How to Avoid Soliciting the Deceased
The emotional havoc that can happen when a surviving spouse, parent or family member receives a phone call, e-mail or mail solicitation addressed to someone who has died is understandable—and completely avoidable. Still, it amazes me how too often database managers and marketers fail to be stewards for their brands when it comes to this delicate matter. The damage to brands can be significant, particularly if marketers repeatedly solicit a deceased individual whose family or estate has made an active effort not to have its late loved one be contacted for solicitation purposes.
Marketers have an obligation to protect their brands and their bottom lines—and to respect consumers in the process. To accomplish this, they must have suppression strategies in place that incorporate screening for the deceased and preventing marketing contact, especially when a family or estate has raised its hand and said, "Please, no more!"
Does Your Company Have a Suppression Strategy?
If the answer is "no" or "not yet," it's time to place this matter atop your "to-do" list. For products and services in the mature market, screening outbound solicitations for the deceased should be an ongoing matter of data management. For brands aimed at parents, especially those of newborns where a higher rate of mortality exists compared to all children, data should be checked prior to any campaign launch. Other brands may wish to build deceased suppression into periodic screening; for example, once a quarter on an entire file. Even business marketing organizations should test deceased suppression—at least when marketing at the executive level—since most B-to-B compiled databases, and even customer databases, do not keep current with deceased data.
Match rates for deceased screening vary depending on the demographics of the prospect/customer base, the sophistication of screening regimes chosen, whether or not such screens are "bundled" with other suppression categories (e.g., privacy opt-outs), and the frequency of screening. I have seen match rates for deceased-only suppression vary all the way from 0.5 percent to as high as 1.5 percent of a given marketer's customer or prospect file. With approximately 3 million to 4 million U.S. deaths each year, there is a potential for huge campaign waste—all with a negative impact on brand reputation and limited resources.
Suppression Files on the Market
For all types of mail, the U.S. Postal Service will continue delivering mail addressed to a deceased person until a "redirect" request at a local post office is made, generally diverting mail to an appointed executor or administrator. The Direct Marketing Association offers U.S. consumers a Deceased: Do Not Contact List, and has about 50,000 records actively on this file, representing the families and estates of persons who have asked expressly not to receive solicitations in their loved ones' names.
In addition, several commercial data providers (IMS is one of them) supplement the DMA list with their own deceased suppression applications, based on Social Security Administration and other more comprehensive publicly available records. Currently, IMS' Recently Recorded Deceased File, for example, contains 13 million U.S. names, all culled from death notices around the country; the file's updated monthly. Names remain on the service for a year, with many deceased persons having more than one record depending on name and address variations.
These deceased suppression services should not be used to halt mail or communication of an official nature. Thus, if a financial institution, utility or other business has a billing or contractual relationship, such communication regarding the relationship should continue until the household provides direct notice of a deceased customer. Often, a surviving spouse chooses to continue receiving mail to ensure all matters of an estate are final and there are no fiduciary obligations left to be met. However, this exception should not apply to communications that are purely promotional.
Where companies have had a direct relationship with the deceased, they can use the DMA Deceased: Do Not Contact List, supplemented by commercial applications, to flag customer files to suppress third-party rentals (if applicable) as well as their own solicitations, but still continue to send communications of an official nature until otherwise contacted by the family or estate directly. Also, once the family or estate has contacted a business to request "deceased" removal and/or an account-name change directly to a survivor, then all communication must stop promptly in the name of the deceased (in other words, make sure the marketing database is not out of sync with a finance database, if they are maintained in separate silos).
Further, deceased suppressions prevent not only commercial mail from being sent to individuals, but also should be used with commercial reverse append processes to prevent telephone and e-mail solicitations.
Options for Suppression Overseas
Internationally, there are other similar deceased services and applications for marketers in specific national markets. For example, the United Kingdom has a commercially maintained service free to consumers, the Bereavement Register, which is promoted jointly by funeral directors and direct marketers. A similar service exists in Canada. International marketers should contact the respective marketing association in each country into which it is marketing, or their respective list advisers, to inquire whether or not such services exist for particular markets.
Your Brand and Your Bottom Line
Brand sensibility requires consumer sensitivity, and thankfully, we have programs now in place to respect families and protect our brands.
Frank Rigano, chief executive officer of Interactive Marketing Solutions, has more than 20 years of experience providing marketing and technology solutions to business executives. Interactive Marketing Solutions is committed to developing innovative list and database management software and services designed to help businesses succeed in their marketing efforts by mitigating the challenges imposed by privacy and consumer opt-out legislation. Rigano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.