Direct to number one, data quality street

Keith Jones is determined to get Royal Mail recognised for its data services as well as for its deliveries. As he explains to David Reed, knowing when consumers and businesses are moving is a great advantage when selling the data hygiene message.

Getting recognition of your company as the number one data owner for data quality purposes is no small challenge in a crowded market. When that company is already one of the best-known brands in the UK, however, the task is made a bit easier. Having 60,000 staff who visit most UK properties in a week makes the target much easier to hit.

For Keith Jones, who became head of data services at Royal Mail halfway through 2009, getting the market to alter its perception reflects his own changing take. “Before I joined Royal Mail, I’m not sure I saw them as the de facto data cleaning source,” he admits.

A quick review of the data assets held by the organisation shows why it actually could claim to be the leader. One of its “Crown Jewels”, as Jones points out, is the Redirection Service database. “It is not only a great source of data about households that have moved, it is also a great source for targeting more offers,” he says.

Between 100,000 and 120,000 households register to have their post redirected each month. Royal Mail estimates that this accounts for 70 per cent of all home movers, with many of the remaining 30 per cent either in transit, for example students going to University, or “some people who don’t want their post to follow them”, as he diplomatically puts it. This volume is 30 per cent down from the peak of 180,000 monthly registrations in 2007.

Jones believes a more sensible reference point is 2005, when Royal Mail was recording 150,000 moves monthly. That means a 20 per cent drop as a result of the economic freeze. “Our data has the ability to be a barometer of home buying. It shows there is still a mobile market of people who have to follow their job,” says Jones. With one million plus records, the database feeds the National Change of Address file which enables marketers to associate a customer with both their old and new address.

This is an area of opportunity which Jones identifies for consumer-facing marketing by his organisation. “That is a service we can provide for them by connecting them with businesses. It is easy to forget the ones you have an infrequent contact with. We can take that hassle away,” he says.

Proactive marketing to the NCOA file is already a growing area. Research carried out by the Directory Publishers’ Association shows that movers spend more in the first six months of a relocation than in the next five years. Hitting that window of opportunity can yield significant results for a wide range of businesses, from insurance to furniture retailers.

Furniture Village discovered this when it used the Home Movers Mailing Service, which brings together both aspects of Royal Mail Data Services’ proposition – cleansing and targeting data combined with end-to-end campaign development and distribution. Its mailings to households who registered for post redirection within two weeks of sign-up delivered a 5:1 return on investment.

This support for marketing communications has been developed over recent years through the supplier framework of approved partners. “It is a growing part of our business. We want to encourage clients to use more direct mail. It is a natural extension for us to enable those organisations that perhaps lack expertise, knowledge or insight,” says Jones.

While the rise of digital marketing has had an obvious impact on the volumes of direct mail being sent, it has had a less visible effect in reducing the skills base within marketing departments. For many practitioners under the age of 30, born and raised in the Internet era, physical mail is alien territory.

Paradoxically, there is an upside to the downswing in mailing activity. “A reduction in clutter is leading to very effective response rates, whereas more people are using filters to avoid cold email,” points out Jones. Getting the channel mix right, like the home shopping companies who realise the power to drive web traffic both from direct mail and printed catalogues, is still a winning formula. “It is part of our service offering to ensure people recognise that,” he adds.

While the recession may have taken some of the impetus away from the move by businesses towards greener ways of working, Jones still sees plenty of strength in the argument that companies need to avoid “waste to mail – there is no point wasting money on badly-addressed items.”

Whether through cost-savings or environmental initiatives, cleaning data using his company’s sources is still a must, he argues. If there is a hurdle to surmount, it is that, “companies don’t treat data as an asset. How many have a KPI for returned mail?”



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