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Data Hygiene: Create a Culture of Cleanliness to Beat Bad Data

July 10, 2013
By Michael Neubarth

data hygiene email validationIn our last article, we described how bad data can undermine email marketing and wreak havoc in all key areas of a business. Equally troubling were studies that showed that many businesses fail to recognize or ignore the problem.

“Unfortunately, many marketers see dirty data as too costly, too time consuming or, and let’s be honest, too unexciting of a problem to solve,” said Evan Liang in Modern Marketing.

Similarly, Wayne Eckerson, author of “Data Quality and the Bottom Line,” said that, considering the importance of data, it was “bewildering the casual way in which most companies manage this critical resource.”

Data Hygiene Action Plan

As top-tier email marketers know, achieving the best results requires instilling a culture of cleanliness that makes rigorous data hygiene an integral part of the marketing operation.

This can best be accomplished by launching a data quality program. Step one is assigning the responsibility for data hygiene to a person or group. This dedicated person or team will identify the chief data-quality problems and establish formal processes to prevent and mitigate them.

The first order of business typically will be to cleanse existing data, and then to put measures in place to regularly cleanse data and limit the amount of bad data that is collected going forward.  The typical formula for cleaning dirty databases, as DemandGen notes, is via appending, refreshing and de-duping information. 

Chief Culprits

Survey results show that the main data problems for email marketing are:

  • Outdated data
  • Duplicate data
  • Incomplete or missing data

These problems lead to:

  • Sending emails to the wrong address
  • Sending emails to the same customer multiple times

The most common problem is sending mailings to the wrong address, Experian QAS’s study found. This is followed by sending mailings to the same customer multiple times.

The main weapons for fixing incorrect, incomplete, and missing contact data are:

  • Verification
  • Correction
  • Email change of address (ECOA)
  • Email appending
  • Domain Checks
  • Mailbox checks

Other data hygiene measures to incorporate in a data-quality program are:

  • Spam Trap Suppression
  • Removing unsubscribes and bounces quickly
  • Segregating unengaged recipients
  • Creating an email preference center
  • Maintaining an opt-in only policy
  • Becoming whitelisted

The main cause of poor data quality, says Experian QAS, is human error.  To combat this problem, Experian QAS recommends a four-step approach:

  • Identify data entry points
  • Train staff
  • Utilize automated verification processes
  • Incorporate technology that continues to clean information over time

Defeating Duplication

As studies show, having duplicate records is one of the biggest data-quality problems, causing business to lose customers when they mail to them multiple times.

To fix the problem, duplicate records for each individual must be identified, and the mismatched data resolved to achieve a single correct record. Duplicates must be purged and measures taken to keep the problem from recurring, including limiting and controlling the points of entry.

Standardizing the way contact data is entered is a good way to minimize duplication. Data-entry automation, including real-time verification and advanced capture technologies, such as optical character recognition, also can be deployed.

Data-quality tools can be employed to automate the process of detecting and resolving duplicate records. However, in many cases, a person must manually check and determine which data is correct and should be retained.

Segment and Scrub

Segmenting your database for cleansing, an approach DemandGen calls “hygiene striation,” can yield impressive results. “Arming yourself with information just from doing a simple segmentation exercise can take your marketing to a whole different level,’’ said Ben Bradley, managing director of Macon Raine.

As DemandGen relates, some experts recommend giving the entire information system a thorough cleaning before beginning the segmentation process, while others favor cleaning the database in chunks, identifying and cleaning a segment before moving on to the next section. Either way, says DemandGen, data hygiene should be an ongoing task.

Make Hygiene a Must

As DemandGen and other experts note, data hygiene has become a problem that organizations are aware of but rarely take the time to address. Turning this attitude around and making data hygiene a major imperative is one of the best things you can do to improve the success of your email marketing program.

Gaining and maintaining data quality will improve all areas of email marketing. Accurate data, says, Experian QAS, is the first step in creating a personalized customer experience. Good list hygiene, says Return Path, is vital to the successful deliverability of an email campaign.

Making the investment in data hygiene tools and processes, says DemandGen, not only improves marketing campaign performance and increases the efficiency of the sales organization, “it can also help define the ideal prospect and identify the best person to contact in an organization.”

Are you ready to implement email hygiene? Learn more about TowerData email validation by clicking here.  

photo credit: Andy Tyler

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