Archive for the ‘Data enhancement’ Category

Email horror stories

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Recent personal experience and a story relayed by a client have prompted reflection on how to deal with marketing email activity that goes wrong. (Some readers of this blog may even have been unwitting participants in the former incident themselves!)

Launching a new online data capture solution, my own company planned a series of emails outlining the benefits of the service, each email highlighting a different aspect. Unfortunately, in preparing the second in the email series, the first email was accidentally resent to the same recipients that had already received it originally. Not once, but twice!

Now, had it been resent just once (this was ten days after the first email), we might have quietly delayed the second execution and pretended it was a deliberate “follow-up”. Those recipients that opened it would probably this was the case (which was the plan, it was just supposed to be a different message). But having sent two emails, ten minutes apart, we didn’t think that would wash. The question we asked ourselves was should send an apology (adding a third email to our beleaguered and much valued recipients’ in-boxes)? Doing so might be appreciated by those wondering why they were receiving so many emails from us, but equally might exacerbate the issue with others. Still more people, who might not even have noticed the resends, would have their attention drawn to it.

In the end, we decided to send the apology. It’s obviously exceedingly embarrassing when situations like this arise, reflecting badly on our competence in an area which is meant to be a core skill. However, we thought that honesty was the best approach and indeed in our email we referred to the debate we’d had before taking action. We also invited feedback on whether we’d done the right thing, and of the responses we received, the overwhelming majority agreed with our approach, with only one or two saying we’d made the situation worse!

Separately, a client was recently forced to take action after a member of his sales force sent an email blast, utilising Word and Outlook to undertake a “mail merge”, rather than using the company’s approved email broadcast facilities. This DIY approach, breaking just about every rule in the email marketing book from poor targeting to contravening anti-spam legislation, resulted in a complaint from a recipient to various executives, copying the the US Federal Trade Commission (not a career enhancing outcome for the sales guy!). The original email was also criticised for not making clear the nature of its commercial content (as required by relevant legislation). All in, the transgressions could have attracted $11,000 in fines, and the complainant also demanded that no further email be sent, not just to him, but his entire company, and that there would be no prospect of doing business with them.

My client’s (rapid) response was to write back, apologising for the incident, making various assurances about some specifics of what had happened but above all assuring him that lessons would be learned. The response? An appreciative reply, stating that, after all, their services would be considered in the future.

The outcome of all of this is that honesty is certainly the best approach to dealing with issues when they arise. Whilst the complaint made by the recipient of my client’s email that the subject line was misleading was arguably unfounded, it highlights the importance of not trying to obfuscate the intent of a piece of communications. And although we garnered some criticism for our apology, most people who replied appreciated the gesture. True, the naysayers in some cases aired suspicion over a publicity seeking conspiracy on our part, but it’s worth bearing in mind the old adage of never attributing to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity!

Adherence to process though is equally crucial to avoiding issues in the first place. In our case, a more rigorous approach to separating the subsequent executions of our campaign would have avoided the problem. Had my client’s sales rep used the email system supplied for him, there would be proper provision for issues such as unsubscribe handling, opt-out suppressions and sender identification.

Learning from our mistakes is of course another important lesson – but learning from other people’s is even better, so I hope this post has been useful!

Enhance and advance

Monday, August 11th, 2008

I’ve written before (see Using reference sources in data quality maintenance) about the benefits of matching marketing data, particularly organisations, to external reference data with regards to data quality improvement. We’ve just signed an agreement with Dun and Bradstreet to match a core subset of our database with their global database and enhance it with key attributes, such as industry, size and enterprise relationship. The plan is to refresh the matched data on a monthly basis so that we always have the most up to date view.

The data we’re enhancing consists of customers from the last few years together with Sales’ key prospects. By developing a better understanding of these organisations, we can not only target them more effectively, for instance by undertaking industry selections, but also better understand the interrelationships between organisations. We may have received a lead or have an existing relationship with a subsidiary that could be leveraged into the parent organisation, for instance. Our marketing activity can become more advanced, in terms of targeting and segmentation, as a result of this intelligence.

De-duplication is also a key benefit, as I’ve said before, as D&B are able to match using previous names and alternative trade styles together with other sophisticated techniques, that highlight duplicates that were otherwise not evident. Again, this can bring together otherwise hidden relationships and opportunities.

The drawback with D&B is that they’re quite expensive, and matching/enhancing hundreds of thousands of records is prohibitive. Although we’re enhancing our core data, some of the benefits I’ve outlined are lost when working with a subset; we don’t know if the records we’ve chosen are duplicated or have a relationship with others in the database. I’m hoping to discuss with D&B the idea of matching our entire database (an inexpensive activity at a few cents a record) and then enhance only those in which we’re interested, specifically those related to our core dataset. This isn’t a standard service D&B offer, and it can be a challenge to have them move outside their usual modus operandi, but hopefully they can be persuaded! I’ll let you know how I get on.

Using reference sources in data quality maintenance

Monday, December 11th, 2006

A key tenet of data quality management is the use of reference data to ensure consistency and validity. An obvious example is a pick-list (Mr, Mrs, Ms etc) for the Title field on a contact entry screen, ensuring standardised data capture and prevention of invalid entries. Or even misinterpretation of the field itself, for instance resulting in a job title being inadvertently entered (it happens!).

A more sophisticated example is the use of address look-up and enhancement solutions. Referring to postal address reference data maintained by national postal administrations helps ensure the accuracy of address data. The same is also possible though with organisation data, by referring to an external source of comprehensive business data to verify companies on a database. Matching to such an external source and appending key data such as size, industry or number of installed PCs is not new of course. This is a good way of understanding more about the organisations on your database and undertaking customer profiling. The benefits go wider than this though and can contribute to general data quality enhancement.

Matching two organisation records on your database, that appear to be different to each other, to an external source may highlight that in fact they are the same. The resulting de-duplication at organisation level may in turn reveal contact duplicates that can also be removed, with obvious benefits to mailing costs and brand perception. It may be possible to identify that an organisation on your database is part of a group of companies with whom you are already doing business, with potential gains in relation to privacy permissions and messaging. The ability to append phone numbers is also a real win, avoiding having to look-up phone numbers as part of any telemarketing you may be undertaking.