Tag Archives: Data Cleaning

The Five Essentials for Quality Direct Mail

There is a resurgence in Direct Mail at present and it is increasingly becoming a key part of many successful marketing campaigns today driven in part by the overabundance of digital communications that swamp us each day and in part by the increasing costs of digital advertising. The return on your investment in direct mail can pay dividends when compared with other direct forms of marketing if you get the basics of mailing right.

To me a good direct mail campaign is one to one print that positively promotes your product or service in an appealing manner to someone who may be interested in purchasing at a time they may want to buy. This may sound obvious but what I see in practice are many examples where the approach to mailing emulates the dumbed down digital approach used in emailing campaigns of let’s email everybody we know with everything we want to tell them as often as we can until we wear the customer down and they purchase. And the outcome of this is the increasing use by the recipient of the delete key and the assignment to the spam bin. Over half of emails sent are deleted within 2 seconds of being received.

So if you are contemplating undertaking direct mail there are five essentials you need to consider to get the best return on your investment and generate the sales you desire. They are:-

  • Product – what is it that you wish to sell or promote? What are its key features and strengths? Who are the competition and what puts your product apart from them? What is it that triggers your customers to purchase? What role does your brand play in triggering purchases? Are your prices competitive and are there offers you wish to make to encourage the purchase? Understanding why your product sells is the most important of the five essentials. As this information is key to your business, it should be knowledge you already know backwards, though writing the answers down can sometimes be more difficult than it may seem.
  • Creativity – how do you best describe your product to the potential customer? The mailing piece is your shop window. You may wish to highlight something unique, you may wish to make a special offer. It needs to accentuate the positive. It’s all about drawing the customer’s eyes to the mailing piece when it arrives through the letterbox. It’s also an opportunity to introduce or enhance the brand to the prospective customer. Mailing pieces can vary from the simple postcard that drives the customer online through to the full catalogue. Design can be simple or creative but needs to be eye-catching. It needs to stand out and attract the recipient to pay attention on receipt.
  • Data – who are the target audience that might buy your product? Too often I see mailings where the approach is to mail everyone or to choose recipients randomly. As a minimum ensure your data is audited and that duplicates, deceased and goneaways are removed from the data. This is a no-brainer as the costs of cleaning the data is usually outweighed by the savings in mailing costs. There are a whole range of data techniques that can then be used by looking at your existing customer base to work out what sort of person is likely to buy your products, or conversely who not to mail as they are unlikely to respond. These techniques include demographic profiling, data segmentation, RFM analysis of your existing customer data and more advanced techniques such as Chaid and basket analysis. A blanket approach to mailing data will not never maximise the return on or investment.
  • Personalisation – print works but what really works is personalised print and, in today’s world of digital printing, every mailing item in your mailing has the potential to be different, personalised to the recipient. Direct mail is a form of communication with the potential customer and communication is a two-way process. We need to show why we think the recipient might want the product. The mailing piece needs to connect the product being promoted with the potential customer in some way, and as we are all different. This may involve personalising the mailing through words or imagery that show we know who you are and why you might want our product.
  • Timing – for many mailings this can be difficult to achieve, however consider what the ideal time is for the mailing to land. It might be related to where we are in the year or a specific event, for example you don’t sell Christmas trees in February. It may be the day of the week, for example family holiday decisions tend to be made at weekends so why not time the mailing to land on a Friday. It may be related to when a previous purchase is likely to expire. However, unlike digital forms of marketing, mailings stick around the house or business far longer on average. They get filed for future reference, they get pinned to the notice board or stuck to the fridge or left on the mantelpiece or coffee table.

There is no simple answer to what response you will get to your mailing before the mailing takes place. At the end of the day, key to all of this is whether you have a product or service that people want. However if you address the five essentials above you will move towards maximising the response you can get from the direct marketing activity. What we do know about response levels are that if you can find that sweet spot of who to mail, what to mail, how to connect to the potential customer and when to mail you will be able to repeat the process time and time and achieve similar returns. Keep refining the essential steps and you will see these response levels continually rise.


15 Seconds To Make A Connection

Back in May last year my blog, The Resurrection of Direct Mail? looked at the growing evidence direct mail is resurging and on its way back as the most effective channel for direct marketing. In the last year the UK economy has finally emerged from recession, business confidence has been restored and marketing budgets increased. This trend to direct mail has clearly accelerated.

If you are a small or medium sized Company (which collectively are known as SMEs) then the decision to take up direct mail, often for the first time, is not quite as clear cut as it should be. We see growing evidence that the return of investment (ROI) is often far greater than the equivalent emailing. However, when it comes to making the decision to proceed with that first direct mail campaign, there is no doubt the costs of undertaking campaign (postage, print, fulfilment) can use up a significant chunk of what are often limited annual marketing budgets. And when compared with the significantly lower cost of emailing combined with no firm guarantee that the eventual ROI will justify this significant investment, it is easy to see why Clients can baulk at this decision.

Clients new to direct mail without fail ask me as part of this decision “what percentage response will we get?”. There is no simple answer. At the end of the day response is affected by:-

  • The product or service being marketed. If you have a product nobody wants then it won’t sell however you market it. And of course the converse is true.
  • Who will receive the mailing. You should be mailing to recipients who may well have an interest in your product. Getting the data right is fundamental to a successful mailing and too often overlooked.
  • The mailing piece. When it lands in the customer’s letterbox or on their desk does it do enough to attract attention of the recipient.
  • Timing. The mailing should ideally arrive at a time when the recipient may be considering your product or service. This is the hardest aspect of getting a mailing right and often little can be done. Some products are seasonal or tied to known events (Christmas, Valentines Day). However your existing customer data may hold the key to other timing information you can use.

So what do you do to reduce the risk that the mailing will not provide an ROI that justifies the cost?

  1. Before you start get the data correct. If you are using your own data whether customer or prospect, make sure the data is cleaned and free of duplicates, gone-aways and mortalities (see Data Cleaning – An Integral Part of Direct Marketing? ). Have your customer data profiled to understand who your best customers are. It always surprises me how often the view of the Client as to who are the best customers varies from the evidence held within their customer data. This customer knowledge held within the data can also be utilised to identify and select data for customer acquisition.
  2. Think carefully about the design and appearance of your mailing piece. This relates to a key reason why mailing works better than emailing. Today, if emails actually get through to your inbox, rather than being filtered off as spam, most of us get to see one line of the email and press delete. We can spot the marketing email and we dispose of it accordingly. If we take the same somewhat cynical view about mailing, the key difference is that it takes time to take the mailing from the letterbox to the bin but the whole of the mailing piece is visible to the recipient. Hence the title of this blog, 15 seconds to make a connection. The mailing piece needs to do enough to get it looked at in more detail Increasingly personalisation is the key this. Not just personalisation of the name and address but something more that relates to the recipient. Imagery works well, be creative. Direct mail is not about giving out a message, it is about starting or continuing a communication process that will eventually lead to conversion and hopefully a long term relationship.
  3. Importantly direct mail gives you the ability to test. You don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket. You can test a smaller quantity, you can test a few different mailing pieces and monitor which works the best. What we do know about direct mail response rates is that if you repeat a mailing then the response rates are likely to be similar. In this way you can test if mailing is for you without risking spending all that chunk of marketing budget that is causing you to think twice. And you can learn from the test mailing, always looking to improve the next time around. Once you have that initial response benchmark then it should only improve and turn into what will be a long term relationship with mailing.

Mailing does work. Use the knowledge held within your customer data to target the right recipients with the right message. Be creative to ensure you capture the recipients attention in the “15 second window”, test ideas and target audiences, And if all of this is managed properly it will become a valued part of your marketing mix.

Big Data or Smart Data?

The hot topic at any marketing, insight and data analytics conferences at the present time is Big Data. In our increasingly technological driven world we are generating enormous volumes of data, some estimates suggest the world is adding several quintillion (1018) bytes of data each day. And as marketeers and analysts we see this as a goldmine of information and we are instinctively driven to find ways of making use of it.

In terms of marketing activity, “Big Data” relates to the ever growing data sets created by our customers and prospects, not just through the traditional marketing database or CRM, but also from retail and eCommerce activity, from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr and Foursquare. We can also access data from sources such as Google Analytics where we can see how visitors find our websites and what they then do once there, and media can include the full range of digital formats such as pictures, video,audio, CCTV.

For example a financial lender may wish to  look at an applicants Facebook site as part of the credit checking processes to see if they have pictures of holidays every other month and parties every night – would they be a safe bet to lend to?  We have all heard stories of employees checking out social media sites of potential employees as to their suitability.


Would you give a pay-day loan to someone boasting this shoe wardrobe on Facebook?

The immediate consequence of wanting big data is that you need big servers and big software to process it and at this point the IT Team takes over, rub their hands with glee and an obsession develops on gathering all the data that can be found. Little consideration is given as to why the data is being collected, other than “it will help our marketing to be more effective” and planning what is going to be done with it once its gathered is often non existent. And with this data hunter gatherer approach, it seems that the sound statistical and analytical approach to extracting knowledge and insight disappears and in consequence it becomes easy to produce results from looking at the data that at best can be skewed an,d even worse, can be totally unsound. And there is also an implication that big data with its big servers and big software will cost big bucks so making it an exclusive tool for the large multinational Company, leaving us small and medium enterprises behind.

I would argue however that what is really needed to make best use of the data available is not Big Data but Smart Data. Concentrate on looking carefully at what data is available, extracting only data that is potential directly relevant and then using sound statistical sampling techniques to analyse and unlock the insight and knowledge within the data.

In a sense the term “Big Data” is a strange term as it is used to imply that size is in some way a measure of quality and value and I believe in a few years time we will find it odd to talk about big data. Size in itself doesn’t matter – what matters is having relevant data that helps us solve a problem or address the questions we have and so I prefer the term “Smart Data”. Smart data is available to all organisations small and large. It can use existing tools and techniques to evaluate and gain insight.  And when we want to bring in the additional data sets that the likes of social media and Google Analytics offer us then the way to do this is through creating and integrating small data sets using the techniques and systems we already have in place and not through building big data monoliths and creating massive centralized data warehouses.

Data, Intelligence & Knowledge Part 1 – Data Management.

At the heart of any direct or digital marketing communication is data. And all companies or organisations, large or small, who wish to communicate directly with customers or prospects collect and store data. But my experience of dealing with hundreds of businesses over the past 25 years is this core activity is usually undertaken with little planning or forethought, is executed in a haphazard manner and very rarely is the potential that the data offers the business unlocked to the full benefit of the business.

The first fundamental error too frequently made is deciding where responsibility for data management resides within an organisation. Too often it is seen to be an IT function because the initial challenge facing an organisation is how to hold the data. One of two approaches is taken:-

  • The Organisation is already collecting customer and prospect data in its accounting system, order system or other back office facility and so there is no immediate need to consider the marketing function. The organisation is “sure” it can extract the data in a usable form when it’s needed by marketing.
  • The Organisation decides to buy in or build a data repository for marketing activity. Whether it’s an excel spreadsheet, a marketing database, a data warehouse, a CRM system or a Big Data model, IT will thrive on creating the container to fit the data and spend significant budget building something that too often will constrain what data can be stored and how it is held. It’s an approach similar to the food manufacturer designing the packaging and then deciding how to cram the product into its container.

The second fundamental error is the belief that once the data repository has been built then the hard work has been done. In practice the effort and resource required to manage the data far outweighs the effort to build the repository in the first place.  I see far too many databases or CRM systems that fail to reach anywhere near their potential or on occasions don’t get past day one because no resource has been allocated to manage the data collection and on-going maintenance. 

The starting point for any organisation that wishes to undertake direct or digital marketing is to formulate a data strategy that clearly identifies what data is available to the organisation, what data needs to be held and how this data will be used going forwards. From this it becomes easier to define how the data will be held and gathered, and the resource and effort needed to undertake this function. And as with any business strategy, it needs to be reviewed and enhanced at regular intervals going forwards.

So what are the key components of a data strategy?

  • What customer or prospect data is available? You obviously need contact details, a fundamental for communications but what other data is known or could be available. It could be transactional/purchase data,  a history of communications from and to the customer or prospect, lifestyle data (B2C) or Company data such as turnover, employee numbers (B2B).
  • What data should we store and retain? The temptation is to keep all data but this can create a significant resource requirement in terms of storage and maintenance, particularly when social media data is involved. The Data Protection Act also requires us to only hold personal data that is relevant. Smart data”is better than big data.
  • How much data are we likely to gather? This is key to determining the data storage vehicle and the resource needed to maintain the data going forwards.
  • How will we store the data?  The choice here is endless and much depends on the answers to the above questions. And there are also decisions to be made as to whether off the shelf software is available that will match the data requirements (low up front cost, possible compromise as to what data is held and how), whether to produce a tailored in-house system (high up front cost, but system matches the data requirements) or whether to put the data management out with a third-party specialist (low up front cost but possible higher running costs).
  • How will we collect the data, input into the system and then maintain it? Included in this is the question of data quality. For example data trawled from the web or social media that is input by the user is often of poor quality, badly typed, abbreviated and difficult to utilise without significant data cleansing.
  • How do we keep the data up to date? People die, they move, they get married, they ask not to be contacted. Again the Data Protection Act requires us to keep personal data current.
  • What are we going to do with the data and will it serve this purpose?
  • How long will it take to build enough data to make it viable for the applications required of the data? Good data is like good wine, it comes into its own over time and with the right care will mature. Often databases will take several years to really start performing at their full potential.

But this structured approach to data planning is not what I see with the majority of UK Companies today. Running a Company that provides a full range of data strategy, management and analysis services, DDL Group spends more time with Clients sorting out bad data to make it accessible and usable for marketing campaigns than it does helping Companies with good data understand and unlock the power of the knowledge within the data to bring better ROI from its campaigns.

Only when your data model is correct will you be able to start unlocking the full potential of the intelligence held with the data which in turn will generate knowledge as to who your customers and potential customers are and more importantly how and why they buy from you. The ultimate aim of any marketeer is to have actionable intelligence about their customers that will help improve the customer relationship, increase retention and ultimately improve the return on marketing investment.

Data Cleaning – An Integral Part of Direct Marketing?

I am always surprised that undertaking a data audit and cleansing exercise before every direct marketing or digital marketing campaign is not a standard requirement when customer and prospect data is to be used. I hear comments such as:-

  • “We haven’t budgeted for data cleaning”
  • “We cleaned the data last year”
  • “We updated our database from the mailing returns”
  • We know our customers, they would have told us if their circumstances had changed”

Ignoring requirements upon us all under data protection legislation to keep data accurate and current, ignoring the environmental benefits, ignoring the impact on customers and prospects and their view as to the mailer’s competence, cost alone should be a driver to  undertake comprehensive data cleaning on every occasion. The savings made on print, fulfilment and postage costs both for the current campaign and future campaigns with the same data will outweigh the costs of data cleaning. In these difficult economic times where every penny has to be spent wisely and where return on investment is a key measure of success or failure of a campaign, data cleaning your customers and prospects regularly is essential.

So what are the key elements of any data cleaning exercise?

Address Validation & Correction. Comparing addresses against the Royal Mail Postal Address File (or “PAF”) to ensure the address and postcode are valid. This ensures your mailing arrives at its intended destination and on time. In addition discounts in relation to postage costs only apply to correctly addressed items.

Deduplication. Avoid sending the mailing more than once to the same recipient or possibly the same household. Its wasteful and looks bad. Deduplication is the process of identifying possible duplicates in the mailing and then actioning to reduce these duplicates to a single record.

Mortality Cleaning. Comparing the name and addresses against databases of people who have died(mortality registers) enables you to remove these from your database. Failure to do this can cause distress and hurt to he family of the intended recipient, and there is always an assumption on their part that you should have known. Businesses also stop trading, so checking your Company data against registers of dissolved businesses can also be undertaken.

Goneaways & Change of AddressPeople and businesses move and there are databases of people no longer at their old address to compare your records against. Why mail to someone who is not there? Some databases also know where the individual or business has move to and so a new address can be obtained to enable you to follow the customer or prospect to their new location.

MPS & TPS Cleaning. The Mailing Preference Scheme (“MPS”) and the Telephone Preference Scheme (“TPS”) are national registers where consumers can record whether they wish to receive certain types of communications by post or telephone. If you do not know whether your customer or prospect wishes to receive the intended communication then you should check against these registers and remove the record if the consumer has indicated no desire to receive it.

These are the key elements of any data cleansing exercise, there are other cleansing and data enhancements that can be made at the same time.

There are three prime benefits resulting from keeping data clean.

  • Economic. The costs for having data cleaned are not extortionate.  When compared with immediate savings that will be made from mailing your data, in most cases the savings will outweigh these costs. Further the costs are known in advance of committing to the cleansing through the use of a data audit. This process evaluates the data and works out what records it needs to modify or change and what the costs will be to achieve this. This audit is usually undertaken free of charge.
  • Environmental. Cleaning data reduces the environmental impact of a mailing. Removing records where the recipient has died, moved away or simply asked not to receive the marketing material reduces the amount of print and packaging used for the mailing. It also reduces the carbon footprint of the mail piece being delivered from mailer to recipient and then back again as a gone-away.
  • Brand Perception. Impact of your brand upon the recipient is not damaged by more than one mailing being received at the same time or by the mailing arriving late due to poor addressing, or through upsetting family members through not knowing the recipient had died.

In summary, my advice is to audit your data before every mailing and clean when and as indicated by the data audit. Remember not just to make the cleansing changes to the mailing about to take place but apply the changes back to your database to ensure all future direct marketing activity takes into account this new customer or prospect knowledge.