How to opt-in to ‘opting-in’ – part 3

By Angelique Laaks | Uncategorized

Jan 21

In part one and part two of this post, we covered the different types of preferences that we need to maintain in order to be legally compliant and provide a satisfactory customer experience. In this final part of the post, we’ll take a look at two common pitfalls that we marketers can fall into when we come to putting all this knowledge into practice. We’ll then conclude by touching on some considerations that will help us enhance our customers’ overall preferences experience.

Dedicated global opt-out

One mistake that marketers sometimes make is to assume that an easy way to opt-out a user globally is to simply opt them out of each channel so they won’t receive any communications. Whilst this may seem to achieve the desired end result we haven’t actually captured what the customer has communicated to us which, aside from being legally on unclear ground, is a failure to understand our customers’ true wishes. In this scenario, every time a new channel is added to our tool (and each social platform is potentially a new channel from a preferences perspective) we lose the ability to distinguish between users who’ve merely opted-out of all our existing channels versus those who’ve asked us not to communicate with them further which means we lose the right to communicate.

Additionally, our channel specific preferences may not be designed to store double opt-in information in which case we have another point of exposure to subsequent data loss.

The long and short of this is that global and channel specific preferences should be managed as separate preferences with the global preferences taking precedence and the channel preferences only acted upon if a user can legitimately be communicated to.

De-duplication rules and multi-channel marketing

Now we come to the mother of all challenges! Many of the messaging systems in use today have their roots in email marketing and are inherently designed to store a users’ contact details based on their email address. In order to prevent data being duplicated, a rule is often implemented to stop new contact records being created with the same email address as an existing contact. This is often referred to as a primary key by technical marketers and it requires that we include an email address with each record. If we only use our system to send emails then this approach may work fine for us. However, as soon as we add another channel, we hit a major problem with opt-in and opt-out, consider the following scenario…

A user calls our contact centre and opts-in to receive communications but does not want to disclose their email address. At this stage, we’re faced with 2 choices… either create a made-up email address so we can create their contact record, or don’t enter their record into our marketing system. Quite obviously, neither of these solutions is the one we would want to take.

Even if we reconfigure our primary key to include both telephone and email address, we’ll still hit the same problem again when we try to add a social or direct mail channel. So the only true answer at this point then is to abandon these restrictive deduplication rules altogether and find more flexible ways of tidying and linking up our data. For a good example of this, we only have to look at our smartphone’s address book and see how contacts are deduplicated by linking multiple records together rather than by trying to prevent multiple records being created. Just as our marketing and operational messaging tries to keep up with the multi-channel experience on mobile, now our data rules must do the same as well.

One thing to be aware of here is that a number of commercial tools come pre-configured with deduplication rules and, as crazy as this may seem, may not actually be able to support the kind of data requirements needed to manage preferences correctly. So if you’re evaluating a number of tools for potential purchase, this should definitely be at the top of your ‘must have’ list.


In this post, we’ve deliberately stuck closely to the absolute essentials for preference management, and it’s still taken three fairly long and condensed articles to cover just these. However, this is merely the foundation for a more complete customer experience. Typically we’re going to want to add to this more customer preferences around the types of content they would like to receive and possibly the frequency with which they’d like to receive it. Once all this is done, we then need to design and create at least one touchpoint per channel that enables our customer to communicate and manage their preferences and ensure that it’s clear and easy for them to use as part of their overall customer experience.

Perhaps then, preference management is not quite so simple after all? But… if we’ve hung on this far, maybe we’re that bit better prepared for the ride!

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