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Progressive Profiling: What Carnival Cruise & Shopify Teach Us

Raise your hand if you hate filling out forms.

I’ll bet a lot of hands are up right now, heck, I am even typing this one-handed…

In sales and marketing, collecting data online is incredibly important. When the web was first introduced and became a primary pillar of marketing, we developed online forms to help collect that information from our website visitors. It was basic, it was effective, and it accomplished the goal.

No one particularly liked filling out forms, but it was all we had.

Fast forward to 2015 and marketing has evolved, the web has evolved, and consumers have evolved.

But most forms have not.

Why Use Dumb Forms When You Can Use Smart Forms

Introducing Progressive Profiling

Progressive profiling is the product of two powerful features working together. The first, called ‘Smart Forms’ automatically fill in information your website knows about the visitor.

Most often, this includes their name, email address, URL, etc.

The second feature is dynamic forms fields that leverage the power of context and adjust in length based on whether a visitor has already completed one of your forms in the past.

For example, if you already know the name of your visitor’s company, that field would not appear, instead be replaced with something that is unknown, like their industry, Twitter handle, or phone number.

Depending on the robustness of your CRM (Customer Relation Manager), you can use information already known to you to pre-fill or even avoid the need for repetitive information to be entered by the user.

Our goal as marketers is to delight our customers.

Benefits of Progressive Forms in Marketing

As I said before, no web visitor enjoys filling out forms. And research shows us that shorter forms convert better than longer forms. So why squander an opportunity to ask for the same information when you could gather new information and make your marketing smarter?

By asking the important questions (like name, email address, website, etc) on a first visit, then less important questions in subsequent visits, you will see higher conversion rates on your landing pages.

Further, because you can ask deeper, more detailed questions over time, you build a more comprehensive profile of your prospect or customer. Eventually, you will segment your list into a lot of small groups or even individual-level targeting.

Progressive profiling delivers the right message, to the right person, at the right time.

Progressive Profiling Paired with Smart Marketing

Last month, I purchased a cruise vacation from Carnival Cruise. As I witnessed their marketing and communication, I came up with 3 real-world touch points where they could apply progressive profiling to build a smart marketing campaign for me.

Every buyer has a different process or entry point before the purchase, but after the purchase, the brand has complete control over the follow-up, marketing, and communication.

This breaks down the timeline of events after the purchase.

First Touch Point: Email Marketing

I received 12 emails from Carnival about my vacation. I like the frequency of communication, but I was under-impressed with the content of what they were sharing with me.

After purchasing, I received a “Thank you for signing up to receive our deals” email. While it is great that I am being thanked for signing up, this really isn’t the most appropriate email for the transaction. I understand that by making a purchase, I also agreed to receive their email newsletter, but that is a micro-transaction compared to their ultimate goal of me converting and making a purchase.

Solution: Use workflows to separate causal newsletter subscribers from purchasers. Send a purchase confirmation, not a “Thank You” note with links to the latest deals. That puts me back at the top or middle of the sales funnel, not the very bottom where I am.

Next, I received a purchase confirmation loaded with trip details and a list of important next steps that must be completed prior to the trip. This is good, and the list of requirements sets clear expectations for the customer.

Within a few hours, I received an email from my “Personal Vacation Planner” telling me all I need to do to get started is give them a call or reply to the email. Wait, I already purchased, didn’t I? What I am getting started with? Why is language like “plan your next vacation” and “where is your next great escape?” being used? At this point, Marketer Brain kicks in and I get the sense I am in multiple workflows.

Solution: Use rules within your workflow the ensure that customers who have already purchased an upcoming trip are removed from all “Plan your next vacation” lists.

Shortly after that email, I received a phone call from my Personal Vacation Planner who left a voicemail with much of the same language used in the email above. Again, this would all be fine if I had not already purchased. I’m still in two automated marketing workflows.

“21 Days Until Your Cruise!” read the subject of my next email. Fantastic! A little personalization to help excite me and share what to expect. This note promoted the on-shore excursions and the like. Perfect.

The next week, “14 Days Until Your Cruise” showed up in my inbox, except, it had the exact same info as the previous email. Same excursions, same price, same wording — just a different countdown. That being the case, I lost some excitement points because I had already seen everything.

Next, I received the email, “3 Reasons You Should Book Excursions Before Your Cruise!” Yay! New subject formatting. This was another promo for excursions along our route with some testimonials from previous sailors (I assume) about how awesome these excursions were, how I would save money by buying early, etc. Great upsell and use of testimonials to help persuade me to purchase. This is often referred to as ‘social proof’.

The fact that these emails specifically call out excursions along my route tells me there is some personalization and workflow happening. This is a great step and I hope it can be refined.

The very next day, “7 Days Until Your Cruise” arrived. Again, it was an exact copy of the “21 Days…” and “14 Days…”

Solution: Review the workflow and timeline between the “3 Reasons” and “7 Days…” emails.

Progressive Profiling in Marketing“Important Information Required for your Upcoming Cruise” arrived a few days later. This was “written” on company letterhead (well branded, but completely inconsistent with everything I had received until this point) from the VP of Guest Services. I appreciate their continual updates, especially as security requirements may change or some travelers are not sure what to expect.

One line in the message, however, signifies that they are not using closed-loop marketing. That is, the ability to measure and track what your visitors (or prospects, or customers, etc) are doing.

It reads, “If you have not yet registered for your cruise online, please take a moment to do so now as it will speed up your check-in at the pier.

The sentence itself is innocent, the problem is that I had registered online weeks prior — after the first message saying that it was imperative that I do this quickly.

Solution: Use automated marketing triggers to fire different emails to different customers. Those who have completed the online registration should get messages assuring that they are set to sail; whereas customers who have tasks outstanding get reminders to complete those necessary registrations prior to boarding.

New email arrives: “Perks Enclosed For Your Next Sailing” In it, I am invited to book my next cruise while on board; I like the idea, but the message says I must print out the email and give it to someone on the ship while embarking.

Solution: Remove the work on the part of the customer, make this a big cruise ship-shaped button in the email that says, “I would like more information on booking my next cruise while on board.” Less friction. More conversions.

Lastly, the Final Receipt. In general, there is a lot of room for improvement on any transactional email (a transactional email is a receipt, confirmation, etc); this is where a brand has the potential to “wow” a customer because every transactional email is the same. Really, this would have been a non-issue except the final line of the message reminded me of a blog subject that I had been mulling over for months. The “unmonitored email address” disclaimer.

How many companies sign their emails: “Note: Please do not reply to this message as we do not monitor this address.

Why not? What would it take to change the Reply-To address to a customer service team?

Transactional Emails & Web Pages

As a side note, transaction emails and “transactional pages” on your website, like Terms of Service, Legal, Privacy Policy, etc are often ignored by the sales and marketing team. In a recent interview, Shopify’s Chief Marketing Officer, Craig Miller, talks about how he and his team even tackled their Terms of Service page; all to stand out from the competition and show off the brand’s fun personality. It works! Just look at the number people who tweet about a terms of service page.

Second Touch Point: Language

Next, the company can use progressive profiling and smart forms to determine my preferred language, rather than sending all of their email correspondence in both English and Spanish.

Begin Survey in English and Spanish

The actual button from their survey invitation. Notice the languages and horrible formatting.

Yep, almost every follow-up email was written in both English and Spanish.

These are clues that can be picked up easily the first time I visit the website. Set those preferences and apply them across all outgoing marketing to me.

Third Touch Point: The Customer Survey

When I returned home, Carnival sent me a “Welcome Home” email asking me to complete a survey. Fantastic! Surveys are great for getting valuable feedback.

The survey itself took nearly 10 minutes to get through, but much of that could have been reduced because I was asked to provide information that the company already knew about me.

A few examples:

  • My name
  • My age and date of birth
  • How I was transported to/from the cruise terminal
  • How many people I traveled with
  • Which dining option I chose (early dinner, late dinner, or “Your Time” dining)
  • If I ordered from room service, the bar, the onboard gift shops, etc (they use your on-board room key as your “credit card”, even the statement provided has the exact location from which a purchase was made)
  • If I had dined at one of their many establishments on board (again, you must be checked in and seated in their restaurants, so there is a digital fingerprint of all of my activity)
  • If I purchased wifi onboard
  • If I purchased any excursions; if so, where (before, on-board, or the day of)
  • If I had cruised *on their cruise line* before (this is the question that prompted this entire blog post)
  • How many times I had cruised *on their cruise line* before

Regardless of your industry, aggressively removing these tiny little friction points amounts to a more pleasant customer experience.

Earlier, I mentioned how Shopify agonizes over their most mundane transactional emails — in that same interview, Miller says that he has probably signed up for a Shopify account nearly 1000 times.

How many times has your sales and marketing department signed up for your product or service?

This should be a regular habit to ensure that the customer is only being asked for the most necessary information to complete the transaction; not make your job easier.

“When you call it a marketing team, no one knows for sure what you’re supposed to do. But when you call it a growth team, everyone knows exactly what the goal is and what you need to do everyday.

– Craig Miller

The technology to use smart forms, marketing automation, customer scoring, and workflows to progressively build a customer profile is available for a company of any size. For a multi-billion dollar company like Carnival, lacking this type of marketing process leaves room for competitors to out-perform you.

Ultimately, progressive profiling technology enables you to collect the right information from your leads and customers — at the right times.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Don’t place unnecessary drag between you and your customer. By using smart forms and progressive profiling, you can dramatically improve your customer’s experience and increase your conversion rate.

Are you using progressive profiling in your forms? Share your experience below in the comments section.

Oh, and if you are from Carnival, I’d love to help you implement this type of smart marketing into your overall efforts!

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