What is Progressive Profiling and How Can You Use It?

Kelly Lorenz

Funnel and DartsWhen most of us think of progressive profiling, we think of forms and surveys where the questions get more relevant as we answer the previous ones.

The term has been re-purposed a bit for email marketing. Here, we’re talking about gathering and progressively responding to behavior and preferences throughout the email relationship. Let’s examine some examples:

Behavior: Prospect subscribes to your email program. The prospect then lets you know they make less than $50k per year and live in California.

Response: Send a welcome message thanking them for signing up and provide a call to action, and potentially, an incentive, to make their first purchase. Include products that are geared toward the prospect’s income bracket and geographic location.

Behavior: Prospect clicks through on a particular product, let’s say a grill, within an email but doesn’t buy and abandons your site without clicking to another page.

Response: The prospect is likely interested in that particular grill but has not yet made the decision to purchase. They are likely looking around to see if you are offering the best deal. Send them a follow up message regarding that particular grill, reiterate your value proposition and think about providing an incentive to buy.

Behavior: The prospect clicks through on the follow up email and then clicks on several complementary items, places the grill in a cart then abandons.

Response: Personalize and trigger a cart abandonment email with clear reasons to buy that grill, previous customer reviews about the grill and complementary products that customers typically buy like a grill cleaning brush.

Behavior: The prospect converts on the grill and the cleaning brush.

Response: Send an order and shipping confirmation then follow up with a care guide trigger for the grill. After they’ve received the product and have had time to interact with it, send a product review request and reiterate how much you value their opinion.

Behavior: The new customer returns to your site and spends 10 minutes looking at patio furniture.

Response: Place the customer in a segment of folks interested in outdoor products and send a stream of messages addressing this interest with content around outdoor grilling, tips for dealing with California weather, furniture treatment on a modest budget and so forth. Perhaps a customer service rep reaches out to the customer directly to offer some consultative services.


Essentially, every behavior should get a response, and the response is in direct relation to the behavior conducted. That may mean modifying the content you send via dynamic content based on behavior or preferences, or it may mean a standalone response. You should be making a conscious effort to collect demographic and behavioral data so that you can act on it, whether it be age, gender, search or purchase behavior, or anything in between.

You can also use progressive profiling as a series of check boxes that you check off as subscribers get closer to the desired goal: the purchase. The more check boxes, the higher the score the subscriber receives, the more valuable they are to your business. Progressive profiling allows you to build a data file, or comprehensive profile, on each subscriber and customer so you can market to them smartly moving forward while removing the heavy lifting from the subscriber.

Regardless of the stage, it’s important that you utilize every behavior as an opportunity to start a conversation and push subscribers further down the funnel.

What’s your take on progressive profiling? Share thoughts below.

Kelly Lorenz
Email Marketing Strategist at Bronto

  • Kelly,

    Good post. One of the things I would add to this is that if in fact behavior is driving triggers, people should consider having rules in place to not only limit the amount of triggers a person gets within a specific timeframe, but to also surpress them against any promotional email that may go out during this same timeframe.

    What are you thoughts?

    Andrew Kordek
    Co-Founder, Trendline Interactive
    An email marketing consultancy.
    Twitter: @andrewkordek & @trendlinei

  • Andrew,

    That’s a great point. If they are conducting these behaviors all in one day, for instance, you wouldn’t want to send them the recent visit and abandoned cart triggers within hours or minutes of each other. There should be an algorithm in place that overwrites behavior to the second and frequency caps for number of messages sent per day and per behavior.

    You’d also want to suppress them from getting one of these as an “oopsy” if they purchase before you’ve triggered the message but after it’s been scheduled to go out.

    I’m not necessarily opposed to sending promotional emails at the same time. Similar to what Macy’s does, they send email based on the behavior, but they also customize the promotional emails to the expressed interest (in my case, women’s clothing). It’s like a double whammy of user experience. If the marketer isn’t doing segmentation on their promotional emails, it’s still worthwhile to send the message (and really, a “blast” general message every once in a while period) as the subscriber may have other interests as well.

    Putting them in a box for life, I think, is shooting yourself in the foot, so sending a mixture makes sense to me.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!