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Best practices for setting up online preference centers

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Companies increasingly are turning to online preference centers as a way to allow b-to-b customers to easily update their e-mail address or get off an e-mail list.

That’s important because b-to-b e-mail lists churn at a rate of about 25% a year, according to MarketingSherpa’s e-mail marketing benchmark guide. “By giving someone a way to click through and change that address, you’re saving that old address from churning,” said Jeanne S. Jennings, who runs Email Marketing Strategy, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm.

When visitors click on a company’s preference center to unsubscribe from a particular newsletter, don’t just let them off the hook, Jennings advised. If you offer them listings of other online publications or even paid products, recipients who went there to unsubscribe from one newsletter may find another that’s more relevant to their work, she said. “It’s a way of maintaining a relationship, especially if someone is changing jobs,” Jennings said.

If done right, these encounters can be converted into marketing opportunities and profit centers for companies instead of merely cost centers, Jennings said.

Here are other important tips to help set up a successful preference center:

  1. Organize your newsletter choices. If your company has more than five e-mail newsletters listed, arrange them into logical groups so readers can figure out which ones might interest them, Jennings said.
  2. Ask for additional information. When visitors return to update their preferences, take that opportunity to grow your database of knowledge about them. A word of caution: Never ask for more than three new pieces of data at a time, Jennings said. In addition, prioritize and ask only for useful data. For example, ask for a ZIP code if your company offers regional workshops, so recipients can be informed of upcoming events in their areas.
  3. Offer incentives in exchange for more data. Some companies offer a small incentive for visitors to update their information, for example, every three to six months. Incentives might include a free PDF special report that’s available in-house, Jennings said. Also, ask for another bit of data when they update for that incentive.
  4. Always send an e-mail confirmation. When visitors alter or add information, send an e-mail confirming changes made to the user profile, Jennings said. Provide a link to the updated page if the change wasn’t anticipated, she added.
  5. Think hard about requiring a password for preference centers, said Derek Harding, CEO of Innovyx Inc., a Seattle-based e-mail marketing services company. If that part of your Web site doesn’t contain sensitive data about the visitor, such as credit card information or salary details, “you run the risk of turning off people who don’t have the time or inclination to remember user names or passwords,” he said.
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