This is an update to a blog post originally published on July 10, 2012.
Whether your marketing is print-based, digital, or a combination of both, keeping your contact list up-to-date is a must. The most valuable tool in your marketing tool box is your contact list. A contact list or database contains a wealth of information on a population of people that you are marketing your product or service to. When was the last time your company’s contact list was updated? It may be time to perform some basic data hygiene.
What is Data Hygiene?
Data hygiene is the process of reviewing your data to ensure that it is as accurate as possible. More specifically, it refers to the practice of updating your prospects’ contact information and even removing contacts as needed. The list may be made up of current or past customers, prospects who have opted-in to your marketing, prospects who have expressed interest in your product or services, prospects who have purchased similar products or services, or prospects who fit your customer demographic.
While this list is extremely valuable, you have to remember that the data in the list is always subject to change as your prospects’ lives change. One of the best investments you can make to maximize the potential of your list is to perform regular data hygiene. In direct mail, this can include seeing if your prospects have moved recently, so that your direct mail pieces are delivered properly and not returned as undeliverable.
Why is Data Hygiene Important?
Data hygiene is important for a number of reasons. For starters, keeping your prospects’ contact information up-to-date helps to avoid marketing information from being delivered to the wrong address (or email address), which can save your business time and money. Performing data hygiene tasks can also help to prevent your printed mail from being delivered to an address that no longer exists; it can also help qualify you for special discounts through the postal service.
Data hygiene practices can also ensure that you remove prospects from your list who have passed away. This is especially important, as surviving family members receiving mail in a deceased loved one’s name can be understandably upsetting.
Data Hygiene allows you to:
- Verify and correct addresses before you mail
- Remove duplicate addresses from your lists
- Qualify for USPS Bulk mailing discount
- Minimize delivery delays by only using valid addresses
- Eliminate mailings to undeliverable addresses
The USPS offers many tools and services that you can use to review, clean and update your mailing list.
Data Hygiene Best Practices
National Change of Address Database
The National Change of Address, or NCOA, database was developed by the United States Postal Service (USPS) to allow businesses to update their records to include the most accurate address information for their list members. The NCOA product is only available through a license via the USPS, so contact your direct mail vendor to see if they have a license.
Delivery Point Verification (DVP) and Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) are two tools also developed by the USPS to improve the quality of address data. DVP is a tool that compares the addresses in a list to the list of valid mailing addresses and provides replacement addresses for those that are invalid. CASS is a certification tool that examines the accuracy of software that provides address correction. Software products have to be certified by the USPS on an annual basis.
A different challenge posed to marketing professionals is the deaths of some people on their list. While it financially does not make sense to send direct mail pieces to people who are deceased, it can also be highly uncomfortable to the surviving family members to receive direct mail in the deceased’s name. There are tools available to assist with reviewing your database to remove the names of the deceased, and depending on your demographic, could result in a significant return on investment (ROI).
Data Appends to Correct Data
While the address corrections described in the previous sections will help with your overall deliverability, you probably also segment your list to target specific demographics within your list, or you may want to contact your prospects through a different medium, such as email or social media. Data append tools can help to verify and/or correct demographic data or contact information to ensure that the right message reaches the right prospects in the right way.
If your company has multiple mailing lists, it might be cost-effective for you to perform a merge/purge operation. The “merge” portion of this action pulls all of your mailing list data into a single list, while the “purge” portion removes duplicate data, where the same individual may have resided in both lists. This will reduce duplicate mailings and give you a single, cohesive list to work from. Going this route can also help to cut down on duplicate mailings that can waste money and frustrate recipients, especially with a direct mail campaign.
Merge/purge can be performed to different degrees, including individual, household, and address. For example, a university may want to purge multiple listings for a single individual to eliminate duplicate mailings and reduce printing and postage costs. However, if two alumni of the same university are married, then the university will want to limit some of their mailings to one per household for general mailings, but still retain the ability to target each of the alumni individually for mailings that are topically specific to each person.
Sometimes, apartment or subunit numbers are not attached to address files, which can result in mailings being delivered to the wrong address or not delivered at all. Apartment databases can be used to append this additional data to incomplete addresses to increase the deliverability of your mail pieces. This append is used mainly on residential data.
DMA Mail Preference Service
The Mail Preference Service (MPS) is a tool developed by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) to allow mail customers to opt into a “do-not-mail” list. All DMA member companies are required to filter their mailing list against the MPS list. However, customers who have opted-in to contact with a company may still receive mailings even if they have signed up for the MPS.
This action suppresses those prospects on your list that currently have an address associated with a state or federal prison. These prospects can be later reverted to active status once they are relocated to a non-prison address.
Proprietary Change of Address
While the USPS does maintain the NCOA database, not everyone submits their change of address information to the USPS when they move. Proprietary Change of Address (PCOA) tools take data from a variety of private sources to augment the data provided in the NCOA tool to provide a more complete and accurate address list. Using a PCOA should be done in conjunction with NCOA because of its limited scope.
We performed data hygiene for a California-based medical device company with a large contact database of 802,896 records. Because our client targeted senior citizens, we were particularly concerned with removing the records of those who were deceased and updating address information. We first processed the database through the deceased suppression file, which yielded 35,630 names, or 4.44% of the total file. Next, we processed the file through NCOA. Of the 802,896 records, 118,570 records, or 14.77% matched. 108,976 left a forwarding address, allowing us to update the firm’s database with more accurate address information. The remaining balance of 9,594 records left no forwarding address, making them undeliverable, so these records were suppressed.
Data hygiene allowed our client to significantly improve the deliverability of their message and to eliminate mailings to deceased contacts and undeliverable addresses, resulting in a significant cost savings for its subsequent mailings.
Looking for Data Hygiene Services?
Keeping up with your contact lists can be time-consuming, so many growing businesses choose to outsource this work to data hygiene companies that provide these services. Working with a data hygiene company is a great way to keep your contact lists up-to-date while freeing up valuable time and resources that could be better spent growing your brand.
Data hygiene is something your business should not overlook. There are plenty of options and tools to help you keep your contact lists up-to-date, including:
- The National Change of Address database (NCOA)
- Deceased processing services
- Merge and Purge to remove duplicates
- Suppressing Do Not Mail individuals
Ballantine is also proud to offer data hygiene services to suit your needs. Contact us today to find out more about these and other services that can help you grow your brand and its reputation.
I'm the Director of Digital Services and Partner at Ballantine, a family-owned and operated direct mail & digital marketing company based in New Jersey. and started in 1966 by my great uncle!