Editor’s Notes: All Data is not Equal
Like all mediums, direct mail is evolving to better fit the consumer’s expectations. The evolution to more customized mailings has been a long time in the making, but online media have hastened the process by providing marketers with additional insights into their customers’ behaviors and possibly by showing up their offline counterparts. Whatever the reason—and advancements in technology, for sure, have played a big role—it’s welcomed progress.
Unless, however, marketers get so bogged down with the logistics that they forget to properly plan their data strategy. As many direct marketing experts have admonished—including the former editor of this magazine—just because you have data on a person doesn’t mean it belongs on the front of a mailing. And bad data certainly can do more harm than no data.
A particularly painful example of why no marketer should ever develop a personalized mail campaign without a full understanding of the data’s recency and accuracy was shared with me by a friend. Sadly, this woman suffered a second-trimester miscarriage a couple of years ago. Like many other expecting parents, she and her husband had shared data related to her pregnancy with marketers, such as publishers and clothing stores. This data gets sold to third parties unless the consumer does not give consent.
Typically, parents-to-be are thrilled to receive free samples and coupons. But not when they are no longer expecting. Then, every communication related to the ended pregnancy is a reminder of their loss and sorrow. And yet more than a few consumer packaged goods companies selling products for babies and toddlers are creating coupon mailings targeted by a child’s age range. My friend’s husband received one such effort, containing guidance and product information to help with potty training. The cover copy included this teaser: “Play it up! Your child is 27 months old.”
You can imagine the emotions such a message stirred up. This is the kind of data abuse about which consumers have every right to get outraged. Data based on future assumptions cannot be taken as fact; the outcome has to be verified. Equally, personalized messages cannot be developed unless a marketer knows full well what its database looks like and whether its information is reliable. As data wizard Tim Prunk wryly noted at this year’s FastForward seminar, “There are two kinds of data files: the one my client tells me it has and the one it sends me.”
For the direct marketing industry to thrive, companies cannot afford to be the ostrich with its head in the sand that Prunk described. And the next evolution of direct mail will turn out to be a step back if the result is the wrong offer to the wrong person at the wrong time because of the wrong data.