Email Preference Center: Are You Ready?

Think you are ready for an email preference center? Think again, and think hard.

Many times, companies want an email preference center to help its audience better manage email subscriptions. An email preference center is a best practice to help reduce unsubscribes while also providing consumers with the flexibility to customize their brand experience.

All sounds great, right?

The big challenge of adopting an email preference center is that it’s like putting shingles on a roof before the roof is complete. Companies need to address many other business, content and compliance issues BEFORE deploying one. Email preference centers are great at addressing the back end of your mailing strategy, but they often leave gaps on the front end.

You should only consider developing an email preference center if you are ready to tackle these business issues, not because your CEO thinks it’s a nice idea.

Today, we dive into the top five challenges around adopting an email preference center and steps you can take to begin creating a global email policy.

What is an Email Preference Center?

There are plenty of articles that cover the huge benefits of email preference centers, so I’ll try to keep this section brief. Google “email preference center” or “email subscription center” and see enough results to fill up your reading day.

To summarize, an email preference center is a page that allows your audience to adjust the types of communications it wants to receive from your brand. Whether it’s event related emails or exclusive offers emails, an email preference center provides a more elegant way for your audience to customize the experience (and unsubscribe from communications).

Our preference center allows subscribers to opt out of various types of email messages, including promotions, announcements and newsletters

Email Preference Center Benefits

When deciding if an email preference center is right for your organization, consider these benefits to weight against the effort to develop it. Email preference centers…

  • Help reduce unsubscribe rates by providing multiple content subscription options
  • Improve the experience by providing a customizable “goodbye”
  • Offer marketing better segmentation options to improve ongoing communications and boost performance
  • Enable businesses with multiple brands to manage a central email policy across divisions. For example, Chevy and Cadillac are brands of General Motors that use the same subscription center.

Email preference centers only work for organizations that have the right email strategies and policies in place.

Recently, the email marketing software reviews platform GetApp surveyed over 500 internet users to learn the most common reasons behind email newsletter unsubscribes. Source: Email Monks

Five Challenges with Email Preference Centers

At first glance, a preference center looks straightforward to roll out. This could not be further from the truth.

Marketo master Josh Hill has done an unbelievable job documenting how to set one up with Marketo. Tactics will vary based on your needs and strategy, but Building a Full Subscription Center in Marketo provides a great framework; however, implementation is only a fraction of the solution. Even when using other solutions like Eloqua or Hubspot, you’ll need to think through these business issues.

Here are five challenges to consider before you develop your email preference center.

1. Lack of a Documented Email Policy

Many companies aren’t ready for an email preference center because their mailing policies around who/what gets mailed aren’t established or their processes aren’t ready. Don’t have these in place? Email preference centers can often be the catalyst for investing in those policies.

For example, email preference centers help organizations define how someone gets out of an email list, but are traditionally terrible at defining how somebody gets into the email list–that’s where the real challenge lies and that’s where many companies fail.  You’ll need to answer questions like:

  • Which list should a trade show attendee get added to?
  • Is a person that a Sales rep added to the system mailable?
  • How do we handle new leads from Canada in order to adhere with the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL)?
  • Can we mail bulk lists of new leads from list sources like ZoomInfo, D&B and more?
  • Is someone who fills out a demo request on our website automatically subscribed to everything?

Documenting the policy helps bring clarity to whom should and shouldn’t get mailed.

2. Non-compliant Email Strategy

We live in the internet world where leads come from everywhere. This means organizations need to deal with a plethora of compliance regulations. Before you deploy an email subscription center, I’d recommend evaluating how it will work with compliance regulations such as CAN-SPAM, CASL and more. See a comprehensive list here.

One example we see often is mailing to purchased lists. Many marketers mail to those lists, but lack vision into the compliance implications of those actions.

As you develop your email subscription center, make sure to consider its compliance impact. Also, don’t forget to document and report on double opt-in sign up dates for countries like Germany, Canada and others.

Litmus created a great infographic on all the compliance regulations, but here’s a snapshot.

3. Lack of Content Planning

Another consideration is content. As the old saying goes, “Content is King.” Does your organization have the content and resources to support the segments from the email preferences?

We have seen instances where organizations created an email preference center only to never create the segmented content that delivers the personalization. The end result is that all subscribers receive all content which defeats one of the purposes of a preference center.

If you aren’t going to invest in the content, you may want to pass on a preference center.

4. Not Ready for Changes to Existing Processes

Let’s say Joe Paragona is your marketing manager who sends emails to trade show targets. Suddenly, this new email preference center rolls out and Joe isn’t up to speed on how to use the new Events Preference checkbox (or however you decide to set it up). Suddenly, Joe sends an event invite to your entire install base instead of the targeted subscription list.

That won’t happen to your company, right? We’ve heard that one before.

The key is to educate your marketing business owners on the new process and train, train, train.

5. Underestimating Changes to Your Legacy Programs and Data

If your company has been around a while, you likely have hundreds or thousands of live programs in your system collecting data.

Guess what? You now have to come up with strategic and execution plans to ensure any new participants are subscribed according to your new policies.

For example, if you have 75 ebook landing pages on your website, you may need to swap out the forms to adhere to the new mailing process. Hopefully, you have planned out your Marketo or marketing automation platform in a way that supports global changes.

The Solution: Develop Mailing Policies and Practices BEFORE an Email Preference Center

Before you build an email preference center, your organization should sit down and develop a holistic mailing strategy that your preference center supports.

This mailing policy should document all aspects of how you mail your audience. And yes, it should be written and approved by your legal team.

  • Explicit vs Implicit vs None. Do you want to adopt a strict opt-in mailing policy where a subscriber has to explicitly opt into a list, or an implied opt-in policy? Or both? Read The Problem with Implicit Opt-In For Email Marketing
  • Sales Generated Leads. What are your mailing rules for leads self-inputted by Sales? Is a person that a Sales rep entered mailable? If so, which list does the person belong to?
  • Event Driven Leads. How do you handle lists from trade shows and other events?
  • Compliance Regulations. What are your considerations around CASL, CAN-SPAM and other regulations?
  • Email Nurturing. How are automated nurture emails handled?
  • Operational Emails. Which emails are considered operational? For example, some companies consider service alerts as operational emails and send them outside of normal opt-in policies.
  • Frequency. How many times a week do you want your audience to receive content? Do you want to provide this flexibility in the email preference center?
  • Existing Infrastructure. How will existing marketing programs be affected? Will you need to change out forms for data collection? This often overlooked area can have a major effect on IT and operations.
  • Legacy Data. What do you want to do with existing data? For example, you may consider subscribing everyone or you may decide to send a welcome email asking for preferences.
  • Training. Which business owners need to be trained on the new proposed processes?
  • And more


To summarize, developing an email preference center goes beyond the actual implementation of the solution. In order to successfully roll one out, understand that the organization needs to put policies and strategies in place prior to the setup to ensure long term success.

As one final disclaimer, this blog post should not be interpreted as legal advice.  As always, consult your own lawyers for specific legal guidance.

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At Digital Pi, we use technology to connect revenue to marketing efforts. We fuse marketing strategies, processes, data and applications to make marketing technology solutions work for clients' businesses.

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