Magazine article Marketing

Addressing the Data Issue

Magazine article Marketing

Addressing the Data Issue

Article excerpt

Poorly-addressed mail has a high price and reinforces the need to use quality data from reliable sources.

Would you buy from a company which sent you a letter addressed to Mrs Ugly Fat Cow or Mr P DeFile? Probably not, and neither would your own customers. Two extreme examples, but rogue titles and addresses are just one reason direct marketing practitioners are paying more attention to the accuracy of their databases and the processes applied to them.

The Direct Marketing Information Service has found that 11% of UK households are mailed incorrectly every year, further illustrating the need for regular cleaning of held data, particularly when you consider that 13% of the UK population will have moved house in any 12-month period.

In November last year, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) published the first set of guidelines for data processing, clearly setting out the responsibilities of both the data-processing bureau and the client in improving the accuracy of information used in mailings. Although 100% accuracy is impossible, the publication will help clients to agree with their agencies on the level of accuracy that should be expected.

Knowing who is responsible for what should go some way to clearing up the confusion in a system that can work against accuracy, according to David Coupe, managing director and head of direct marketing at Experian, one of the members of the DMA taskforce which drew up the report.

Information overload

The data issue has become more pressing over the past couple of years for a number of reasons. Primarily, marketers are collecting, and using, unprecedented amounts of information about current and potential customers. More information, particularly cross-referenced information, means more room for mistakes.

The different ways that data can now be captured has also added to the problem. Using competition entries or money-off coupons has become prevalent, particularly among FMCG companies. But badly scrawled names and addresses can cause problems when information is transcribed.

"The penalty of a successful promotion is the often costly process of accurately capturing the response," says Neal Rimay-Muranyi, marketing director of The Database Group. "Companies can be tempted to cut costs at that stage, but it simply stores up problems for later."

Many FMCG firms have formed their own database, only to discover the huge cost of maintaining its accuracy.

Other potential danger areas in the data capture process include the practice of having shop assistants or telephone operators take down information. The woman who received a letter from Dixons last year addressed to Mrs Ugly Fat Cow was the result of a disgruntled sales assistant mischievously filling in her guarantee details.

The industry has been taking steps to curb these problems. Data Answers produces a list of common abuse terms which can be cross-matched with the database. The accuracy of addresses taken down by telephone operators has also been improved by using computer software, which asks first for the customer's postcode. Once keyed in it displays the address, minus the house number, to the operator.

But more common are the innocent mistakes made by store staff filling in after-sales service forms in a hurry.

A company's customer database should be the most reliable form of list source, but only if it has been properly captured, recorded and maintained. If you are buying another company's list, you should check the frequency and method of updating. …

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