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Import Subscriber Data

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe the two ways to store subscriber data in Marketing Cloud Engagement.
  • Create a sendable data extension.
  • Describe the three ways to import data into a data extension.
  • Import data into a data extension using the Import Wizard.

You’re all set up with Marketing Cloud Engagement, and you’re ready to create your first email campaign. Marketing Cloud Engagement has you covered for the entire process, from importing data, to creating content, to testing and sending. Your first job is importing subscriber data. If it sounds complicated, in this unit we’ll see just how easy it is. 


Before you start this process, be sure to configure your account settings as outlined in the Email Studio Basics module.

Let’s take a look at how a digital marketing manager goes through the steps. Meet Yasmin Ahmad, the digital marketing manager at Cloud Kicks, a custom sneaker company. 

Graphic picture of Yasmin Ahmad

She plans and executes all things digital marketing for Cloud Kicks, including email marketing. Cloud Kicks recently purchased Marketing Cloud Engagement, and she’d like to start sending a weekly promotions email.

Who to Send To?

Yasmin's first task is to get her subscribers into a sendable data extension within Marketing Cloud Engagement. Subscriber data, in Marketing Cloud Engagement, is stored in either a list or a data extension.

  • A list is a collection of subscribers that receive your communications. You can create as many lists as you need to segment your subscribers and target your email communications.
  • A data extension, on the other hand, is a table within the application database that contains your data. You can use a data extension to store not only sendable subscriber data—just like with a list—but also relational data like purchases, inventory, and rewards program data.

Yasmin chooses data extensions to house their data. To learn more about choosing a list versus a data extension for your data model, check out this article: Use a List Versus a Data Extension.

Create a Sendable Data Extension

In this module, we assume you have access to a Marketing Cloud Engagement account and have the proper permissions to complete these steps. If you don't, that’s OK. Read along to learn how you would take the steps in a production org. Don’t try to follow these steps in your Trailhead Playground. Marketing Cloud Engagement isn’t available in the Trailhead Playground. Additionally, if you're following along in your own instance of Marketing Cloud Engagement, you won't see the same assets and data we describe in this module. We're illustrating what you can do with Marketing Cloud Engagement by showing you the steps that Yasmin takes and the data she sees. The data in your own account will be different.

Before Yasmin can import her subscriber data, she must first create the data extension to house it. Here’s how she does that. Within the Email Studio application:

  1. Click Subscribers.
  2. Click Data Extensions.
  3. Click Create.
  4. Select Standard Data Extension.
  5. In the Create a New Data Extension dialog box:
    • Creation Method: Create from New
    • Name: MasterSubscriber
    • External Key: Leave blank
    • Description: Leave blank
    • Type: Standard
    • Location: Leave in default location
    • Is Sendable? Check
    • Is Testable? Leave unchecked 
  6. Click Next.
  7. Retention Settings: Leave default Off
  8. Click Next.
  9. Complete the information for the first field.
    • Name: CustomerID
    • Data Type: Text
    • Length: 50
    • Primary Key: Check
      • Note: A primary key is a special field (or combination of fields) that you select to uniquely identify all table records (in this case, subscribers). Its main features are:
        • It must contain a unique value for each row of data, or in the case where multiple fields are selected, the combination of values must be unique for each row of data.
        • It cannot contain null (empty) values.
      • A student ID, driver’s license, passport number, or Social Security number in the US are examples of primary keys that people use in daily life. For the Cloud Kicks subscriber data extension, Yasmin chooses customerID combined with email address to uniquely identify her subscribers.
    • Nullable—Uncheck
      • Note: Yasmin has selected this field as a primary key, so she must leave Nullable unchecked because a primary key cannot have a null value. But what should you select for other, nonprimary key fields? Select the Nullable checkbox if you are OK with importing some null values for a field. Leave Nullable unchecked if you want to specify what will happen when the system gets a null value during import: Either the import fails, or the import continues and skips those rows because you’ve selected Skip Rows with Bad Data (we take that step in a minute).
  10. Yasmin repeats the steps for each field she’d like the data extension to contain, checking Primary Key for email address, and Nullable for other fields as appropriate. She includes a product interest field since she plans to build individualized content based on this field value later on.
    • Note: Some common fields found in a Master Subscriber data extension include but are not limited to: first name, last name, email address, address 1, address 2, city, state, country, mobile, opt-in to promotions, opt-in to subscription, and so on.
  11. Change Send Relationship to CustomerID, and relates to Subscribers on Subscriber Key.
    • Note: Defining the send relationship allows you to relate subscribers on this data extension to the All Subscribers list, where subscription status is maintained for all email sends. To learn more about the All Subscribers list, check out this knowledge article: All Subscribers List.
  12. Click Create

Importing Data into a Data Extension

Now that Yasmin has created the shell of her data extension, she is ready to perform an import to get that great subscriber data into Marketing Cloud Engagement. There are three ways to import data into a data extension.

  1. Manually with the Import Wizard—This is a handy-dandy wizard located within the data extension. It allows you to manually bring your data into a data extension, and we discuss it in more detail later.
  2. Import Activity—The Import Activity, like the Import Wizard, allows you to manually bring your data into a data extension. The main difference is the Import Activity can be automated using Automation Studio.
  3. API—You use an API call to import your data.

Yasmin needs to do an initial import of data from an existing list of Cloud Kicks subscribers in the old system. Since this is a one-time import, she chooses to import her subscriber data manually using the Import Wizard.

To do this, she must create a data extension and have the import file on hand. Finally, her import file needs at least one row of data and must be a comma-delimiter, tab-delimiter, or other delimited file. Not sure what a delimiter is? Delimiter simply means separator, so comma-delimiter means the fields in your file are separated by commas.

In Email Studio Yasmin completes these steps:

  1. Click Subscribers.
  2. Click the MasterSubscriber data extension.
  3. Click the Records tab.
  4. Click Import.
  5. In the Upload File tab:
    • Select File Location as My Computer (note: you can also choose FTP).
    • Click Browse, and select MasterSubscriber.csv located on her Desktop.
    • For Upload File:
      • File Name: Type MasterSubscriber.csv
      • Delimiter: Comma
      • Date Format: English
    • For Import type select: Leave the default Add and Update.
    • For Import Options: Leave the default Skip rows in the import file with bad data.
    • Check Respect double quotes as text qualifier.
    • Click Next
  6. In the Configure Mapping tab:
    • Verify that Map by Header Row is selected.
    • Click Next
  7. In the Review and Import tab:
    • Verify the parameters you just set.
    • Notifications: Enter [your email address]
    • Click Import.
    • Verify that the correct number of records are in the MasterSubscriber data extension. 

So that’s it for data. Pretty simple, right? Well the truth is, data in Marketing Cloud Engagement can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Here we’ve kept it pretty simple.


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