Clients Okay with Sloppy Databases? A Cautionary Tale

By | November 25, 2014

We all know that it’s a good idea for marketers to clean, update, and de-dupe their mailing lists on a regular basis, and as their print provider, this is something you should be encouraging them to do.

Yesterday, we received a piece of mail that reinforces the importance of this practice. It was addressed to one of the former homeowners “or current resident.” Okay, fairly common practice, except that the homeowner had passed away 20 years ago. We’d purchased the home from his widow.

On the positive side, we aren’t related to the former homeowners and have no emotional reaction to his name on the direct mail piece. But what if his wife had still been living there? Can you imagine what her reaction would have been? Or other family members if they still resided there?

Not a good way to promote your brand.

If your clients are resistant to a full data cleanse, perhaps at least they could be convinced to run it against a list of the deceased.

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5 thoughts on “Clients Okay with Sloppy Databases? A Cautionary Tale

  1. MailGuru

    Take a good look at the alternate (address2, address3) fields in your mailing list. I mean a REALLY good look. Many transactional data entry clerks use those fields more as a “comment” field, rather than address fields. You’d be suprised how many mailing lists I’ve recieved from clients where that field says “Angry Customer”, or, “Refused to Pay Parking”, or “Demanded Refund”. Sometimes, they will even put their phone number there (not good – privacy concerns)’

    John Q Public
    Refused To Pay Parking
    123 E Main Street
    Anywhere, FL 32119

  2. michael jahn

    Hi Heidi,

    What mail application would have had access to some database that would “know” that the husband died? Most mail apps only offer CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System), NCOA (National_Change_Of_Address) and PAVE (Presort Accuracy, Validation, and Evaluation) – none of which (as far as I know) would have prevented the situation you described above, unless that widow would have updated the USPS COA data. If THAT had been done, perhaps one could have a shot at avoiding this, but MORE OFTEN THAN NOT – the widow never bothered.

    https://www.usps.com/manage/mail-for-deceased.htm

  3. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Agreed. But there is a deceased list that can be purchased as a first line of defense. It might not be complete, but it’s better than nothing.

    InfoUSA, for example, gets a fair number of calls from consumers who wish to stop receiving mail to their deceased spouses (first they call the pest control company, who tells them they got the list from InfoUSA, who then gets the call). So its deceased list is compiled from the DMA list, its own internal list, and from other sources, such as when a homeowner removes a spouse’s name from the title to the home. Granted, few widows or widowers may do this, but some do.

    The point being that, even if you can’t close every gap, it is worth trying. Especially if the target audience is within a certain age range.

  4. MailGuru

    Also, your NCOA-Link provider normally offers other data hygiene services such as scrub the data up against the deceased list, remove prison addresses, remove state and/or DMA do not mail addresses, etc. Doesn’t have to be done every single time you use the list, but, once a year would be a good idea.

  5. Mike Porter

    I received a similar piece of mail at my house. The addressee wasn’t deceased, but he sold the house – in 1994! There have been three other owners of the property since then. All the previous owners filed change of address records with the USPS, but of course those filings are all expired now.

    It’s quite remarkable one of the largest financial institutions in the country bought a list with 20-year-old names on it.

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