Print-Plus: Keeping Your House in Order
We all know that a catalog company's most valuable asset (other than people, of course) is its housefile — a consolidated database containing each customer's name, address and summarized order information. After all, your previous buyers are what keep the lights burning. Proper maintenance of a housefile is an extremely valuable marketing skill. Here are some ways to help you maintain your housefile so that you can get the most out of this extremely valuable asset.
The first and most important aspect of building and maintaining a housefile is to be certain that all pertinent information is being properly captured. Your ability to make decisions is only as good as the data you're collecting and analyzing. Decide in advance what information you want to capture, how you'll capture it and what you'll do with it once you have it.
I often see companies going to great lengths to capture data they'll never use. Determine how you're going to use the data before you take the time, trouble and expense of capturing it. Your plan has to be both convenient and scalable.
When deciding which information to capture, it makes sense to retain all customer and associated transaction data during the order-processing step. Such extensive data can all be incorporated into a large-scale marketing database. For the purpose of creating a simple housefile, however, the basic information required includes name and address, date of purchase, dollar amount of the purchase, and the source code related to the purchase. From these few pieces of data you can then go on to determine a customer's gender, total lifetime dollars spent, original purchase date and most recent purchase date.
Once you have this information, you can begin to segment your buyers by recency, frequency and monetary (RFM) value. This information is critical for both small and extremely large-scale marketing campaigns. As your campaigns get slightly more sophisticated, you might want to include additional information into your housefile such as phone and fax numbers, email addresses (a must), gender, age, categories of products purchased, income, and other demographic or purchase information. These are just a few examples of the types of information that can be maintained in your housefile to give you a more robust marketing database.
The next aspect of a successful list maintenance initiative is to ensure that you have a methodology in place to properly identify duplicate customer records. In many instances, when a customer first purchases from a retailer they're assigned an identification or account number which is unique to them. This number will be used when accessing a specific customer account for any reason.
When a customer makes a repeat purchase, it's important to access the same record again. In other words, caution needs to be taken not to assign a new customer number to a previous purchaser. Not doing so will result in file duplicates, which could cause several problems, including sending multiple mail pieces to a customer, being unable to get a true snapshot of a consolidated customer profile, among other things. If you're using a third-party service bureau to maintain your housefile, in some cases you can choose (or be forced) to have your file updated — i.e., duplicate records identified and consolidated — using a match code, which is a value that's calculated based on a combination of each customer record's name and address attributes. In such scenarios, some service bureaus offer flexible matching logic that can be tweaked to your unique requirements.
Housefile Maintenance Checklist
- Key data accurately. Don't cut corners when it comes to data entry. If the data isn't accurate on the front end, everything else you do from a marketing standpoint will be adversely affected.
- Capture source code, date of last purchase, dollars spent and items purchased (or product category, if applicable) in your database.
- Capture phone numbers, fax numbers (especially for B-to-B retailers) and email addresses.
- Periodically update your housefile by running it through CASS-certified software to apply changes from the U.S. Postal Service. Also, periodically perform NCOA processing or use some alternative method of identifying address changes.
If you use customer account numbers, implement a relatively fail-safe method of assigning new numbers to ensure two things: one, no duplicate numbers are assigned and, two, no customer is assigned more than one number.
All data should be retained in a structured, consistent manner to allow for easy reporting and selection. Always give customers the option to not have their name rented or exchanged. Update these requests to your housefile in a timely fashion.
You can maintain your file at the household or individual level. At the individual level you have more records (and increased costs). For list rental purposes, mailers generally expect to receive customer records at the household level. Add seed or decoy names to your housefile to protect against the unauthorized use of your list. There are mail-tracking services available to use specifically for this purpose.
Maintaining your housefile is extremely important and essential to your business. After all, it's your company's No. 1 asset and should be treated accordingly. Make sure certain safeguards are in place for off-site storage (one of the advantages of using a service bureau is it maintains and updates your housefile). Disaster recovery is extremely important in the event of a most unfortunate loss. Maintain your file properly for your own mailing purposes.
And remember, garbage in equals garbage out.