A Direct Mail List Mistake Lives On Forever

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A Direct Mail List Mistake Lives On Forever

Ms. Jean Gianfagna is tired of getting Mr. Gean Gianfagna’s mail.

When I started a marketing consulting business in Cleveland, Ohio in the early 1990s, someone who was compiling a direct mail list of small businesses made a typo in my name. I became Gean Gianfagna on this list and the compiler assumed I was a man.

It’s hard to believe, but nearly 20 years later, I still get direct mail addressed to Mr. Gean Gianfagna. This address has been so wrong for so long that I instantly discard any mailing that uses it.

But it’s more than an ongoing annoyance: It’s an example of poor list hygiene and bad marketing strategy.

How the List Hygiene Failed

Let’s start with the spelling. How many Jeans or Genes do you know who spell their name Gean? I’ve been Jean my whole life and have never met anyone, male or female, who spells the name this way. Isn’t there a hygiene default somewhere about how to spell this name? And when it’s hard to be sure if a name is male or female – Chris, Terry, Kelly, Jean/Gene – why wouldn’t you just drop the salutation?

Next, let’s consider the use of the list by the mailer. My name is correct on countless business direct mail lists – membership lists, subscriber lists, business buyer lists, women business owner lists, marketing agency president lists, small business owner lists. If someone is targeting any of these demographics to sell business products and services via direct marketing, they must be using more lists than this one bad list. Shouldn’t the duplicate records that emerge when the mailer does a merge/purge – records which have my name and salutation correct on all the other lists – cause this incorrect name to be purged from the final list?

Why Compiled Lists are Lists of Last Resort

Then there’s the use of compiled lists in general. When selecting direct mail lists, business-to-business marketers have many choices:

  • Buyers: The most qualified lists are buyers of business products. They have proven their responsiveness to direct marketing and have demonstrated buying behavior, which means they’re more likely to read your direct mail package or catalog and actually place an order.
  • Subscribers and members: The next best lists are subscribers to business media and members of business organizations. They’ve indicated a genuine interest in a specific area of business and a willingness to engage with a publication or organization. These prospects are more likely to at least consider your direct mail offer if you can show them how your product or service helps them do their job better.
  • Inquirers: Business decision-makers who have inquired as a result of some prior marketing initiative – such as requesting information via direct mail, an ad, an email, a website, or a trade show – have at least raised their hands to ask about a business product or service. They’re not buyers yet, but they could be with the right product and the right offer.
  • Compiled lists: Last are compiled lists, which are lists of people who share similar characteristics, such as owners of small businesses. These lists are created by someone who gathers data from lots of sources. Prospects on these lists have not indicated any specific interest in a product or service or demonstrated any behavior that would indicate propensity to buy. Unless you’re targeting brand new businesses, where the business owner hasn’t yet had the opportunity to get on other lists as a buyer, subscriber, member, or inquirer, these are the least qualified names to use in business-to-business direct mail prospecting.

So the next time your marketing strategy calls for a direct marketing campaign to rented mailing lists of business executives, be smart about it. First, look for lists of buyers, then subscribers and members, then inquirers.

If you can’t find these names, use compiled lists as a last resort and be sure to do proper list hygiene to avoid obvious addressing mistakes. And if your compiled list has a record for a Mr. Gean Gianfagna in Cleveland, Ohio, reject the list.

  • Craig

    Great post Jean! You are right that we have to be careful when compiling these lists.

    I have received mail for people such as Craig Davereaux, Craig Harvenex and Graig Harvex.

    I actually get the ‘Graig’ form a lot. Have you ever met a Graig? I know I haven’t.


    July 30, 2010 at 11:35 am
  • Ira J Cohen

    In general your advice is excellent Jean. Depending upon the geographic focus it may not be practical though, particularly for localized direct marketing, where there will not be many lists with significant numbers of available records to justify minimum order requirements & the potential long term value/unit of sale is not substantial..

    Although I’m transitioning to other channels (particularly social media) I’m still involved in the list biz after many years, the last several decades as an independent consultant/broker/project planner/manager. I’ve tried all types of lists.

    Ultimately, the main determinant is ROI. A list with significant undeliverable records can prove more effective than a highly deliverable list if the list with lower deliverability is better targeted for the product/offer being promoted.

    This was proven to me many years ago when I was with a company managing a “Mail Order Insurance Buyers” list. We received many repeat orders for many years. We took the list off the market or at least stopped promoting it because it was no longer being updated, We still received orders up to 3 years later from brokers/mailers who insisted on continuing to rent names because the lists were still profitable in spite of the accuracy or lack thereof.

    Mailers can live with bad records as long as the lists produce results & a normal range of complaints/inquiries etc. If possible, test the list first in small quantities. If budget allows, split test several sources using the same criteria & use a tracking method to determine returns/responses per list. Never devote a large budget to any new list, particularly compiled, but true for all types of third party lists (any other than your own company’s customer/prospect/inquirer names). Test small, them go bigger if test results are positive.

    A key additional bit of advice is to NEVER mail a third party list with a “Return Service Requested” printed on the address panel as the post office will charge a fee that, while perhaps insignificant for a handful of bad record returns, can be substantial if the list turns out to be highly undeliverable. The list source will NOT refund that fee to you as they are not responsible for such charges if such add-on post office services are chosen by the mailer.

    Make sure the list you receive will be accompanied by current CASS Certification documentation, ask the list source when the file was last updated, how often it is updated & when it will next be updated so that you maximize likely deliverability. You can also have the your mail service run the rented file through NCOA Certification processing (at additional cost) to further increase the hygiene of the list before using it.

    Regarding your name being misspelled, I would not worry about it as the recipient unless the mail is from a company or organization that is important to you, in which case you should send them the original addressed mail piece (or the part with the addressing) & a request to have the record updated & to receive written documentation of what was done to satisfy your request.

    The fact that you received the mail is actually a good thing if the mailing is of interest to you.

    Given that only zero to several percent of recipients of your mailing will take the time to read it before tossing, let alone respond/buy, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me as the recipient to expend a lot of time & distress about the matter, unless conviction about the matter is unquenchable & he/she has lots of free time to spend on it that cannot be spent on more positive activities. Just an opinion; it’s okay if you don’t agree 🙂

    The misspelling of a name is a common occurrence on large compiled databases due to many factors, including data entry by foreign sources, government entities, etc., companies demanding quantity over data entry quality from their operators. I’ve also had upset recipient communications & recipient list removal from folks who received mail addressed to deceased family members.

    If brought to the attention of the list compiler, particularly the larger companies who adhere to DMA standards, many of these companies with make great effort to investigate the source of the record & report back to confirm record removal. In some many cases they can report back regarding the source or at least type of source from whom the record in question originated.

    In fact such compilers want to know about these problems because they can possibly identify larger problems/issues, such as sources from whom they are obtaining data whot are less than scrupulous regarding the legitimacy of their data.

    I hope some of my comments are useful, sorry for the excessive verbiage 🙂

    December 3, 2010 at 3:11 pm
  • Sam Traynor

    1970s-1980s New York Yankees 3rd Baseman Graig Nettles once had his name misspelled ‘Craig’ on a Fleer Baseball card.

    April 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm
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