Episode 9: Segmentation Series Part 3 – Custom Fields

Host Chris Davis dives deep into custom fields, an overlooked segmentation tool.


Our third episode in the segmentation series — and ninth edition overall — takes a look at custom fields, a powerful piece to the segmentation puzzle. Custom fields can do everything that tags can, and more. Director of Education Chris Davis is here to help you realize their potential.
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Chris Davis: Welcome back to the third installment of our segmentation [00:00:30] series. This one is entitled Custom Fields, where we’ll be doing an overview and an application, a view of how to use custom fields effectively on our journey of segmentation, which the goal of segmentation is what? Yes, scaling personalization. Taking a database of contacts and giving them all [00:01:00] an individual experience through their customer journey in your business. If this is the first part that you are listening to, the previous one before this we talked about tags and previously before that I gave an overview of segmentation. In that overview we had this funnel that sliced into three parts, and the top being the most broadest means of segmentation, [00:01:30] that was lists, and then the middle being more targeted and that was tags, and in that bottom piece the most targeted is custom fields.
We’re really going to take some time to differentiate custom fields from tags more than anything, because I feel in my experience and what we’ve seen in users based on their business type is custom fields are often overlooked but extremely powerful, [00:02:00] so the aim of this podcast is to expose you to some of that power so that perhaps you can add another tool and get comfortable with using just another means of helping you get more personalized in your marketing. I will say this, there’s no way to achieve a high level of personalization without custom fields. It’s simply impossible, and you’ll see why as we go through [00:02:30] this podcast.
Let’s get started. When we’re talking about custom fields, as I said I want to differentiate from tags where we have tags that tell a story. They’re the cliff notes version. They’re easily applied and easily taken away, say, “Hey, I went to the store, I came back home.” If those are tags, “Went to the store, came back home, bought this,” those are actions that can be easily taken, and in the [00:03:00] previous podcast we talked about identifying which actions you want to tag and which ones maybe you don’t care about tagging because ActiveCampaign is aggregating that data for you.
An example was email clicks. You don’t need to tag every single email click unless a particular click is differentiated by the action you want [00:03:30] to perform when someone takes it, but other than that we’re collecting all of that data and I’ll open all the data on opens and clicks so that in the future if you say, “Oh, you know what? I want to create a segment of everybody who clicked an email that I sent last year,” that information is in ActiveCampaign. There’s no need to tag that, but if you want to tag specific actions so that when you’re viewing the contact record you can look at those tags and they will tell you the story, the cliff notes version of [00:04:00] the customer journey, then that is a very, very strong case to use tags.
Tags are so dynamic. This is why they’re so commonly and easily adapted when it comes to marketing automation. In fact, a lot of people are uncomfortable with tools that don’t have some form of tagging. I know I was. In my past I’ve done a migration from Infusionsoft [00:04:30] to HubSpot, and you go from one platform that is tag heavy, you could argue relies too heavily on tags, and then you go to HubSpot that has no tags. That drastic difference it had me wobbled a bit in my marketing automation journey, but when you realize that, “Well, wait a minute, these custom fields,” because that’s what all HubSpot had was custom fields, “These custom fields can be very strong.” In my [00:05:00] experience, I’ve been on both extremes, all tags and all custom fields.
We’re going to do a amazing job here in this time that I have with you to blend those two together and help you find that perfect medium, and what I found is that with tags being this temporary easily to apply, easy to take away type of segmentation, custom fields are not so much. Custom fields are more so as close [00:05:30] to permanent data as you’re going to get on a contacts record. I look at tags as perhaps maybe the clothes you’re wearing and custom fields are your DNA, your DNA, your physical makeup. These are things that can change, but don’t change easily. For instance, email address is a custom field. That is very specific to you. In fact, no [00:06:00] one else can have that email address. Can you change it? Yes. It’s a process behind it. Gender. Can you change that? Yes, there’s a process behind it. Things that are not easily changed, or things that don’t change at all, your birthday. You’re probably not going to change your birthday. The number of siblings you have. So on and so forth.
Any data that is more permanent to the contact record [00:06:30] is really what we want to store in a custom field. That’s one level we’ll say, that’s the basic, the preliminary approach to using custom fields and how they differentiate from tags. When we look at this ability to store permanent data, it’s not limited to permanent data. You can store some of the things that you would potentially tag in a custom field as [00:07:00] well. In fact, I’ll go over later the certain custom field types and I will help you understand.
There’s certain things you could do with custom fields that you can’t do with tags, which brings me to my next point is that custom fields can do everything tags can do and more. Sometimes more, but I have to put an asterisk by that statement because the minute I say it, the minute I’m aware of the numerous applications [00:07:30] that are tag based, but if we just talk about the basic functionality within ActiveCampaign externally displaying information, tags can’t do that. Internally displaying information, tags can. When I say tags can’t, I mean with respect to custom fields, so let me rephrase it.
Let’s start from the top here. Internally displaying information, tags and custom [00:08:00] fields can do that. Externally displaying information, only custom fields can do that. Start trigger, conditional content, both tags and custom fields can do that. Third-party integrations, it’s really dependent on the third party. Some of them can integrate at a custom field level, some of them integrate only at a tag level, some integrate at a list level, but where you’ll see just this gray area is in conditional content with [00:08:30] third parties, and what this means is a most common usage is a membership site. There’s a few membership scripts out there, most notably ActiveMember360 and Memberium for ActiveCampaign, and what they allow you to do is turn your WordPress website into a membership site which provides or prohibits the access of certain content based [00:09:00] on the tags that exist on a contacts record. Now, I can have a page that has a particular block of content hidden to those who don’t have a particular tag on their contact record. This very dynamic implementation leads to a very personalized experience in a membership platform.
Now, these platforms will integrate primarily at a tag level. [00:09:30] They’re not going to look at custom field data and say, “If the custom field matches the color red, don’t show this.” That’s an asterisk. It doesn’t apply to all third parties, but you’ll want to keep an eye out for how your third party is integrated with ActiveCampaign. The most common integration we’ve seen are at a tag level and a list level, so very rarely would you see a integration so strong that it actually can leverage [00:10:00] custom fields as well. Some could say that’s a shortcoming, and I would love to see that changed personally, but that’s why I say there’s an asterisk.
When I go down this list of everything tags can do and custom fields can do, you see custom fields are one-to-one in pretty much every area, but they outshine tags when it comes to externally displaying information. What do I mean by externally displaying [00:10:30] information? Whenever you’re tagging a contact record, that’s all internal. You have to log into your account and see which tags are applied to what contact record. However, custom fields, if you’re coming from an email marketing platform you’re familiar with the term “merge fields”, and this is taking in the data that was stored in an input field like name [00:11:00] and then displaying that in an email. In ActiveCampaign we call those personalization tags.
If you have a custom field and let’s say you have a web form that says, “Name, Email, and Type of Pet,” and the type of pet they can select is cat or dog. Now, they put in their name, they put in their email, and they select cat. We now have three pieces of information, more permanent information, that we can now use [00:11:30] in communication going forward, all right? Perhaps I want to send a welcome email and says, “Hey, first name,” since I have your first name, “I see that you’re interested in,” and then insert personalization tag. The people who selected dog will say, “I see you’re interested in dogs.” The people who selected cats will get the same email but it will read different and say, “I see you’re interested in cats.” That simple [00:12:00] application there with the same email, same content, injecting a personalization tag makes it that much more personal. Hints the term personalization tag.
Now, I highly recommend that you do a mental exercise always in thinking about what data you can collect that you can use in your followup [00:12:30] sequences or in your followup communication to your audience to make it more personalized. What kind of data can you collect? When we’re talking about collecting data with custom fields, there’s three primary means I would say. The first means is entry onto your contact database. When someone fills out a web form on your webpage that’s maybe name and email, and [00:13:00] that entry you normally want to keep down to as minimal amount of fields as possible because once they’re on your database we can go into the second means of collecting data and that’s throughout the journey. Maybe you ask for their first name and email on your website to get some free offer, and then later on you’re asking for a bit more information about them. Maybe you offer a consultation [00:13:30] and in order to get that consultation you’re going to capture the name of their business, their phone number, their revenue, so now this data is stored on the contact record.
With custom fields, you don’t have to try to get all of the data upfront. That’s the power of automation. We can collect it over time. The third means, I really like this one, is you can populate the data yourself [00:14:00] based on behavior. Based on their behavior you can set contact fields with the data that you would like and then use that in your communication going forward. Case in point, let’s say you have a webinar registration page, and everybody that registers on this page you know they’re registering for a specific webinar at a specific date, [00:14:30] so you’re just asking for name and email, but once they will out their name and email there’s an automation that takes a webinar date custom field and places the date of the webinar in there. Now, the user didn’t do that but by their action you were able to populate that data for them. Now that this field is populated, we can use our date base conditions to trigger all types of [00:15:00] automation before and after that given date.
The same works for any field, whether it be a text field or a single input radio button. If they take a particular action and you want to populate a custom field or update a custom field, you can very much do so within your automations. In review, the three ways are people can submit [00:15:30] the information themselves, you can collect the information by progressing them through your funnel and combining it with another action, like I said a consultation, so in order for them to do a consultation they have to exchange more information to you, or you can populate it internally based on their behavior.
These become very powerful now because not only can you use personalization [00:16:00] tags to display outwardly and personalize the journey, with ActiveCampaign, especially using our DOCRM, you can also use personalization tags internally when you’re sending notifications to team members, when you’re sending the name of a deal or the description. Now, the personalized communication is outward bound for your customers helping them along their journey, and inward bound to your employees helping [00:16:30] them close more leads for you.
You see how custom fields really unleash and unlock a different level of personalization that we can’t get from any other means of segmentation. We can’t do it, and what’s really important to note for ActiveCampaign is that these custom fields can trigger action. They can trigger action. [00:17:00] You’re not just limited to just updating the field. They can trigger action, and in most cases it’s a lot easier to use a custom field to trigger an action than it is to use tags, and here’s why.
Remember in the show notes of last, of our previous podcast when we talked about tags we gave an example of an article that was called “What is Tags?” It’s our guide to help [00:17:30] breakdown, help you understand what tags are. In there, we talked about status type tags, and one of the statuses we mentioned were confirmed or unconfirmed. The idea is or the fact is you can’t be both confirmed and unconfirmed at the same time. However, due to human error there is a chance that you can forget to remove the unconfirmed tag when the confirmed tag is added. We call this tag swapping. Any time [00:18:00] you’re using a tag in that capacity, when one tag is present you have to remember to remove the other tag. Any lapse in memory to do that can result in unwanted behavior from your automation because somebody can be receiving both unconfirmed and confirmed communication if both of those tags exist.
Why did I bring that up? Let’s bring it home for custom [00:18:30] fields. Well, if we’re using radio buttons or drop downs, and I’ll go over all of the types of custom fields in a minute, but if I’m using a radio button, guess what? A radio button by default is an “or” functionality and not “and”, so there’s no way I can have two radio buttons selected. Now, if I have a custom field that says “status” and it says “confirmed” and “unconfirmed”, all I have to worry about is updating it to unconfirmed [00:19:00] or confirmed, and it’s automatically going to perform what I would have had to do manually with tags by swapping. It’s going to be inherent and built in to custom fields when I select that radio button, so it reduces user error using custom fields. There are times where perhaps you would rather do that than use tags. I’m just giving you options.
I’m not saying you have to, but it may make more sense for you to have, [00:19:30] perhaps you have membership types and you have it set up to where you can’t have two memberships. If you’re a gold member you’re gold, if you’re silver you have access to everything gold and silver, and if you’re platinum you have everything access to gold, silver, and platinum, so you have three radio buttons. You don’t have to have every type because the highest membership type is going to inherit all of the permissions from the previous two. [00:20:00] Maybe when that radio button is checked for platinum you have an automation that starts when that radio button is checked, and then perhaps it adds the necessary tags. Why would I add tags based on a radio button? Am I not double dipping on data? Double dipping on data, the three D, am I not doing that?
Well, remember: Certain third-party platforms may only integrate at the tag level. [00:20:30] Internal to your business, it’s probably easier to use custom fields because maybe you’re not the one updating it. Instead of having that person remember what to type in and add a tag they can go to the contact record, see the custom fields, click on it, and see all the options available, select the option, say, “Oh, they’re a platinum member,” hit save, and then there’s automation on the backend that says, “When platinum member is selected, apply this tag, do this, do that, [00:21:00] do this.” Now, it may appear that I’m double dipping on the data; however, I’m eliminating human error and letting automation take care of what could possibly and potentially be human error in the terms of misspelling or adding the improper tag.
That’s a very strong case of how the two can work together, and in ActiveCampaign you’re not limited. A lot of [00:21:30] platforms will limit the amount of custom fields you have. We don’t do that. We don’t limit the amount of tags. It’s all about what makes sense to you when you’re organizing your contacts and aiding your internal team in executing the marketing. Any manual process in the sales process or just anything in your marketing, help reduce human error on that level.
Those are custom [00:22:00] fields. That’s how they work in conjunction with tags and how they differentiate. They’re the only means of segmentation that can personalize your messaging. No other segmentation tool can do that, so I highly recommend you start thinking of ways of using tags, embracing them, and start using them more frequently the three ways that I showed you you could.
In closing, let’s just briefly go over the [00:22:30] types of custom fields. I brushed upon some of them. I’ve mentioned them already, but I just want to formally go through. Text input, that’s single-line input like your email, your name. Very short input that you can store in a text input. A text area is more like a paragraph. You’ll see these on contact forms, name, email, and then message, and it’s got this bigger box where you can write a paragraph or more or less.
[00:23:00] Date. Date fields allow you to put in a specific date, and what’s really powerful about ActiveCampaign is when that date is entered, like I said, you can use that date and trigger a communication days before, days on, or time on that date, and after the date. Before, on, and after, and there’s also ways to dynamically update the date so you can perform [00:23:30] evergreen marketing within ActiveCampaign. Really powerful, really powerful stuff.
Drop-down menus. Drop-down menus are you select an arrow and then all of the unseen data is in a drop down and you can scroll through. Very similar, in fact identical functionality to radio buttons as when a drop down is displayed you can only select one option. The same as with radio buttons, but there’s a differentiation [00:24:00] between the two. When you need a “or” functionality, which is you can only have one input, you’re going to use a drop down or a radio button, so when do you use which? We recommend if you have radio buttons, if you have a input field with over 10 options to not use a radio button. We recommend that is the threshold that you would say, “Okay, let me use a drop down.”
[00:24:30] For instance, I may use radio buttons for something like the month. I know there’s 12, but it’s right on that borderline of 10 that I can have you select a month for whatever reason. If I were going to select a, perhaps a state there’s no way I’m going to use a radio button. 50? [00:25:00] 50 radio buttons? That form would be the longest form I’ve ever seen, so instead I’m going to use a drop down. Now, you can only be living in one state, so instead of having 50 radio buttons I’m going to use a drop down, and when you click on it it’s going to display all 50 options and you can scroll through. The decision to use a drop down versus a radio button is really about presenting the data and making your forms easier to be filled out.
Now, right when I say [00:25:30] drop downs and radio buttons are the same we have another feature that is very drop down-esque; however, it’s like a checkbox. Before I talk about that one, let’s talk about checkboxes. Checkboxes are another custom field type, and that’s your “and” functionality. Checkboxes means you can have as many checked as possible or as desired. Instead of saying, [00:26:00] “What state are you currently living in?” perhaps I want to say, “What states have you lived in in the past five years?” If you’ve lived in three different states you should be able to hit a checkbox on all three of those states. Now, checkboxes go with the same rule as radio buttons. If there’s more than 10 of them you don’t want to use checkboxes.
“But Chris, you just said drop downs can only use one? Checkboxes are supposed to have multiple items selected, so how can I do that? [00:26:30] How can I display a drop-down type functionality because I have more than 10 options and allow them to select more than one?” Well, that is our last custom field that I’ll mention, and it’s called multi-selection list. Very similar to drop downs, however, you’re able to select multiple choices by holding shift when you click on the options.
Those are all of our custom field types, and remember: When [00:27:00] that field is populated, automatically what’s happening on the backend with ActiveCampaign is a personalization tag is created, and that personalization tag can be used in any messaging outward from ActiveCampaign. Custom fields are extremely valuable, extremely useful. Remember, there are no limits to the amount of custom fields [00:27:30] you can create, and it’s permanent data. It’s for more permanent data, and depending on the type of business that you have is really going to dictate how often you need to create custom fields and use them, but every single business should be using custom fields in their journey of segmentation because it’s the only way to truly scale your personalization. [00:28:00] Only way to send one email to 100 people and use some personalization tags within it and have it read differently for every person as if you sent it personally to everybody on your contact record.
That’s custom fields. I hope this was really helpful in helping you understand and implement it in your business regardless of the type. Like always, the show [00:28:30] notes will have all resources, or the related materials I believe we’re calling it, right below this one. ActiveCampaign.com/podcast/episode-9. All related material, anything that I mentioned, links will be all there in that area, so you go to that URL and you’ll be able to find all of the resources I mentioned, as well as anything else that I find that [00:29:00] will help you understand this entire segmentation process.
This is the end. This concludes part three of our segmentation series. The last and final part four is going to be on lists, how to use lists. Should you be using multiple lists? Should you be using one list and just using tags and custom fields to segment? We’re going to give you the official answer from ActiveCampaign and put all of the dispute to rest [00:29:30] in the next podcast, so you don’t want to miss it. Make sure you’re tuned in. See you then.
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