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Managing Email Preferences – Lessons Learned

Last month I celebrated my one-year anniversary at fusionSpan as a Digital Strategy Business Analyst, which resulted in a plethora of celebratory emojis on the company’s internal Slack channel. (For anyone with Slack, I highly recommend the Party Parrot emojis!). My job is to help our clients with marketing automation implementations, ranging from Pardot and Marketing Cloud to Campaign Monitor and HubSpot.

Over the last year, no matter the toolset or client, I learned that email preferences are a fantastic conversation starter for several reasons:

  • There are legal requirements (CAN-SPAM, GDPR, CASL) guiding how contacts can opt-in and out of marketing emails.
  • Associations want to steer members away from the dreaded “Unsubscribe All” link.
  • Although many clients want their members to manage email preferences in as many locations as possible, having the data sync correctly across different tools can be complicated.

Legal Requirements

If you have ever worked with me on a marketing automation implementation, you probably heard me say, “I am not your association’s lawyer, but my understanding of CAN-SPAM is…” I started using this line after being asked by multiple clients what they should do, which prompted Becky Breeden, our Director of Digital Strategy, to remind me that I am indeed not a lawyer. (I was the classic STEM, not liberal arts, student.) Legal compliance is not my wheelhouse, but I do engage with clients on how to implement email preferences based on their understanding of the laws.

A common statement I hear from clients is, “The member opted out of receiving emails, but it is really important that they get the information!” The short answer is, although you may think the information is important (and I do believe you when you say that) – if your member has opted out of emails you should not send it to them. (Note that you can still send members transactional emails, which will be my blog topic in July – stay tuned!)

The Benefit of Offering Email Preferences

One key way to limit the number of unsubscribe alls is to include a link to manage email preferences. By using these email preferences you are then able to create segmented lists so you are delivering relevant content to your members. When members see that you tailor content based on their preferences, then they are more likely to be engaged and stay subscribed to your email marketing efforts. There are plenty of useful statistics out there related to ROI on segmentation, but the gist is that segmentation is extremely important, and self-selected email preferences is data directly from your member.

It is a step in the right direction to start using email preferences, but a piece that is likely even more important is having the right email preferences. I recommend to my clients that they look at the emails they have sent in the last 6 months and categorize them. When a final list of preferences is created you want every email that you send to fit into one of the buckets. I have seen clients who are frustrated with their current email preferences because sometimes they do not know which list to use for less frequent emails. There is no magic number of the number of options to provide your members, but I generally see between 10-15.

Where to Manage Email Preferences

I am a big proponent for having an email preference source of truth – allowing members to only go to one location to manage their preferences. You may be thinking that this is too restrictive, but my main reason for this recommendation is that having two or more places to manage preferences becomes logistically challenging across systems and may be confusing to members. The idea would be for a member to update their preferences in the marketing tool and then a few minutes later go into the member portal associated with Salesforce to view their most up-to-date preferences.

All marketing tools are different and I could write a separate blog article on each one. Depending on the tool, only certain fields can be synced back and forth and the preference centers have slightly different functionality. In addition, some tools sync more frequently to Salesforce than others. If for some reason, there is a sync error and the information doesn’t transfer over quickly, then the member would be confused as to why the two systems are displaying different information.

One tip is to think about is who will be accessing your email preferences page. If your association only sends out emails to existing members, then using the member portal (which requires log-in) may be preferable. Other organizations send half of their emails to non-members, so housing email preferences in the marketing tool, and not a gated member portal, would be more desirable.

In my tenure at fusionSpan, I have seen clients manage their email preferences in numerous different ways and all are slightly different because no two associations are alike. What I have really enjoyed over the past year is learning the nuances of business processes within associations that ultimately leads to how email preferences are managed.

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Susan Baumbach

Susan Baumbach

Susan has five years of experience working in associations and nonprofits, gaining critical experience in data analysis and how data is managed in Salesforce. As a certified Pardot Consultant and Marketing Cloud Email Specialist, she guides the implementation process from discovery through go-live and support. She is committed to creating the best marketing automation solution possible for users and stakeholders alike.
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