Your organisation may not be using preference centres right now, or you might be using them in a very limited way.

But with some very big changes on the horizon for the way in which brands handle and utilise customer data, preference centres will soon become a must-have.

When used effectively, they are an easily accessible, real-time conversation between you and your customers. As we’ll see in this article, they can be used to improve your customer experience, expand your store of valuable data and even play a role in your GDPR compliance framework.

What is a preference centre?

A preference centre is an on-site or in-app page where a customer can curate the communications they receive from you. It’s sometimes referred to as a consent management page, but we would argue that this term doesn’t capture the full potential.

However, it’s true that a basic version may just offer customers a simple opt in/out choice for an outbound channel like email, SMS, or push notifications. Indeed the earliest, and simplest, iterations of preference centres focused exclusively on email permission.

Many brands will start out like this, gradually expanding the range of choices and selections available within the centre.

The current generation of preference centres has been designed with modern, multichannel communications and data privacy regulations in mind. A customer can select the types of campaigns they want to receive (whether it’s informational, promotional, etc), and on what channels and when. It also allows them to update their profile with key personal information (e.g. a change in home address, phone number, email address, and so on).

Within an industry like publishing, where a brand might offer several different content streams (like politics, sports, business, and so on), a preference centre can give each reader the option to subscribe to specific newsletters. The New York Times has a fantastic example of this on its website.

How the New York Times uses preference centres

What are the common use cases for a preference centre?

Already, it should be clear that there are lots of potential use cases, depending on the industry you’re in.

Here are the typical objectives that our clients solve, partially solve, through preference centres.

Improving the customer experience

What if a customer doesn’t want to unsubscribe from everything you send? Or what if they just want to temporarily press pause on some of the messages they receive from you?

A deep preference centre can make it more than a binary opt in or opt out decision. We’ve even seen organisations reduce their opt-outs by giving customers more options.

So, if they no longer want to read your blog, but you want to receive information about sales, they have that choice available to them. You can go even further and allow them to adjust the frequency of messages received, and prevent burnout before it happens.

It all makes for a better customer experience, and you still maintain some level of connection with them instead of losing them as an addressable contact altogether. A perfect, win-win exchange.

How LiveScore uses preference centres

Above are two nice examples of preference centres used by our client LiveScore (the world’s largest digital sports publisher) on their website and mobile app. 

GDPR compliance

There are numerous stipulations relating to consent under GDPR. One of the clearest is the need for brands to obtain permission via a “clear, affirmative” act. 

This is why preference centres really came into focus a few years ago when that legislation was introduced. Not only does it give the customer the chance to opt in or out as often as they wish, it makes it easy for them to do so. 

Within the Xtremepush platform, we can consolidate all of your individual customers’ permissions across multiple channels in a single place. Moreover, we can also update your list of addressable customers in real time, removing recent un-subscribers from any scheduled campaigns and avoiding any unintentional breaches.

Fundamentally, a preference centre will give your customers more control over their personal data, and that’s always a positive initiative to pursue.

A generic example of a preference centre

Using a preference centre to gather rich customer data

This could quickly become one of the most important uses of preference centres. With third party cookies soon to be phased out, the entire digital engagement industry will need to place more emphasis on first-party data, collected openly on a brand’s own website or app.

But while first-party data is undoubtedly valuable, preference centres can bring you one step closer to your customers, and enrich their profiles, through the collection of what’s known as zero party data

First-party data vs zero party data

The article we’ve linked to above discusses the differences between zero and first-party data in detail, but essentially it comes down to this; one is explicitly shared, the other is collected with permission.

First-party data relates to behaviours like pages viewed, links clicked and so on, from which you can infer their interests. For example, let’s say a customer often reads articles tagged as “sport”, or has previously bought a number of articles tagged as “footwear”. We might assign an attribute to their profile within the Single Customer View, something like interested_sport or buys_footwear.

These attributes can then be used as segmentation conditions for future engagement campaigns. If you’re interested, we recommend reading more about using attributes for pinpoint segmentation.

Whilst the attributes mentioned above are common examples, and likely to be accurate, they are still based on assumptions. You don’t know for a fact that the customer is interested in these things, it’s merely inferred from their behaviour.

So, where does zero party data fit into the puzzle then? It’s where a customer has actively shared this type of information with you. There’s no grey area, no assumptions. 

And because it isn’t tied to direction actions or events, it’s possible to solicit information about things that can’t be tagged. We would often see preference centres used in this way, presenting customers with a range of choices related to upcoming sales, or products in development and so on. Their selections and answers can then be turned into very useful attributes. It’s a way of understanding what your customers want to see more of in the future.

In some respects, you could think of a preference centre as a dynamic customer survey; always on, always available for customers to engage with, and where changes are updated and put into practice in real time.

Wrapping Up

We are in the midst of a seismic shift in digital marketing and engagement. Consumers are rightly being given more and more control over their personal data, with brands merely acting as custodians.

We have always advocated for consent-lead engagement that is compliant by design. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t still collect rich data in an open, ethical way. A preference centre is definitely a powerful way to do so.