Bouncebacks, bounce-overs and a black hole

Forget spam. Fake pills, banking scams and trojan horse viruses are a nuisance for ISPs and a minor concern for law enforcement agencies. As far as the consumer goes, it really should be a case of buyer beware. If you expect to get millions of dollars back from sharing your bank account details, you might as well leave your car and house unlocked at night as well.

But what marketers should be worried about is the way they are throwing an increased share of their budgets into a medium that has no data quality processes at all. Shifting into digital channels is happening at a time when many organisations are trying to tighten up their data governance. Just how will the absence of any standard in one channel be reconciled with those corporate guidelines?

According to MarketingSherpa, more than a third of companies increased their spending on email last year. In doing so, they are consigning an unknown proportion of those message to the ether without knowing what happens next.

Email broadcasters will tell you that bounceback is the way they manage data quality, by ensuring they strip out undelivered or returned addresses from their lists. What they do not talk about is “bounce-over” – when bulk email hits an ISP’s network and is simply fed to any available address.

This happens a lot with spam, of course, where addresses have been generated using an algorithm that creates all possible variations of an address for each stub. I regularly get emails addressed to other people whose address begins “david.e*”, regardless of what letters follow that initial.

If you think simiilar problems do not affect data from commercial email sources, then you clearly believe the reports which they draw up on your behalf, too. Talking to a data governance leader in a bank and a database marketer in a services company recently was eye-opening about just how absent data quality really is in this channel.

Every month brings a fresh set of press releases about new email appending services offering to add missing addresses to customer databases. That brings its own compliance concerns and any user should apply a forensic microscope to the origins of the addresses they choose to select.

More worryingly, there appears to be no pressure within the data industry for the creation of an email data quality standard, process or reference data set. It is not in the interest of ESPs or data owners, of course. For major brand owners, however, the current situation can not go on. Quality will out.

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