Why Data is King in Direct Mail

In my first week at senior school, my IT teacher introduced the lesson by writing on the board 'GIGO – Garbage in, garbage out'. In other words, you get out of something what you put into it. I thought of this today because Direct Mail is a complex tool and it takes a lot of cogs, all turning in unison, to make it work. But the single most important cog in the DM machine is data.

You can have the best campaign in the world, with great design, a totally awesome concept, tempting offers and a super-smooth online response mechanism, but if you send the mailer to the wrong people, you might as well not bother. This isn't only a question of customer profiling, it's also about ROI, personalisation and, most importantly, operating within the letter of the law.

Good data starts with a good data source. Ideally you will use your own lists, but for new business you may need to source the information from elsewhere. The key here is to use reputable providers of data that have been pre-certified using DMA best practice and checked against the Mailing Preference Service (MPS) database. You can of course make these checks yourself, and it may still make sense to cleanse the data before the campaign goes live, but if you're paying per address, it makes sense to get it right when procuring your data.

The costs of using bad data can be both financial and reputational. With the death of OAP poppy seller Olive Cook still very fresh in the public psyche, the standards expected of DM campaigns are higher than ever, and eGaming companies need to be seen to be whiter than white. It's also vital, due to the higher unit cost of DM, that only genuine prospects are targeted.

There are actually two different types of mailing list to consider. The first is a compiled list, which is made up of people who have entered a competition, completed a survey, registered for more information on a product or applied for credit, all without clicking the box about sharing their information with external partners. The amount of useful data on these lists is likely to be low and, as they signed up for something unrelated, they are less likely to have an interest in your product.

The second type of list, which offers much more potential, is a response list. This is made up of people who have provided their details for a product or service directly related to that which you offer. These lists are likely to be smaller, but more relevant, and the response rate will be higher, which lends itself perfectly to the higher unit cost of Direct Mail.

List brokers often get a bad name, mainly down to their incessant emailing of prospective clients from multiple email addresses, but find a good one and they really can deliver. An effective list broker will be able to source the most relevant data for each campaign you run, taking the time to find lists that offer genuine potential to deliver ROI. They will also have an inside track on what lists the competition are using, and to what effect.

Once you have sourced data that you're happy with, the next step is to process it. Personalisation is key to securing a response, but that comes later. The first step in the process of targeting your campaign effectively is sectorisation, which involves dividing up your lists into target groups based on age, demographic, location, profession and a myriad of other factors. Of course, for a new customer campaign you may not have access to the same level of information that you have for existing customers, but the trick is to use what you do have to its maximum advantage.

Put simply, the more you know about a customer, the more effectively you can target your campaign, and the more effective targets, the higher your hit rate will be. Take time to source data effectively, maybe even through your own online campaigns or strategic partnerships, and the return on your Direct Mail investment will be massively enhanced.

Niall Carey is Interim Commercial Director of Isle of Man Post Office, where he oversees the Secure Direct Mail division, dedicated exclusively to eGaming direct mail campaigns.

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