Include or not include? Audiences get smarter

6 minute read

Custom profile fields are a great way to create precision targeted audiences for your email campaigns, but empty profile fields can cause problems when selecting who is and isn’t included. The solution – the new ‘is empty’ option allows you to logically manage incomplete profile information. It’s simple and effective.

Null profile

Firstly, a quick recap on Audiences.

Audiences’ is a precision targeting feature that you can use to manage which subscribers will or won’t receive a particular email campaign. It works by selectively including or excluding subscribers according to certain profile characteristics.

Dimensions’ are the various ways in which your profiling information can be gathered. In there are 7 profiling Dimensions – subscription date, geo-location, lists, profile, frequency, email domain and engagement. These can either be used individually (useful) or in combination (extremely useful).

DimensionsFrom Dimensions you can create Audiences with which you can create highly targeted and relevant campaigns. Once defined, your Audience acts like a filtering layer that fits over your main email recipient list. Subscribers are either in or out depending on how you’ve defined your audience. It’s dynamic, so once it’s defined the inclusion of any new subscribers will automatically be managed.

audience (400px)The applications are endless but think along the lines of an audience filter to include a combination of all of your female subscribers, located within 100 miles of your business and who’ve completed a purchase with you in the past, but excluding any subscribers that you’ve already emailed in the last 2 weeks. Applying this audience filter will automatically select only those who fit the defining criteria.

The part of the audience that defines your female subscribers is a good example of using ‘Profile’ as an audience dimension. In fact, you can use any of your custom profile fields to define an audience. It’s a great way of collecting and applying useful insights about your subscribers’ preferences.

Here’s why intelligently managing ‘empty’ profile fields is useful.

Let’s say you’re an online retailer of vinyl and have created a custom profile field called ‘favourite_era’ which captures your subscribers’ preferred musical decade. Your subscribers are invited to submit this information via one of your forms, with the options of 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. You intend to use this insight to target your catalogue accordingly.

All selections

The profile information is great for those who have completed the form, however some of your subscribers may not have set a preference. We call these a ‘null preference‘. How do you deal with these?

As you’d expect, if you create an audience using your ‘favourite_era’ profile field as a dimension and set it to include (i.e. the ‘is’ option) 1960s and 1970s, all of your subscribers who have either of these as their profile will be included. The others will be excluded.

Subscriber profile = favourite_era
Possible value = favourite_era ‘is’ 1960s
Possible value = favourite_era ‘is’ 1970s

60s and 70s

Similarly setting an audience to exclude those who don’t have either 1970s or 1980s (i.e. ‘is not’) set will naturally exclude these subscribers. However, those with a null profile (the profile field is empty) will also be excluded. This is because it’s not logical to assume inclusion or exclusion based on a specific search when no specific information is known.

Subscriber profile = favourite_era
Possible values = favourite_era ‘not’ 1970s
Possible values = favourite_era ‘not’ 1978s

Exclude and empty

The solution – there’s now a syntax for dealing with null profile fields. In addition to ‘is’ and ‘is not’ there is also an option ‘is empty’. So keeping the same definition as in the above example but now also including the ‘is empty’ field we arrive at the audience selection below where the ‘unknowns’ are also included.

Subscriber profile = favourite_era
Possible values = favourite_era not 1970s
Possible values = favourite_era not 1980s
Possible values = favourite_era is empty


In reality you may want either option (that is to include or not include the null preferences) but either way using the ‘is empty’ it’s now simple to make the correct selection.

Another useful application of the ‘is empty’ definition is to specifically select only those for whom a favourite_era preference is not known. These subscribers (only these subscribers) could then be specifically targeted with a campaign to collect this information for future use.

Empty field only

By the way. There’s another nice feature too. Once you’ve defined an Audience you can clone it. This makes creating new similar Audiences much quicker and more simple. All you have to do is clone the parent Audience and change what you need to on the copy.