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HomeRants > Talk like a human being. > Customize--then personalize. > Build a unified profile.


How to profile:

Ask only the critical questions

Use a cookie to keep track of each person

Reward their effort immediately

Pull up records of previous interactions with the individual

Give people control over their profiles

Keep asking questions.

Build a unified profile

To spot an individual, you must have a profile of each person.  Don't require that people register, filling out the profile, before they can see your site.  That's crazy.  Instead, offer concrete benefits for filling out the form.

Ask only the critical questions

Ask the ones that make a difference when you are deciding what group someone belongs to, and what individual characteristics could determine the right content for that person.

Almost everyone asks for information that populates MyAccount, or some such area, and fills boxes during the checkout process:

  • Full name
  • Shipping and billing addresses. (The ZIP code turns out to be the most revealing, because we have so much demographic data tied to ZIP codes.  From that one fact, even without the street and city, we can tell your likely income, home size, leisure activities, purchasing patterns).
  • Phone (in case you really need to call; if all your marketing group wants to do is make annoying calls, vote to nix this entry in the form.)
  • Email address (ask twice and compare entries, to verify accuracy)

To figure out what kind of content to deliver, or promote, you may want to ask more personal questions about:

  • Occupation
  • Industry
  • Number of people in your organization
  • Age
  • Income level
  • Hobbies and interests

As you learn more about each group, you'll see what kind of information helps you distinguish between them.


Who am I writing for, and, incidentally, who am I? (Full chapter from Hot Text, in PDF, 566K, or about 10 minutes at 56k)


Registration form at the Wall Street Journal Online

Use a cookie to keep track of each person.

When the visitor enters the site, you can poll their software to see if your cookie is still there.

If not, you need to have them go through a login, recalling their user name and password, and offering full remediation when they forget.

If the user's system accepts cookies, you get a unique identifier for that person, from which your system can pull up the person's name and say, "Hello, JonathanReevePrice." Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the software is populating the MyAccount page with other information from the profile.

Now that you have the profile info, you can identify what group this person belongs to, and, if you have already allowed the person to personalize settings, trigger those as well.

Reward their effort immediately

Prove it was worth filling out the registration form.

  • Give me a coupon right away, a special discount. 
  • Let me see some inside information. 
  • Send me a white paper or report.

These little rewards make me feel it was worth my time entering my personal information.

Pull up records of previous interactions with the individual.

She bought a hose at your retail store in Keokuk.  She called your customer service line for help about the washer-dryer that she bought online from your site.  She registered for your email newsletter.

All of this information should now appear in her page called MyAccount, or whatever. The more you reveal on their account page, the more willing most people are to contribute more, or correct their address when they move.








Completed Order from Amazon.com

So push your customer relationship management (CRM) system to pull together all the transactions your organization has had with this person--in person, on the phone, by email, over the web, via handheld.  Display all that info in their account. 

They are reassured to see all the information in one place. Why should they care how hard it is for different groups to make their databases communicate?

Give people control over their profiles.

Allowing people to edit their address, credit card info, preferences, and so on makes them feel in control.  Of course you don't want to let them delete old transactions.  But if you allow editing of other information, surprisingly, people will go in there and volunteer new information.

;No more direct mail sent to the wrong address.  No confusion when it comes time to ship something to them. No rebuffs because of old credit card information.


Amazon invites you to edit your account information, change settings, ask for more contact.

Keep asking questions.

From time to time, offer a popup survey, sweepstakes (requiring just one more answer), special offer (asking just one more question).  But be polite.  Let them x out of there, or decline.

IBM politely allows you to refuse to take their survey.  But every once and a while, I go ahead and answer the question, just to find out what they are asking.

Next: Use rules or inferences to match individuals & content



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