Your mailing list retains its value best if it is kept clean and efficient. This
report will first talk about why you should maintain your list in this manner.
Then, the procedures you can follow to update both the mailing and database
information associated with the names on you list will be discussed.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MAINTAINING A CLEAN AND EFFICIENT LIST
What makes a list clean and efficient? Lists are clean and efficient
when they are:
* accurate. * current (up-to-date). * as free of duplicate names as possible. * maintained with complete data.
Keeping lists clean and efficient requires a constant effort. The
average mailing list begins to go out of date as soon as it is compiled.
Industry studies have shown that the average consumer list changes approximately
20 percent a year. Business lists change a bit more slowly: about 18 percent a
year. But individual names within a business can change much more frequently.
The source of the list will often determine how frequently it is updated.
At best, lists compiled from Yellow or White Pages will only be as up-to-date as
three to six months prior to the publication schedule of the directory. This
is usually on an annual basis but may be once every two or even three years.
Mail order buyer lists could have a higher degree of accuracy because part of
normal business is maintaining correct information about customers.
Don’t assume that a list is clean just because you bought it from a
fellow business owner. Most of the best kept lists are made up of mail order
buyers, those buyer lists which are poorly maintained represent some of the worst
lists. Always try to see and test a portion of the list before you mail it in
Because mailing lists change so quickly, it is important to commit the
necessary resources to keep your own lists current and correct. Lists that
aren’t properly maintained can be harmful and costly to your business or
organization in several ways. For example:
1. You’re wasting postage and printing dollars if the mailings are
incorrectly addressed or if there are duplicate names on your file or if they
2. The database information is not kept current, you may not be
mailing as efficiently as you could be.
3. You may be losing out on potential business if you cannot
reliably get the mailing pieces to target audiences due to out-of-date or
otherwise incorrect addresses.
4. You are damaging your image with your customers. Misspellings
and out-of-date information reflect poorly on the organization – if the mailing
reaches its destination.
5. Duplicate names can lead you to understate the response rate.
The response you actually get may be much better than the numbers show. This
can have an effect on future mailing plans since you believe that the
response you are getting is much lower than it actually is.
The key to keeping a list clean and efficient is to establish procedures
for making daily changes to your list. Develop a carefully planned, closely
followed, regular updating program. In the next sections, we will discuss ideas
for setting up a daily updating system, then give steps that should be included
in any regular monitoring program.
KEEPING YOUR HOUSE LIST ACCURATE AND UP-TO-DATE ON A CONTINUING BASIS
Establishing an ongoing updating system is the most effective way to stay
on top of changes to the customer mailing list. Customers are your easiest, most
reliable source for keeping a customer list continuously current. Enlist their
cooperation by including a request for updated information with each mailing
sent. Here are some possible ways to make the request:
1. If you use an order form with a label affixed, request that
customers change any incorrect information.
2. If you provide a return envelope which includes space for the
recipient to write in a return address, below these lines provide a “key” that
indicates that address information should be updated. The key
could look like this:
[ ] Check here if this is a new address.
Record and maintain each transaction with a customer so that you can keep
the important recency, frequency, and monetary value data current for each
There are other database fields that may change frequently or with each
transaction. These fields should be incorporated into any system you developed
for continuous updating of the mailing list/database. If the audience is made up
of individuals of businesses, here are some fields you will want to monitor and
update on a regular basis:
*Credit Status Code: This code is based on the customer’s payment
history. Each time a customer orders, information about how long he takes to pay, and how
he pays is generated. This data should be used to update his account. Credit
status codes should also be evaluated and updated on a monthly basis.
* Items Ordered: Keeping this information current will help
uncover opportunities where you may be able to sell related products or supplies
to that customer. This information can be updated on a
*Date of Last Order: This information is used for recency and monetary
value calculations. It can be updated on a monthly or quarterly basis.
*Name and Address: This information should be verified and updated at
the time a customer orders.
*Title or Name of Contact: This information should be verified and
updated at the time of order.
*Date of Last Contact: This field should be updated at the time of
contact – either the last date this name was mailed or the last date a sales call
If you are maintaining this information on a microcomputer, much of this
information could be automatically updated.
PERIODIC REVIEWS OF YOUR HOUSE LIST
In addition to making ongoing changes as necessary to individual records
on your list, you should periodically review the entire list or portions of it
and make all changes necessary to update and correct your list. Below is a
variety of methods to consider including in your regular “list-cleaning” program:
1. Again, your customers are your best source for verifying changes
to your list or database. For example:
* You may want to send a mailing which has the sole purpose
of updating and correcting the list. The mailing could consist of a business
reply card with an address label affixed to it. Below the label,
insert such check boxes as:
[ ] Please update my account as noted on the label.
[ ] Addressee no longer here. Please remove name
from the list.
*You may also want to conduct a mail or phone survey (depending
on the size of the list), to update the demographic information about the
2.The U.S. Postal Service provides several programs that your
organization can use to periodically clean the list. Contact your local
postmaster for full details.
In addition to keeping the mailing list correct and up-to-date, make sure
that it is as free of duplicate names as possible. This involved two steps:
1. Removing duplicate names from your customer list. 2. Eliminating duplicate names between and among the customer,
prospect, or suspect lists you use.
The techniques used to remove duplicate names from your house list depend
largely on the size of the list and how it is maintained:
*If the list is small enough, you can catch many duplicates by sorting
the list in zip code or alphabetical order and “eyeballing” it *If the list is stored on a microcomputer, you can sort it by one
variable and then use the eyeball approach to spot the duplicates. Possible
variables for ordering the list include last name, company name, address or
*For large lists of more than 10,000 names, you may want to consider
hiring a computer service bureau to “de-dupe” (eliminate duplicate from) the list
using one of their specifically designed software programs. If you are renting
lists, and your own list is automated, ask that the service bureau perform an
“own customer” elimination as part of their service. Names of service bureaus in
your area can be obtained from the Direct Marketing Association.
In addition to removing duplicate names within your house list, match
this list against any outside lists you use.
The popular term for this is “merge/purge” which means matching two or
more mailing lists (usually by electronic means) to remove duplication and make
sure that each name receives only one mailing.
Basically, merge/purge is accomplished through use of a match code.
Match codes can take the form of many different combinations. Some match codes
eliminate all the vowels in the name and address, while others pick up certain
characters from certain fields. The match code is made up of the same characters
for each name on the lists, and fully and uniquely identifies that name. When
lists are matched against each other, duplicate match codes indicate that the
same name exists on more than one list.
When you hire a firm to run a merge/purge, try to find out how they
identify duplicates, and if you can, set up a test with more than one service
bureau to find out whose program best fits your needs.
Another concept to consider when trying to identify duplicates is
“overkill” vs. “underkill.” If the match code includes too many characters,
possible duplicates will not be caught. This is called underkill. On the other
hand, if the match code is too loose, names which are not duplicates will be
recognized as duplicates (overkill).
Finding duplicates is really an art. How do you catch a match of an
individual where one list says he lives at 505 7th St., and another has him
living at 505 Seventh St.? Even worse, is Jean Smith, who lives at 510 Main St.
the same person as the Jane Smith living at 501 Main St.? How you answer depends
on whether you prefer overkill or underkill.
It’s a bigger problem when running a merge/purge for businesses. Not
only do you have to worry about name and address fields, but now you may need to
find matches with business names and individual titles. The key here is to
determine up front how many names per firm you want to mail to.
The key to successful merge/purge is close monitoring. Watch the process
from beginning to end. Have thorough written instructions, and make sure they
are carried out.
Copyright 2004 by DeAnna Spencer
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