Progressive profiling has a lot in common with dating; it’s about slowly getting to know someone and discovering points of compatibility. You want to pursue the relationship, but a too-aggressive approach can backfire. The other party should feel courted — not interviewed or, worse, interrogated.

This approach has become more and more popular in the past few years. Why? People expect greater personalization in their brand interactions and worry more about the data they’re giving to companies. 

Woo your customers with patience, thoroughness, and progressive profiling best practices.

What is progressive profiling?

Progressive profiling is a technique for gradually building up a profile of your customers each time they interact with your business.

You do this by asking additional questions on subsequent form submissions to gain more information about a lead or customer. This allows businesses to collect more detailed information about people without overwhelming them with too many questions all at once. With marketing automation tools, you can use collected data to create more personalized experiences for the customer or prospect, such as targeted emails or offers based on their interests or preferences.

How progressive profiling works

Progressive profiling works by using dynamic web forms that are tailored to each user based on the information they have already provided. Think of the progress as a flowchart where each step depends on all the other steps leading up to it.

For example, let’s say you have an online store that sells shoes. When someone first visits your website, they may be asked to provide basic information such as their name and email address. On subsequent visits, the customer may be asked additional questions such as their shoe size or favorite style of shoe. This allows your shoe store to build up a more complete picture of this customer over time. Because you use progressive profiling with all of your shoe aficionados, you also gain a composite picture of your customer base.

Benefits of progressive profiling

Progressive profiling takes time and multiple interactions. Plus, customers can simply opt out of answering questions.

So why is it such a valuable tool?

1. Increased customer trust and comfort

Anxiety over data is prevalent. 47% of consumers have switched companies or providers over privacy concerns.

Progressive profiling allows customers to control their data. By using forms that require visitors to input their own information, businesses provide insight into their data collection process and ensure it remains ethical. Customers can have confidence that their data is being used responsibly.

2. More personalized marketing and stronger customer relationships

71% of consumers expect personalization in their brand interactions.

Progressive profiling helps businesses create more customized experiences for each individual. By only providing customers with relevant content and offers, you can increase their engagement with your brand.

Personalized campaigns are an important part of demand generation — the art of creating interest in a particular product or service. Target the audience most likely to want what you offer, and your conversion rates will go up. You can also use customer profiles to tailor the messaging of a campaign. For example, you might send two different emails to two groups likely to be interested in the same product but for different reasons.

In addition to gauging a customer’s interests, you can also uncover how often they want to hear from you. Over-frequent communication is one of the top reasons customers unsubscribe from mailing lists.

3. Better data collection

By using progressive profiling, businesses collect data in small bits and pieces. They can gain insights into their customers without bombarding them.

Everybody is busy, and long questionnaires can alienate customers, making them shrink from the task. As the length of a survey increases, the completion rate goes down. Alternatively, surveys with only one to three questions have a completion rate of 83.34%

The best progressive profiling examples are short. They focus on one or two pieces of information and require little effort on the customer’s part.

In addition to building a personal profile for each customer, you will start to gain valuable information about your target audience and brand. There’s a lot of data you can collect, such as:

  • Gathering feedback on products or services.
  • Capturing demographic data such as age, gender, location, etc.
  • Discovering how customers heard about your business to optimize marketing efforts.
  • Identifying which channels are most effective for engaging with customers so you can focus your efforts there first and foremost.
  • Learning the types of rewards or incentives that motivate customers to make purchases.

In other words, you’ll slowly improve your marketing efforts across the board as you establish better relationships with individual customers.

How to use progressive profiling

The goal isn’t just to admire this marketing tactic. You want to take advantage of it for your own business.

So how do you implement progressive profiling?

1. Chart the journey

Figure out what you need to know about a customer — and when you should collect each piece of information. Think in terms of the ToFu-MoFu-BoFu customer journey.

At the top of the marketing funnel (ToFu), you want to provide them with information about your brand. Your top priority is finding a way to interact with them. Collect contact information, and invite them to sign up for your email list.

If they refuse, try asking what their preferred social media platform is and providing links to your own accounts. Even if they keep their answer anonymous, you can let larger trends inform your customer avatars and marketing strategy.

As the customer continues to move through the marketing funnel (MoFu and BoFu), you can ask more detailed questions — focusing on what you need to know to present customers with the most relevant information and offers. A hair salon might ask about hair length, hair dye, or hair type. It could then use customer answers to inform the content and frequency of its campaigns. 

2. Create dynamic web forms

Start integrating your profiling strategy into your communications.

Creating dynamic web forms is straightforward and does not require any coding ability. Many marketing automation and form-building tools offer a range of features, such as conditional logic, data verification, and more. You can often craft forms directly in your website builder or email marketing service.

3. Collect detailed data over time

Start filling in your picture of each customer. Be patient as you gather the details. The name of the game is “progressive profiling” and not “aggressive profiling.”

Gather basic demographic information. Ask them about their preferences regarding future interactions with your brand. And then move into specific questions about their needs or interests related to your offerings.

4. Personalize customer experiences

Use this data to expand your profiles about each user. You can send out segmented campaigns, follow up with them through personalized emails, and customize the landing pages at which they arrive.

This may sound like a lot of extra effort, but it isn’t. With marketing automation personalization, it’s easy to create relevant, multi-touch experiences for each customer.

5. Review and revise

As you continue with progressive profiling, you’ll generate a lot of data. Use your results to evaluate both your questions and your content strategy. You may need to tweak your questions or their velocity. Or you may have the right information, but the resulting content strategy is off. Review and adjust as needed.

Progressive profiling best practices

When incorporating progressive profiling into your marketing strategy, there are a few best practices to keep in mind. These will help you compile the most relevant information gradually. 

Start with the Basics

Begin by asking basic questions that will help you understand who your customer is and what their needs are. Ask questions such as their name, age, company, job title, etc. And be sure to prioritize contact information; without it, your ability to continue the conversation is uncertain.

Ask relevant and appropriate questions

Make sure to ask questions that are related to the product or service you offer and in keeping with the individual’s established needs. Questions also need to be appropriate. Personal questions could make customers uncomfortable.

Sometimes relevance determines whether a question is appropriate. For instance, I may be more likely to answer questions about my menstrual cycle for someone who manufactures menstrual cups than for a tax attorney.

Respect privacy

Relevant questions are also part of respecting your customer’s privacy. While there isn’t yet a comprehensive federal data-privacy law in the U.S., there are plenty of industry and state-specific regulations. Progressive profiling lends itself to ethical data collection, but be mindful of the questions you ask and how you use the answers.

Keep questions simple, clear, and easy to answer

Some progressive profiling best practices also apply to any survey-taking. Your customers should never struggle to understand the question or its purpose.

Good survey questions are:

  • Singular. They focus on one piece of information.
  • Positive. Negative phrasing can be both off-putting and confusing.
  • Non-leading. Questions should never slant toward a desired answer.
  • Concise. They get right to the point.

And you should always make a question multiple-choice if you can. There are times when short answers are necessary. For instance, don’t try to make fields such as “Name” multiple-choice! But people are more likely to provide information when it’s as easy as possible. They’d rather click than type.

Limit your answer options, as well. Instead of trying to cover all possible responses, choose a balanced set of probable replies. If necessary, you can include an option for “Other” with a write-in next to it.

Don’t ask the same question twice

This defeats the purpose of progressive profiling. If you already have the answer from a previous interaction, there’s no need to ask again. Use this opportunity to ask something new. Repeat questions can also appear disrespectful — as if you aren’t listening to their answers. The exception to this rule is when you want to ask if something has changed. In such cases, be clear about why you’re asking anew.

Use progressive profiling strategically

Keep each Q&A session short. Ask the next question rather than all the questions, and focus on those that are most immediately important.

Progressive profiling examples

Progressive profiling is a powerful tool for businesses to gain more information about their prospects and customers. Here are several real-world examples of different types of businesses using progressive profiling. They sell very different products and services, but they all use the strategy to personalize marketing.

Content curator/creator

Both major streaming services and other content-focused businesses want to provide you with the best material, the content most likely to appeal to your tastes.

Think about the home screen that appears when you log in to your favorite streaming service. Mine happens to be Netflix — but then I’d go wherever The Great British Baking Show lived. 

Netflix monitors viewing patterns to tailor selections and encourages users to give things they’ve watched a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. It then uses this data to provide more tailored movie and TV show recommendations. Each time you give Netflix information in the form of watching or liking content, it incorporates this information into its picture of you as a viewer. Consequently, its recommendations should improve over time

You don’t have to be a mega-giant to profit from Netflix’s profiling strategy. Ask newsletter subscribers to up or downvote their favorite articles or shoppers to rank their satisfaction with previous purchases. You might even get some ideas for future material.

Retail store

Whereas Netflix keeps its focus on people’s opinions of its content, other businesses may center their questions on demographics or personal interests. Brooks Shoes adopts this approach.

After collecting basic subscriber information, Brooks Shoes expands its customer profiles by focusing on athletic styles. The implicit purpose of their question is to identify the shoes most likely to suit customers. However, it doesn’t ask, “What products are most likely to appeal to you?” Instead, Brooks asks users where they prefer to run — and does so in a charmingly whimsical email.

Why is this so smart? Because it keeps recipients at the center of the question, giving them the feeling that Brooks prioritizes their needs and sees them as people rather than wallets.

Food establishment

Progressive profiling works in the culinary world, too. 

Starbucks collects customer data such as favorite drinks, preferred payment methods, and loyalty program statuses to provide more personalized experiences for its customers. For example, if a customer has indicated that they prefer iced coffee drinks over hot drinks, Starbucks can use this information to recommend iced drinks when they visit the store or website in the future.

A similar strategy would work for your neighborhood coffee shop or restaurant. Encourage list subscribers to answer questions about likes and dislikes. You can let them know when you’re running relevant promotions. Really strong trends might even inform a new menu item or a special prix fixe meal.

Other questions to ask could revolve around your patrons’:

  • Social media preferences. Where are they most likely to interact with your brand?
  • Birthdays. Send them an exclusive promotion or even just warm wishes.
  • Allergies or food intolerances. Keep this information on hand for frequent customers. They’ll appreciate the extra consideration.

Make customers feel respected or even treasured at your establishment.

Start making progress

The goal of progressive profiling is to make every customer feel as though you know them personally. You want to gain an in-depth understanding of your customers and prospects over time without overwhelming them with too many questions all at once. Then you can create more personalized experiences and offers. With this, everybody wins.

Integrate your questions as naturally as possible into customer interactions. For example, if this were a newsletter rather than a blog article, I might conclude with a question about your interest in the topic or in receiving further marketing-focused materials. 

Instead, I suggest you make a list of the most helpful facts you could learn about a customer to develop that relationship. Then cross off any that would be helpful but not appropriate (while a fine-dining establishment might like to know its patrons’ discretionary incomes, I’d certainly never return to a restaurant that asked me about mine).

Once you have a good list, start breaking it down. Identify your highest priorities and the interactions that would lend themselves to a question or two. Then you can start wooing your customers in earnest — progressively.