For those of us who manage prospecting campaigns, there is a span of a month or two between ordering lists and dropping the direct-mail appeals in the mail stream. Usually that time is spent putting the finishing touches on the creative packages and getting the materials ready to go.
But while we fuss over the creative, something else is happening that’s every bit as important to the campaign. Down in the data crypt, thousands, and perhaps millions, of names from many sources are brought together for a complex process called a merge/purge.
The goal of the merge/purge is to make sure that each prospect gets only one piece of mail and that current donors don’t get any at all.
It sounds simple. After all, we have fast computers and great software that make quick work of combining dozens of lists, weeding out the duplicates and producing the output we need.
The fact is that every merge/purge is unique. Each reveals data about the quality of the process, predicts the outcome of the campaign and gives clues that help smart direct marketers plan for the future.
Quality control comes first
“If you can only afford to do one thing, make sure you NCOA [National Change of Address] all files before you put them into a merge/purge,” advises Andrew Mednick, managing director of Automated Resources Group, a database-marketing services
company in Montvale, N.J. “At minimum, all files should be run through CASS-certified address- standardization procedures to allow the merge/purge software the best chance of finding matches on names that have variations between multiple input files.
“You’ll likely improve deliverability and gain postal discounts by providing valid ZIP codes, ZIP+4 and other data which allow for mail automation,” he adds.
Mednick warns mailers not to ignore what industry pros used to call “NCOA nixies” — now referred to as “possible movers.”