Expressed Interests vs. Implied Interests

I’ve been asked many times in the past some version of this question: “We track ‘areas of interest’ on our members and customers. How do we keep this data up to date?”

My answer: This is a universal challenge, and alas, there are no easy answers. There are two big challenges with collecting and managing this type of data:

  1. People’s interests change over time.
  2. People often don’t know what their actual interests are!

To address #1, the best you can do is periodically ask people to update their interests. This could be done as a stand-alone email (“Please update your contact information, including your areas of interest.”) or it could be done as part of another process (“Once you’ve finished registering for this event, please take a moment to update your areas of interest.”)

To address #2, we have to do some work to identify implied interests. (Click here to learn more about implied interests.) In general, implied interests are interests that are not explicitly stated (like #1 above) but rather are identified by other behavior, usually a purchase or participation in a program.

I recommend using queries to identify implied interests. For example, let’s say you track areas of interest that include hunting, fishing, and hiking. Members can “check the box” for any or all of these areas.

Now suppose you sell a book based on hiking. Anyone who purchases that book has an implied interest in hiking, even if they haven’t “checked the box” on hiking under areas of interest on their profile.

So with a little work, we can query all individuals interested in hiking based either on their expressed interest (checked box) or implied interest (what they’ve purchased).

It is arguable that implied interest actually is a stronger indicator of an individual’s actual interest than their expressed interest. So combining the two is likely to give you your best results.

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