By Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
While data is a core component of any direct marketing campaign—mail or web—that campaign is only as successful as the data it uses. There are a number of ways to ensure good, clean, effective data. Prime functions like de-duping to address verification are integral to the process, but then it’s also important to make sure that the right data is being sent to the right person. Furthermore, that data is someone’s private information—too much may translate to a negative response to a direct marketing campaign.
Functions Part of Data Management
Data management is an essential component to managing customers’ direct mail marketing. These solutions help print providers optimize postage and security. Prime functions that should be incorporated into a data management strategy vary based on the user, but there are a few overarching themes that resonate for all.
“The most important asset for direct mail marketing is data. We’re talking about personal identification, characteristics, buying habits, demographic, and lifestyle information. A good data strategy includes using your house file first. You have some sort of relationship with these people. Even if it’s only that they know the name of your company. Starting with that foundation you can enhance your data with other data to get a more complete view and can then start modeling and segmenting to get ready for mailing,” explains Matt Mahoney, EVP, sales and marketing, Racami, LLC.
Mahoney details the steps a good data strategy includes. Start with your own customer data. Enhance the records you have with third-party data to expand your knowledge of each individual. Add more records to your customer database. Perform predictive modeling to figure out what good customers look like and identify prospects with similar characteristics and potential to become customers. Then, mail, measure, analyze results, and then repeat what works.
Features incorporated into a data management strategy should streamline the process. “First and foremost, scrub addresses for duplicates and verify against a postal service integrity check. Meaning that name and address combinations need to be verified as a real address and checked that it is the registered address of the named recipient. Secondly, the design management system should be presorting valid addresses into groups just as the postal service would do if the mailings were received individually,” recommends Piet De Pauw, head of marketing, Enfocus, an Esko company.
In additional to basics like address verification, national change of address (NCOA), and de-duping, William J. Longua, senior director, digital print group, Quadient, suggests utilizing suppression as well as proprietary charge of address (PCOA) tools. In his experience using these types of tools has improved accuracy by 20 percent or more in some cases.
“A more comprehensive approach will not only make sure that addresses are correct, but that you are mailing your message to the correct recipients. Utilizing data services has a tremendous impact on your database accuracy by using suppression tools that further cleanse a list and remove those who you don’t want to be recipients, such as decedents and those who are incarcerated. PCOA tools can make sure that targeted recipients who move but do not register new address information with the United States Postal Service (USPS) are also updated and corrected,” continues Longua.
David R. Spencer, president/CEO, SpencerMetrics, admits that data management has various interpretations. For example, his company focuses on operational data. “Frequently gathered manually, the process is error- and omission-prone—especially downtime category recording. The idea that having operators share their knowledge hurts productivity is a myth—properly managed it can be turned into a motivating force.”
On the flip side, Scott Eganhouse, VP business development, TEC Mailing Solutions, LLC, views data management or as he refers to it “the stewardship of updating and maintaining data” as a separate issue than postal optimization. “The degradation of good data is much more insidious than a few return mail pieces, especially if that data is being used in attribution modeling. Postal optimization in my opinion is using the data to drive down postage by rate shopping each individual mail piece to be delivered through the USPS directly, utilizing a third-party co-mingle provider, or likely both for a single mailing.”
Even with a good data strategy in place thanks to efficient tools, print providers must be aware of macro influences. The data they are privy to is personal and as such there are many regulations in place that protect recipients’ information.
“It is important to be aware of the fines that can be levied against mailers for violations, as well as the hit to reputation. Ensuring that the correct information is sent to the correct recipient is critical. For mailers doing personalized transactional mailings with statements or medical information, being able to show your customers that you understand the implications and risk of improper data management, and have the technology to ensure security, can help you organization sell more jobs to larger customers,” says Longua.
Top regulations include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which is a federal law that requires the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.
Another involves the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council’s mission to enhance global payment account data security by developing standards and supporting services that drive education, awareness, and effective implementation by stakeholders. The PCI Data Security Standard (DSS) is a set of security standards designed to ensure that all companies that accept, process, store, or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment.
Additionally, the Service Organization Controls (SOC) 2 is a report based on the Auditing Standards Board of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ existing Trust Services Criteria. The purpose of this report is to evaluate an organization’s information systems relevant to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.
Eganhouse suggests understanding the minimum requirements your client will accept before obtaining a SOC 2. “It may actually cost you business instead of earning it. HIPAA and PCI have teeth so your implementations should be shrouded in risk mitigation and tested accordingly to avoid fines. Any information data being sent offsite, for example NCOA, should not contain any protected health information as an added precautionary step.”
Laws and regulations aside, respecting privacy also means respecting the customer. “Don’t forget that your customer’s expectations might be more stringent than the specific legal ordinance. Use data that you are authorized to use and in ways that don’t creep out your customer. You want to present messages that are relevant to your customer/prospect using information they would assume you know. When you use information they don’t think you should know, they wonder how you found that out. Most consumers today know that they are being tracked, but it’s still a turnoff and a little scary when vendors go too far with their pitch. Adhere to the regulations, but think about your customer too,” recommends Mahoney.
“It is always recommended to adhere to postal and privacy regulations as closely as possible and to err on the side of caution. Disregarding regulations can lead to retaliation against the printer’s customer as well as the printer,” adds De Pauw.
Spencer points out that more regulations are on the horizon. One to keep aware of is Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Drafted and passed by the European Union (EU), it imposes obligations onto organizations anywhere, so long as they target or collect data related to people in the EU. The GDPR will levy harsh fines against those who violate its privacy and security standards, with penalties reaching into the tens of millions of euros. Spencer believes a version of this will eventually be present in the U.S.
Service level agreements (SLAs) are an added level of complexity when it comes direct mail marketing and data management. Most customers have bad data and fixing that bad data can take time—an SLA should reflect this and take into account all of the data management solutions available to amend that data.
First it’s important to note that SLAs are just that, agreements between the customer and printer—regulations still need to be taken into account. “This is a touchy subject that can sometimes be taken entirely too lightly by both printer and customer. An SLA can’t attempt to supersede local laws, of course, so printers should carefully construct and make clear to customers where responsibilities will lie. For instance, privacy laws affect the owner and processor of data. So, even though the printer will have processed a mailing list, any potential issues are shared with the printer’s customer,” recommends De Pauw.
When it comes to drafting an agreement, the quality of data should be reviewed prior to agreeing on the contact. “The accuracy and integrity of data received from customers can impact the service organization’s ability to deliver on time and within quoted fees. Fixing bad data takes time. Contracts should consider the quality of the data in terms of file structure, data fields, completeness, and accuracy of the data populated in the fields; completeness of the file received; file naming conventions; and other standards,” explains Mahoney.
“Getting ahead of bad data keeps your clients happy and your production staff one step ahead, doing so will make it easier to manage your SLAs. I’m a big fan of extending data quality solutions like coding accuracy support systems (CASS) and NCOA directly into the hands of your client, which you can do with a hosted data quality solution while maintaining the chain of custody of your client’s data. This is an area where your postal software can be holding you back. Single-record CASS solutions that correct data upon entry should be the standard, this is an opportunity print providers are overlooking. Running an NCOA on a regular cadence keeps the data updated,” shares Eganhouse.
Longua also points out that certain services take longer to execute than others. “Usually, NCOA or address verification is quick. More complex data management services may extend the turnaround time, possibly taking an additional day or two.”
Adhering to Data
Data management is a pivotal part of direct mail—sending to the correct receipent is only part of the equation. Today’s data-driven world means there is a wealth of information at print providers fingertips, however they must utilize the correct tools to make sure that data is leveraged correctly and safely, all while adhering to SLAs and country-wide regulations.
The next article of this two-part series looks at various data management solutions utilized for direct mail.
Nov2021, DPS Magazine