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This week, we offer you not one, but two ways to improve your marketing performance by sorting out data quality. In his regular SPA column, Mark Roy outlines the new mantra which could make a big different to your key metrics in 2010.

I’d like to offer another suggestion which could dramatically improve any data quality measures you may have. (I’m assuming you have them as a regular reader.) And the best thing about this is that it is free, since you have already paid for it.

Returned mail is an unfortunate by-product of any marketing campaign that uses printed communications. Despite the best efforts of Royal Mail, there are always items that can not be delivered. On top of this, there are pieces of mail that new occupants of a house conscientiously mark “Return to Sender” and post back. Finally, there are people who do this without having moved, but because they do not want to be mailed any more.

What happens in your organisation to these items? Chances are that they are never seen – an outsourced service provider may have them in a warehouse with a brief to dispose of them. Or if they do get back to your business, they are thrown away with no data capture carried out.

Interviewing Keith Jones, head of data services at Royal Mail for the January issue of Data Strategy, I was struck by his comment that sorting offices are full of boxes of mail making their way back to senders. While data errors are inevitable in even the best managed files, some campaigns are generating 4 per cent or more in undelivered or returned items.

So why not put in place a programme to capture those names and addresses and flag them on the database? They do not necessarily need to be surpressed. Many brand owners fear removing names that are “postal goneaways” rather than genuine movers or deceaseds. But a flag that triggers an action to validate that record before remailing ought to be standard practice.

And what of those people who return to sender out of peevishness? Shouldn’t they be flagged as “do not mails” (having validated that they still live there) on the grounds that they will never respond and convert?

At the moment, it is commercial data owners who carry this out on behalf of contracted clients, building suppression files for other marketers as they do so. Nothing wrong with that and it extends the reach and credibility of those data sets.

But what of those marketers who say they can not afford to suppress or that their FD will not allow another line in their markeitng budget? Returned mail is free information about data quality. And there is another bonus – strip out the returneds from your campaign base before you calculate the results and your response rate automatically goes up. Doesn’t that sound like a winner?

David Reed, editor, Data Strategy

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