Clean Your Database
A good list-hygiene strategy can help ensure that your increasingly costly promotions will reach only those people who are actually at the address to which you’re mailing and can help you avoid sending duplicate catalogs.
Today, many catalogers use state-of-the-art models and have invested millions of dollars in operating systems that generate data used to run their businesses. But keep in mind that these models and data will be only as good and dependable as the customer information loaded onto them.
Andrew Kapochunas, leader of business development and strategy for sales and marketing solutions at Dun & Bradstreet, notes that data hygiene now is the No. 1 priority for many marketers—especially those who thought that by merely loading legacy data into customer relationship management systems, their data would automatically become accurate and updated.
How to Begin
• Revisit the rules you’ve put in place internally for data entry, and schedule a refresher course for employees. Recognize and reward those staffers who consistently follow the data rules. Do the same for vendors and partners who process your data.
• Ask your internal information technology group to develop a daily report that shows changes made to the database and who is making them. This will help you keep better track of alterations made to your list.
• Standardize your data, so the same types of data consistently appear in the same place. You can expect a better match of your database to compiled lists or large databases when you standardize data.
• If you can’t afford to clean your entire file, start with your best customers. Many people complain about the high cost of cleaning data, notes Ruth Stevens, president, eMarketing Strategy, “But an investment in your very best customers always pays off.”
• Review the names and addresses that don’t match once you’ve achieved the highest number of matches you can. They may be “suspects”—records suspected of being inaccurate. You now can establish a program for cleaning them up.
• Have your customer service and order-entry departments take a few minutes on each call to confirm database information. If you’re a business-to-business (b-to-b) marketer, don’t just have your reps confirm the names and addresses of the contacts to whom they’re speaking; but also ask for their assistance in checking on other contacts at that company. Be sure your Web site prompts customers to update their data each time they visit.
• Try this experiment: Allow a select group of customers (such as the best or largest segment) Web access to their own data in order to keep it updated. For security purposes, advises Bernice Grossman, president of DMRS Group, give customers passwords to their accounts. She also suggests that for quality control, be sure any changes or input in the process go to a staging area prior to updating the database.
• Whether you allow customers direct access or you do the maintenance yourself, determine what will get priority. Grossman recommends using the most complete record, such as one that contains a mail stop versus one that doesn’t. She also advises that you give top priority to those changes that are affixed to a transaction, such as a sale.
• Ask your sales team or retail staffers to help you verify names and addresses while they assist customers. Tip: Reward those employees who regularly update customers’ contact information. That said, however, don’t just depend on your sales force alone. “Data hygiene is the responsibility of the marketing department,” Stevens notes.
• Stevens also recommends that you use outbound calling and other ways to contact customers and keep data clean. “Many times, critical data we store on customers isn’t limited to just the name and address, and that also needs to be kept clean,” she says.
• Many companies are busy trying to crank out an ever-growing number of e-mails, and are asking customers for their e-mail addresses and appending them on their databases. But many catalogers need to do a better job of cleaning the e-mail addresses they already have.
To be sure, it’s not an easy task. As Stevens says, “E-mail addresses must be cleaned ‘by hand’ using, the ones that bounce and trying to reach customers to get correct e-mail addresses.”
Grossman says, “E-mails are especially problematic, because customers tend to change e-mail addresses frequently and to have several e-mail addresses. Some files can’t handle multiple addresses, so you’re forced to decide which address gets priority.”
More Complex Cleansing
• Ask for help. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and/or your computer house may have tools that can help you clean your names and addresses. Moreover, some solutions are designed especially for either consumer or b-to-b databases.
Says Kapochunas: “Today’s cutting-edge business address maintenance is a multi-step process requiring a combination of outsourced USPS processes and outsourced global address cleansing, followed by referential matching to a global business file.”
• Consider outsourcing. Kapochunas recommends outsourcing this critical activity to experts, because the process has become complex, the databases ever-larger, and many of the manual, outdated ways of list cleaning are more difficult when paired with missing or non-standard data.
• If you’re operating on a modest budget, use your promotions to help clean and maintain your customer list. For example, if you’re a b-to-b cataloger, send a list of names and addresses to your customers’ corporate mailrooms and ask the mailroom supervisors to send back corrected lists. Tip: Offer some type of incentive for their help.
This technique also works for e-mail, if you have e-mail addresses and permission.
• Another effective way to clean a b-to-b list is to use title addresses to capture names of people who’ve changed jobs. For example, the name of the vice president of finance may have changed, but it’s a good bet there’s still a vice president of finance. Just title address your mail and print a request on the label to forward the mail to the right person. You even can try a format as simple and inexpensive as a postcard.
Whether you mail to consumers or businesses, have a small or grandiose budget, are a neophyte or veteran of the data-maintenance wars, take heart that some new solutions are being developed. Says Kapochunas: “Products exist today—or will be introduced this year—that allow transactional domestic and global address correction, followed by referential matching on the fly. The light is finally visible at the end of the tunnel.”
Mary Ann Kleinfelter of Marketing Solutions Today provides consulting on direct marketing solutions. She is the former VP of sales and marketing for Delta Education. She can be reached at (603) 673-6786, or by e-mail at Makleinfelter@aol.com.