Maintaining the Integrity of Global Data
What tactics should international direct marketers employ to maintain the integrity of global data?
• Seek resources and expertise specifically addressing the complexities of international data. This can include training your in-house data capture staff on the particular details of international data, using industry experts and resources to improve data capture and data management practices, and/or working with suppliers that have significant experience with international data.
• International data often contains foreign accent characters, diacritics or local-language text characters that are not supported by most domestic computer systems. Be aware of the large number of different international data encoding standards that exist to store this information, and implement systems to correctly manage data encoding. Many cases of data corruption are caused by incorrectly handling data encoding at the point of data capture, or, more typically, at the point of data transfer from one system to another, such as the transfer of data from a Web-based data capture form to a back-end data management system. Global encoding standards such as Unicode or UTF-8 can help; however, a knowledge of these encoding standards and proper data conversion processes is critical to ensure data accuracy.
• Structure database files to store a country code in addition to or instead of a fully spelled country name. This helps reduce errors caused by incorrectly spelled or ambiguous country name designations.
It’s important, however, to convert the country code to the fully-spelled country name when printing on a marketing communications piece, since the country code itself is usually not sufficient to ensure delivery of the mail piece with most international delivery services. Many different country code standards exist; however, we have found that the ISO 3166 country code standard is the most widely used and most complete standard for marketing purposes.
• Avoid the use of a free-form text field when accepting country name information during data capture, since free-form text entry can promote missing, misspelled or ambiguous information. Instead, use a country drop down list on data capture forms, prompting users to select the appropriate country name from a pre-structured list. However, incorporating drop down lists for city or state/province listings in all but a few select countries can become cumbersome and confusing to users.