What Are Custom Fields?

What Are Custom Fields?

Table of Contents


    Custom fields are a means for storing and representing contact data. In our migration guide, we claim that custom fields tell contacts’ full stories, whereas tags tell the CliffNotes versions. Let’s use the below image of a contact record to explain.

    While users typically use tags to further segment their contact lists, users employ custom fields to get even more granular than tags. Custom fields store data that is permanent and unique to each contact. For instance, the ActiveCampaign user in the above example wanted to know the following:

    • Type of pet contacts own
    • Twitter handle
    • Birthday
    • Number of siblings
    • Favorite ice cream flavor

    Indeed, the data you collect via custom fields is diverse and personal. You’re limited only by what you want to know and what data your users are willing to submit.
    Of course, whenever contact data is in play, so is segmentation. In fact, custom fields are one of the main segmentation tools available to you in ActiveCampaign.
    The rest of this guide further defines custom fields, the custom field types, and touches on how to create and use custom fields in ActiveCampaign.

    Custom Fields In ActiveCampaign

    If you take away one thing from the below table — which compares lists, tags, and custom fields — let it be this: custom fields can do everything tags can do, and sometimes more.

    We point that out because users often overlook custom fields, unaware that custom fields are a powerful tool for segmentation.
    Custom fields can be displayed internally to your business and externally to your contacts. That is, the data contacts submit by filling out forms is sorted into custom fields and can be displayed in your messages to them. Tags, on the other hand, are visible only to ActiveCampaign users.
    Additionally, just like adding or removing tags, changes in custom field data can serve as start triggers for automations. And as the table shows, you can also use custom fields to configure conditional content blocks in emails. To do so, simply follow the steps in this image:

    In the table, we placed an asterisk in the custom fields cell that correlates to the “conditional content (third-party)” trait. That trait refers to the ability to hide and show content on your website via third-party integrations based on custom field data stored in ActiveCampaign. The problem is that most third-party tools do not integrate at a custom field level; most integrate only at a tag level. So, the asterisk indicates that you can use custom field data to configure conditional content (another trait shared with tags) if the third-party tool can integrate and access the custom field data stored in ActiveCampaign. As technology advances, we expect that more third-party tools will integrate with custom fields.
    Using Custom Fields For Personalization
    Now, a key difference exists between making content conditional and personalizing content. To make content blocks conditional is to determine which contacts see the entire content block. To personalize content according to custom field data is to autofill that data into a content block. So, any contacts who view such a content block will see something that is personal to them, such as their birthday, their first name, their favorite ice cream flavor, etc.
    Perhaps you wonder how exactly you can leverage custom field data to personalize your engagements. Well, wonder no more! For each custom field you create, ActiveCampaign auto-generates a personalization tag (also known as a merge field). Insert that personalization tag into your messages as shown below, and voila! Your message will be personal to each recipient.
    332skzjww customfields personalization

    Types Of Custom Fields

    ActiveCampaign does not limit the number of custom fields you can create. Our platform does offer, however, a select amount of custom field types, which are shown below.

    Let’s define them:

    • Text input: This is your traditional text input field. It is the primary means for storing data, which matches well with the fundamental purpose of custom fields.
    • Text area: The “Text area” option simply allows for more text to be submitted than the “Text input” option does.
    • Date: This field allows you to capture a date (YYYY/DD/MM format). Additionally, the date field has a time stamping option. So, for example, you could record the exact date that contacts become customers.
    • Drop-down menu: This is your standard drop-down menu. As a rule of thumb, use the “Drop-down menu” field if you have ten or more options for contacts to choose from; if you present ten or fewer options, use the “Radio buttons” field (defined below). That advice is tied to visual representation. Scrolling through a drop-down menu is less overwhelming than looking at a screen of ten-plus radio buttons.
    • Multi-selection list: This option looks similar to a drop-down menu and displays several options. However, contacts can shift-click to highlight more than one choice. This option mixes the visual appearance of drop-down menus with the function of the checkboxes field type; don’t include too many choices, as doing so creates a clunky, long form.
    • Radio buttons: This custom field type functions the same as the “Drop-down menu” type. Again, the difference between them is the visual representation. When presented with drop-down menus and radio buttons, users can select only one option (more on that in a moment).
    • Checkbox(es): You can use this custom field type to tell you multiple things about a contact (compare that to tags, which convey only one detail). Contacts can check multiple boxes at once, which paints an accurate picture of their journeys. For example, maybe you want to know all the lead magnets that contacts downloaded. By presenting contacts with a checkbox field, they can tell you that exact information (I downloaded X and Y and Z).

    Note: In our “What Are Tags?” guide, we discuss status-related tags and how they require tag swapping to properly work. That is, contacts can logically have only one status-related tag assigned to them at a time; they can’t simultaneously be an active contact and unconfirmed. Thus, whenever you apply a new status-related tag, you must immediately follow-up by removing the previous status-related tag. See the below image.
    vpzqbik screenrecording2016 11 28at01.50pm(1)
    Now here is what’s interesting: drop-down menus and radio buttons can achieve the same effect of tag swapping, in one less step. The below screenshot demonstrates that in the same automation from above.
    Remember, users can select only one option via drop-down menus and radio buttons. The difference between those custom field types and status-related tags is that you can update the data of a custom field, as opposed to removing and adding tags. In the below automation, we simply add an action to update the “Contact Status” custom field. By doing so, we can delete the tag actions.
    mkzrka5qo morewithless customfields
    Such functionality makes your job easier and your marketing more powerful.

    How To Create New Custom Fields

    Now that you have a good understanding of custom fields, let’s show you how to create them. There are two main ways:
    1. Click “Forms” in the top banner. Then, click “Manage Fields”. Click the green “+New Custom Field” button.

    2. You can also create custom fields directly on contact records, as shown in the image below.
    shawnh50b contact record custom field creation

    Closing Remarks

    If used correctly, custom fields can help you target contacts to an unprecedented degree and ultimately fuel their progression through your business pipelines.
    We suggest using custom fields to store data that tells the smaller yet crucial details of contacts’ stories. When viewed alongside lists and tags, custom fields paint a complete picture of each contact and empower you to automate the appropriate communication.
    Do you have more questions about custom fields? Ask us in the comments!

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