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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.
  • 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 Email Studio in Marketing Cloud, and you’re ready to create your first email campaign. Email Studio 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. Note: 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 Brandon Wilson, the digital marketing manager at Cloud Kicks, a custom sneaker company. He’s the company's creative mastermind and has worked with Email Studio in some of his past roles at other companies. As digital marketing manager, he plans and executes all things digital marketing for Cloud Kicks, including email marketing. Cloud Kicks recently purchased Email Studio, so he’d like to start sending a weekly promotions email.

Image of Brandon Wilson, digital marketing manager for Cloud Kicks

What’s the Point of Sending if You Have No One to Send To?

Brandon’s first task is to get his subscribers into a sendable data extension within Marketing Cloud. Subscriber data, in Marketing Cloud, 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.

Brandon chooses data extensions to house his 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

Before Brandon can import his subscriber data, he must first create the data extension to house it. Here’s how he does that.



If you're following along in your own instance of Marketing Cloud, you won't see the same assets and data we show in this module. We're illustrating what you can do with Marketing Cloud by showing you the steps that Brandon takes and the data he sees. The data in your own org will be different.

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
      Adding properties in the Create a New Data Extension dialog box
  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, Brandon chooses customerID combined with email address to uniquely identify his subscribers.
    • Nullable—Uncheck
      • Note: Brandon has selected this field as his primary key, so he 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. Brandon repeats the steps for each field he’d like the data extension to contain, checking Primary Key for email address, and Nullable for other fields as appropriate. Brandon includes a product interest field since he 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. Adding fields in the Create a New Data Extension dialog box

Importing Data into a Data Extension

Now that Brandon has created the shell of his data extension, he is ready to perform an import to get that great subscriber data into Marketing Cloud. 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.

Brandon 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, Brandon chooses to import his subscriber data manually using the Import Wizard.

To do this, he must create a data extension and have the import file on hand. Finally, his 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:

  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 your 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. Import Wizard Step 1: Upload File
  6. In the Configure Mapping tab:
    • Verify that Map by Header Row is selected.
    • Click Next. Import Wizard Step 2: Configure Mapping
  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. Import Wizard Step 3: Review and Import

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