5 Steps to Customer Data Hygiene: It’s Not Sexy, But It’s Essential

Are you happy with the quality of the information in your marketing database? Probably not. A new report from NetProspex confirms: 64 percent of company records in the database of a typical B-to-B marketer have no phone number attached. Pretty much eliminates phone as a reliable communications medium, doesn’t it? And 88 percent are missing basic firmographic data

Are you happy with the quality of the information in your marketing database? Probably not. A new report from NetProspex confirms: 64 percent of company records in the database of a typical B-to-B marketer have no phone number attached.

Pretty much eliminates phone as a reliable communications medium, doesn’t it?

And 88 percent are missing basic firmographic data, like industry, revenue or employee size—so profiling and segmentation is pretty tough. In fact, the Netprospex report concluded that 84 percent of B-to-B marketing databases are “barely functional.” Yipes. So, what can you do about it?

This is not a new problem. Dun & Bradstreet reports regularly on how quickly B-to-B data degrades. Get this: Every year, in the U.S., business postal addresses change at a rate of 20.7 percent. If your customer is a new business, the rate is 27.3 percent. Phone numbers change at the rate of 18 percent, and 22.7 percent among new businesses. Even company names fluctuate: 12.4 percent overall, and a staggering 36.4 percent percent among new businesses.

No wonder your sales force is always complaining that your data is no good (although they probably use more colorful words).

Here are five steps you can take to maintain data accuracy, a process known as “data hygiene.”

1. Key enter the data correctly in the first place.
Sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked. This means following address guidelines from the Postal Service (for example, USPS Publication 28), and standardizing such complex things as job functions and company names. But it also means training for your key-entry personnel. These folks are often at the bottom of the status heap, but they are handling one of your most important corporate assets. So give them the respect they deserve.

2. Harness customer-facing personnel to update the data.
Leverage the access of customer-facing personnel to refresh contact information. Train and motivate call center personnel, customer service, salespeople and distributors—anyone with direct customer contact—to request updated information at each meeting. When it comes to sales people, this is an entirely debatable matter. You want sales people selling, not entering data. But it’s worth at least a conversation to see if you can come up with a painless way to extract fresh contact updates as sales people interact with their accounts.

3. Use data-cleansing software, internally or from a service provider, and delete obsolete records.
Use the software tools that are available, which will de-duplicate, standardize and sometimes append missing fields. These won’t correct much—it’s mostly email and postal address standardization—but they will save you time, and they are much cheaper than other methods.

4. Allow customers access to their records online, so they can make changes.
Consider setting up a customer preference center, where customers can manage the data you have on them, and indicate how they want to hear from you. Offer a premium or incentive, or even a discount, to obtain higher levels of compliance.

5. Outbound phone or email to verify, especially to top customers.
Segment your file, and conduct outbound confirmation campaigns for the highest value accounts. This can be by mail, email or telephone, and done annually. When you have some results, decide whether to put your less valuable accounts through the same process.

Do you have any favorite hygiene techniques to add to my list?

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

4 Predictions for B-to-B Marketing in 2013

It’s that time of the year when observers can’t resist making predictions about developments on the horizon. I hereby take up that tradition, offering up four random prognostications for where B-to-B digital marketing is headed in 2013. My topics include Facebook, content marketing, personal branding and data hygiene—certainly an eclectic mix. I encourage readers to add their own.

It’s that time of the year when observers can’t resist making predictions about developments on the horizon. I hereby take up that tradition, offering up four random prognostications for where B-to-B digital marketing is headed in 2013. My topics include Facebook, content marketing, personal branding and data hygiene—certainly an eclectic mix. I encourage readers to add their own.

Facebook Is Ready, At Last, for the B-to-B Prime Time
It took a while, but Facebook (FB) marketing is now ready for mainstream B-to-B, in support of branding, lead generation and customer relationship marketing goals for enterprises of all sizes. There are several reasons for this—FB’s universality being one of them. But the critical driver is the recent arrival of the Facebook Exchange (FBX) ad platform, which will allow banner ad bidding and retargeting to specific individuals, based on data matching.

So, while I used to argue that Facebook should be at the bottom of a B-to-B marketer’s to-do list, I am revising my view for 2013. Talking to my pals at Edmund Optics, where I serve on the board of directors, I am hearing confirmation of these developments. Edmund’s target audience is optical engineers and others interested in science and technology. Years ago, I would have advised them to ignore FB and focus on more targeted social networks.

But now, EO has turned its Facebook page into an effective environment for engaging these guys, with weekly “Geeky Friday” offers, and the enormously popular Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide at Halloween, where engineers were invited to design zombie-blasting tools using Edmund products. Facebook is now a top referring source for EO’s website, up 60 percent from last year. I stand corrected.

More and Better Content
B-to-B marketers were early to the content marketing game. In fact, I would argue that B-to-B has been a leading force in this area, in recognition of the importance of prospect education and thought leadership in the complex selling process. B-to-B marketers will continue to excel at creating valuable materials—digital, paper-based, video, you name it—to attract prospects and deepen relationships.

How do I know this? A new study from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, which says that 54 percent of B-to-B marketers plan to increase their content marketing budgets in 2013. Their biggest content challenge for next year? Ironically, it’s producing enough content.

Personal Branding as a Way of Life
Business people and consumers alike are realizing that their online personas have a growing impact on both their everyday lives and their professional careers. Rather than letting their personal brands evolve organically, individuals will make more proactive efforts to build and manage their images online, benefiting from the guidance of an emerging community of personal brand experts like William Arruda and Kirsten Dixson. This means establishing unique brand positioning and developing a set of active and consistent messaging across Internet media, especially social networks, to explain who they are and what are their capabilities. Personal branding is no longer just for celebrities or the self-employed; with the rise of social media, it is for everyone.

Renewed Interest in Data Hygiene
Whenever I give a seminar on B-to-B marketing, I ask attendees to take out their business cards and look at them carefully. Then, I say, “Raise your hand if anything on the card is new in the last 12 months.” Invariably, 30 percent of the hands go up.

The high rate of change in B-to-B—whether moving to a different a company, a new title, even a new mail stop—is obvious. But only recently has it begun to sink in that addressing people incorrectly, or campaigning with undeliverable mail or email addresses, not only wastes marketing dollars, but also means lost business opportunity. So enough about big data. The focus in 2013 will be clean data.

And if you want some tips on how to keep your B-to-B data clean, have a look at my white paper: “Our Data is a Mess! How to Clean Up Your Marketing Database.”

So, those are my predictions. I hope readers will add some of their own. What do you think we’ll be seeing in B-to-B digital marketing in 2013?

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Backlink Pruning: A Staple ‘Best’ Practice, Especially in Penguin’s Aftermath

Many direct marketers are familiar with the practice of list hygiene. In a nutshell, it’s going through your email file, looking at inactive, duplicate or bad emails, and removing them or “purging them” from your list. Having a “clean” list means it’s more relevant and responsive. The same holds true for backlinks … especially in lieu of recent Google algorithm updates like last year’s Farmer/Panda and this year’s Penguin, which penalize websites for low quality irrelevant content and backlinks.

Many direct marketers are familiar with the practice of list hygiene. In a nutshell, it’s going through your email file, looking at inactive, duplicate or bad emails, and removing them or “purging them” from your list.

Having a “clean” list means it’s more relevant and responsive.

The same holds true for backlinks … especially in lieu of recent Google algorithm updates like last year’s Farmer/Panda and this year’s Penguin, which penalize websites for low quality irrelevant content and backlinks.

It’s always a best practice, from a search engine hygiene standpoint, to monitor and “prune” your backlinks to make sure you don’t have spammy or irrelevant websites linking back to you.

And now more than ever, with Google’s latest update, it’s prudent to check your own website’s backlinks to ensure those who are linking to you are relevant and synergistic to your own site’s content.

Here’s what you need to know (and do!):

First, check out some free online tools that do this, known as “backlink checkers.” Some that I use are:

But there are many out there. You can simply type a search for “free backlink checker tool” and see which one appeals best to you.

Second, after you plug in your website’s URL in the backlink checker tool, go down the results list and see who’s linking back to you. Note: This is a laborious process, but well worth it; especially if you noticed your traffic and SERP placement dropped recently and you may have speculated that Penguin is to blame.

Next, identify the sites that appear to be irrelevant and non-related to your website—a site in a totally different industry or one that is blatantly spam. Then it’s simply the manual process of visiting the bad backlinks website and contacting them to remove the link going to your site.

If you happen to find dozens of irrelevant and potentially harmful websites, for the sake of time management, it’s best to create one form letter and send to each asking each site to remove its backlink to your site in an effort to avoid/recover from a Google penalty.

List the specifics about the irrelevant URL, such as where it can be found (its entire URL), where it links to (which page on your site), and any anchor text. Your goal is to give the other website as much useful information as possible so they can easily find the link and remove it from your site.

Sometimes, it’s easy to find contact information for the irrelevant backlink’s website owner. You simply visit the corresponding website link and search their site for contact information or a “Contact Us” page.

Other times it’s a bit harder, and you may need to do a bit of sleuthing and use some additional free tools to help determine the website’s owner. Such tools are:

  • Domaintools.com: If you want to find out who owns the site your link is on,
    visit domain tools or type “whois.sc” in front of a URL.
  • C-Class Checker: If you have a list of all the links you want to get rid of,
    you can run them through a bulk C-class checker to see how many of them
    are on the same C-class.
  • SpyonWeb: If you only have 1 URL to work with, this tool lets you find out

what other domains they are associated with. Just put in a website URL,
IP address or even the Google analytics or AdSense code and you can find
all of the websites that are connected to it. Keep a record of all efforts to
contact “bad links,” as it will show Google you’ve been making a good effort
to get rid of these irrelevant links.

If you received notification from Google or found that the Panda or Penguin updates have affected your website’s rank and SERP visibility and believe there may have been an error of some sort, there is some recourse …

Google has a quick and easy form you can fill out to pinpoint search terms that you believe you shouldn’t be penalized for.

Good luck!

How to Make a Billion: The Costs of ‘Undeliverable as Addressed’

The USPS recently shared some interesting data on the volume and cost of undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail. That tab was $1.3 billion in 2010, and that was just the cost to the Postal Service, which has to incorporate these costs into its rate-setting. All this UAA is money down the drain to the mailers—who designed, produced and labeled it and applied its postage—and to the Postal Service that has to deal with its final disposition.

The USPS recently shared some interesting data on the volume and cost of undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail.

According to the USPS, “Total UAA volume dropped from 9.3 billion pieces (4.71 percent of total mail volume) in FY 1998 to 6.9 billion pieces (4.11 percent of total mail volume) in FY 2010. (This reduction, while significant, falls far short of previous Postmaster General Jack Potter’s goal of reducing UAA mail by 50 percent by 2010.) Historically, UAA mail runs in the range of 4 percent to 5 percent of total mail volume, and the percentages of total volume vary by class of mail. Periodicals mail, for example, has a UAA percentage of about 1.5 percent, while Standard Mail usually runs about 6.75 percent. Interestingly, the volumes of UAA mail that the USPS forwards or treats as waste both experienced declines, but the volume of UAA mail that the USPS returns to sender actually increased.”

All this UAA is money down the drain to the mailers—who designed, produced and labeled it and applied its postage—and to the Postal Service that has to deal with its final disposition.

That tab was $1.3 billion in 2010, and that was just the cost to the Postal Service, which has to incorporate these costs into its rate-setting. Add to this bill the cost of 7 billion pieces that went nowhere near the intended recipient—and that’s a fortune off the bottom line. Some of this is inefficiency. Marketers in particular—primarily who use the Standard Mail category—must do a better job in data hygiene and the use of postal addressing and preparation tools.

It may be helpful, and profitable, for mailers to make sure they are undertaking every feasible effort to keep their mailing lists clean—and to avoid this hefty bill. The Direct Marketing Association has an online tool to help marketers make sure their list hygiene and data management efforts are up to par.

It’s called the Environmental Planner & Optional Policy Generator, and it’s based in part on the DMA’s “Green 15” Environmental Principles. But the green focus is dual in nature. Avoiding mail waste through proper data management also applies green—as in money—back to the bottom line! Consider these suggested activities from this planner to get back some of this billion-plus that are lost to UAA:

________________________________________________________

I. LIST HYGIENE AND DATA MANAGEMENT

Our company continually endeavors to manage data and lists in an environmentally responsible manner with a focus on reducing the amount of duplicate, unwanted and undeliverable mail [to both consumers and businesses]. To achieve our goals in this area [If applicable to the goals and/or nature of your organization, please select one or more of the following options.]:

A. We Maintain Suppression Lists

  • We maintain in-house do-not-market lists for prospects and customers who do not wish to receive future solicitations from us (as required by DMA’s Commitment to Consumer Choice).
  • We maintain a more detailed suppression file that enables customers and prospects to opt off our organization’s marketing lists on a selective basis, such as by frequency or by category.

B. We Offer Notice & Choice

  • We provide existing and prospective customers with notice of an opportunity to modify or eliminate future marketing contacts from our organization in every commercial solicitation (as required by DMA’s Commitment to Consumer Choice).
  • We provide periodic notices and opportunities for prospects to opt in or opt out of receiving future marketing contacts from our organization.
  • We provide customers incentives (such as the offer of a discount on their next purchase) for notifying us of duplicate mailings and incorrect addresses.
  • We offer customers a choice to receive communications from our organization electronically.

C. We Clean Our Lists Prior to Mailing

  • We use the Direct Marketing Association (U.S.) Mail Preference Service (MPS) monthly on all applicable consumer prospecting lists. In addition to use of MPS, we maintain clean, deliverable files by using (Please check all that apply):
    • ZIP Code correction
    • Address standardization
    • USPS National Change of Address (NCOA)
    • Other USPS products such as
      • Address Element Correction (AEC)
      • Delivery Sequence File (DSF)
      • Address Correction Requested (ACR)
    • Predictive models and RFM segmentation
    • Other: (Please specify.)
  • We use the DMA “Deceased Do Not Contact” list to eliminate names of deceased persons from mailings.
  • We use the Foreign Mail Preference Service on applicable mailings to the United Kingdom, Belgium or Germany.
  • We use the mail preference services of other foreign national direct marketing associations, where applicable.
  • We [ encourage/ require] our client mailers to use MPS.
  • We [ encourage/ require] companies and organizations that rent our list of customers to screen consumer names through MPS, and to maintain their own do-not-rent and do-not-mail in-house name suppression lists.

D. We Merge/Purge Our Data

  • We match outside lists against each other to prevent duplicates.
  • We use match definitions in merge/purge that minimize duplicates.
  • We match outside lists against other commercially available suppression files where appropriate.

E. We Test Market Offers

  • We test a sample of a list before mailing or marketing to the entire list.
  • We test different versions of advertising and marketing offers, in mail and other media, to select those offers and media combinations that receive the best response.

For more information, see DMA Environmental Resource Guide, “Mailing List Management: A Key to Waste Reduction,” pages 63-70.

________________________________________________________

Now the entirety of the UAA issue is not attributable solely to less than adequate data management, but it is likely a good portion of it is. We know the DMA Board of Directors—in adopting its first environmental public goal which in part commits to reduce UAA by 25 percent from 2009 to 2013—very much intends for marketers to avoid losing these billions down the line.

The Postal Service is working closely with mailers and, vice versa, to tackle other ways to manage UAA and to reduce its volume. Certainly, Intelligent Mail barcodes will help, with the ability to track mail whereabouts in real time as it moves through the USPS’s processing and handling. “Return to Sender” UAA is the most costly for the Postal Service to handle, because of the return handling costs—that, too, needs attention.

In the very least, marketers also should work with their mail service providers most closely to design mail pieces for postal automation compatibility, to apply proper data management practices (as indicated by DMA, for example), and—as the USPS embarks on its network consolidation effort—to track their mail most precisely through the mail stream. A billion dollars and more are in the balance.

Helpful Links:
DMA First Public Green Goal, concerning List Hygiene

DMA Environmental Planner & Optional Policy Generator

Setting Sustainability Goals: DMA Takes Industry Aim at Bottom-Line Benefits

One of the challenges for advancing sustainability in everyday business practice is that investments made toward the “triple” bottom line must indeed generate payback in three ways: financial, environmental and social. Many times, “people” (social) and “planet” (environmental) may get an obvious nod, but “profit” (financial) is difficult to articulate.

One of the challenges for advancing sustainability in everyday business practice is that investments made toward the “triple” bottom line must indeed generate payback in three ways: financial, environmental and social. Many times, “people” (social) and “planet” (environmental) may get an obvious nod, but “profit” (financial) is difficult to articulate.

As a member of the Direct Marketing Association Committee on the Environment and Social Responsibility, we are focused on articulating triple-bottom-line benefits in each and all of the activities we undertake on behalf of the business. Two such Committee initiatives have been given specific recognition by the DMA Board of Directors as industry-wide sustainability goals: (1) a commitment to apply preference, data hygiene and proper postal preparation to reduce Undeliverable-as-Addressed-Advertising (UAA) mail by 25 percent by 2013 and, by doing so, generate savings approaching 1 million tons in carbon equivalents (announced July 2008); (2) a commitment to increase recycling collection rates for catalogs and direct mail, as tracked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to support growth of recycled paper markets (not publicly announced by DMA yet, but approved by the DMA Board at its recent October 2011 meeting).

The triple bottom-line benefits of each of these two goals are worth articulating. They include (but are not limited to):

Public Goal 1: List Hygiene & Carbon Reduction

  • Less mail waste is generated as more mail is delivered as properly addressed (financial);

  • Preferences as indicated by consumers are respected and honored (social); and,

  • Unwanted or improperly addressed mail avoids entering the municipal solid waste stream (environmental).

Public Goal 2: Increased Catalog/Direct Mail Recycling

  • The more paper fiber that is recovered for recycling, the greater supply and availability of paper and packaging made from recovered fiber thereby decreasing pricing pressure on products made with recovered fiber (financial);

  • Less hostility toward discarded mail waste, as more material is put toward subsequent, useful purpose -and recycling programs are fully supported (social); and,

  • Less discarded catalogs and direct mail are destined for landfills (environmental).

Perceptions persist that sustainability initiatives are “feel good” activities that don’t support the enterprise. In contrast, DMA and CESR will be emphasizing in 2012 that sustainability is an industry imperative that will lead to measurable, accountable benefits to our industry’s collective bottom lines—all three of them. In this blog, I will discuss in more detail some of the specific efforts being undertaken to achieve these important goals.

Helpful Links: