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How do you scrub a mailing list?

Your mailing lists are the cornerstone in your direct mail campaigns. Much like a packed closet filled with outdated styles and clothes that don’t fit, a direct mail list packed with incorrect data, duplicate addresses or outdated information clutters your marketing efforts. Regardless of the time of year, it is always important to ‘spring clean’ your direct mail lists.

Data Quickly Becomes Stale 

Mailing lists are the basis for successful, targeted marketing outreach. Yet they’re extremely difficult to manage. The clutter and disorganization occurs subtly: recipients move, names change and lists combined from varying sources leading to misaligned data. A lack of centralized ownership dedicated to maintaining and cleaning up these fundamental resources can compound the issues.

The costs can creep up on you as well. The obvious ones involve wasted campaign dollars spent on buying duplicate or similar data as well as over production, postage and execution. Less obvious are the costs to workflow and operations; time wasted by busy marketing managers looking for the correct, most current lists and spending time and resources correcting them.

The price is ultimately paid in the underperformance of your direct mail piece; in unopened or returned mail, ineffective targeting, inability to properly segment and a lack of personalization. The solution, like cleaning out that messy closet, may not feel glamorous, but can be highly rewarding in terms of increasing the efficiency and success of your direct mail campaigns and your data-driven marketing efforts overall.

If You Haven’t Looked at Your List in The Last 6 Months …

Again, like a piece of clothing you never wear, if you haven’t taken a hard look at your data in the last six months, the odds are you’re due for a thorough list cleansing. Follow these steps and you’ll be on the road to cleaner, more accurate mailing lists that save you time and money, and ensure the best possible performance of your campaigns:

  1. Give the Job To One Person
    Assign ownership and management to one person. Your lists will be easier to update and control, the workflow is simplified under one ‘roof’ and everyone knows where to go to submit updates, and who to ask for what they need when they need it. Consider this person your Data Representative and assign them the role of a dedicated Mr. (or Ms.) fix-it to keep your (mail) house in order.
  2. Define or Update List Management Standards
    Set standards for managing mailing lists and how they will be maintained. If those standards already exist, now is the perfect time to rethink those standards and processes, to assess how they’re working and if they’ve evolved with your most recent data optimization strategies. Ensure there are strict enough data entry and modification standards to inform and enforce compliance. Update standards as needed to lay the groundwork for more fruitful direct mail efforts. Make sure these standards continue to be adhered to each time you purchase a new list
  3. Refresh Outdated Contacts
    Plug into the post office’s National Change of Address (NCOA) service in order to guarantee your list stays current, even when your addressees move. If you manage direct mailing in-house check to make sure that the software being used includes this service. Or, if you’re using a third-party list vendor, question if they offer this as part of their standard services. Additionally, cross-check with Customer Service and Sales teams and CRM software also used by your team, as there are times these sources have information that is more recent than external data providers.
  4. Eliminate Duplicates
    With a proper merge/purge you can eliminate duplicates, but harder to detect are the little changes or errors that hide duplicate entries. For example, you may have two records for the same person, but one has a misspelled email address. Consequently, if you only de-dupe by email, then that duplicate record will stay. What if you don’t have the expertise in your team to help correct this? In that case, it is a great time to get into contact with the data specialists in your organization, find software that will automatically resolve it or ask your agency or list provider for help with this.
  5. Organize and Align Your Lists
    You have multiple lists, used across multiple campaigns, updated by different people all the time, and they each have somewhat different organizational and formatting methods. As the number of people coming into contact with those lists increases, the potential for human error grows rapidly. Utilizing naming standards, storage instructions and access and versioning rules are a few of the ways you can facilitate accuracy, consistency and hygiene across multiple lists and versioning. But at some point, there’s a limit to what even the best human practices can achieve. This is where technology and software solutions can come into play.
  6. Utilize Software for Mailing List Management
    When multiple users across different departments, locations and job functions require access to the same lists, maintaining them in a central location reduces the list managers’ burden and accelerates the campaign process. It also helps ensure that only the appropriate and/or most current lists are being made available. Cloud-based solutions where you can store and manage your lists via one tool are ideal for this purpose and allow you to maintain greater control of the data.

Many times third-party vendors offer hygiene and optimization as a part of mailing list services. If you aren’t currently working with a list vendor, or aren’t happy  with the cleanliness and ‘current-ness’ of their data, now may be the time to consider another source.

Moreover,  you could take a look at marketing resource management software that includes list management as a feature, or a system designed specifically for web-based direct mail execution. The technology equivalent of the ultimate closet organizer, these cloud-based applications may include all the benefits noted above as well as others you may not be aware of. Some applications enable you to house your direct mailers within the platform, and synchronize your lists directly to specific mailers, enabling you to execute the entire direct mail campaign within the application.

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