eyeballs on an emoji-faced squishy ball popping under the plates’ pressure, but still. Calling the ad “actually psychotic” might be a skosh over the top.

Yes, the ad missed the mark. And the company’s subsequent decision to apologize makes sense.

But anyone who’s participated in creating a content misfire knows this truth: Mistakes look much more obvious in hindsight.

On paper, I bet this concept sounded great. The brainstorming meeting probably started with something like this: “We want to show how the iPad Pro metaphorically contains this huge mass of creative tools in a thin and cool package.”

Maybe someone suggested representing that exact thing with CGI (maybe a colorful tornado rising from the screen). Then someone else suggested showing the actual physical objects getting condensed would be more powerful.

Here’s my imagined version of the conversation that might have happened after someone pointed out the popular internet meme of things getting crushed in a hydraulic press.

“People love that!”

“If we add buckets of paint, it will be super colorful and cool.”

“It’ll be a cooler version of that LG ad that ran in 2008.”

“Exactly!”

“It’ll be just like that ad where a bus driver kidnaps and subsequently crushes all the cute little Pokémon characters in a bus!” (Believe it or not, that was actually a thing.)

The resulting commercial suffers from the perfect creative storm: A not-great (copycat) idea at the absolutely wrong time.

None of us know what constraints Apple’s creative team worked under. How much time did they have to come up with a concept? Did they have time to test it with audiences? Maybe crushing physical objects fit into the budget better than CGI. All these factors affect the creative process and options (even at a giant company like Apple).

That’s not an excuse — it’s just reality.

Content failure or content mistake?

Many ad campaigns provoke a “What the hell were they thinking?” response (think Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad or those cringy brand tributes that follow celebrity deaths).

Does that mean they’re failures? Or are they mistakes? And what’s the difference?

As I wrote after Peloton’s holiday ad debacle (remember that?), people learn to fear mistakes early on. Most of us hear cautionary messages almost from day one.

Some are necessary and helpful (“Don’t stick a knife in a live toaster” or “Look both ways before you cross the street.”) Some aren’t (“Make that essay perfect” or “Don’t miss that goal.”)

As a result, many people grow up afraid to take risks — and that hampers creativity. The problem arises from conflating failure and mistakes. It helps to know the difference.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I failed. But it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t wrong to try. My attempt just didn’t work.

Labeling a failed attempt a “mistake” feeds the fears that keep people from attempting anything creative.

The conflation of failure and mistakes happens all too often in creative marketing. Sure, people create content pieces (and let’s not forget that there are always people behind those ideas) that genuinely count as mistakes.

They also create content that simply fails.

Don’t let extreme reactions make you fear failures

Here’s the thing about failed content. You can do all the work to research your audience and take the time to develop and polish your ideas — and the content still might fail. The story, the platform, or the format might not resonate, or the audience simply might not care for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a mistake.

Was the Apple ad a mistake? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Was it a failure? The vitriolic response indicates yes.

Still, the commercial generated an impressive amount of awareness (53 million views of the Tim Cook post on X, per Variety.) And, despite the apology, the company hasn’t taken the ad down from its YouTube page where it’s earned more than 1 million views.

The fictional Captain Jean Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” The Apple ad turns that statement on its head — Apple made many mistakes and still won a tremendous amount of attention.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t criticize creative work. Constructive critiques help us learn from our own and others’ failures. You can even have a good laugh about content fails.

Just acknowledge, as the Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote, “Not every mistake is a foolish one.” 

Creative teams take risks. They try things outside their comfort zone. Sometimes they fail (sometimes spectacularly).

But don’t let others’ expressions of anger over failures inhibit your willingness to try creative things.

Wouldn’t you love to get the whole world talking about the content you create? To get there, you have to risk that level of failure.

And taking that risk isn’t a mistake.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 



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The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

Writing a book is a gargantuan task, and reaching the finish line is a feat equal to summiting a mountain.

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