Is poor data sabotaging your campaign performance?

Is poor data sabotaging your campaign performance?

Complacency when it comes to data suppression could be sabotaging your campaign performance and may also derail your GDPR compliance plans.

That’s the reality facing even those marketers who already use deceased and gone-away suppression services but who do not regularly evaluate their providers and put the health of their databases to the test.

Holding out-of-date records (whether knowingly or not) is a clear infringement of several key areas of GDPR, not least the basic principle of data accuracy. What’s more, you need to demonstrate compliance – and that means being able to prove the effectiveness of your suppression solution.

So what are the starting points to creating a watertight suppression strategy?

Guard against inertia

Despite the widely adopted practice of supplier switching in the consumer arena to reduce costs or improve services, there is often much resistance within businesses. This may be because the decision-makers are also responsible for implementation and it is simply easier to stick with the status quo rather than tinker with something that is deemed to be working. Sometimes there is also the perception that change would cause unnecessary upheaval to the wider IT systems in which suppression is embedded.

Whatever the reason, relying on outdated legacy suppression files will certainly result in deceased and goneaway data slipping through the net.

Your chosen suppression files should be evaluated regularly to make sure they are doing their job – reducing campaign wastage, providing the building blocks for advanced data insight and keeping you compliant.

Be rigorous in supplier management

In our experience, much of the procurement decision-making in suppression is still reliant on human judgement rather than an objective data evaluation. But GDPR (and the threat of large fines) is likely to change this.

Each organisation needs to have a structured approach to supplier evaluation, selection and review. This should be underpinned by clearly defined criteria and well communicated processes, so that you can make evidence-based decisions that will stand up to scrutiny. Indeed the evaluation in itself would provide valuable supporting evidence to the ICO that you are taking proactive steps to keep your databases as clean and compliant as possible.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Every supplier of suppression data should be included in your evaluation. This is because relying on a single file rarely identifies all known deceased, and it is simply wrong to claim otherwise. Although there is a degree of overlap, each file is created from different data sources and you need to understand how they vary in terms of data provenance, verification method, speed to market and proportion of unique records.

Take the example of one of the country’s largest general and life insurers. They recently evaluated our flagship product, the National Deceased Register (NDR), and found 89,000 deceased customers that had gone undetected by the two deceased suppression files they had been relying on for decades. This clearly illustrates the risks of relying on legacy suppression files without evaluating newer entrants in the market.

Plus, suppression services are evolving with new, innovative products coming on to market so keeping on top of the latest developments will ensure you remain ahead in data strategy.

Beware ‘biggest is best’ claims

One of the most misleading selling points from data suppliers is file size. We are proud to say that a recent independent evaluation of the main files on the market revealed the NDR as having the highest proportion of unique records despite being the smallest file.

So why does file size vary so dramatically? Some include records that date back to the mid-1980s, whereas we have chosen only to include deaths notified from the turn of the century. It is our view that older data is redundant because any organisation that has licensed suppression files in the past will already have flagged or deleted these customers. Also, some files are inflated by the inclusion of individuals who are thought to have died but where further verification is necessary. We stringently check our data and filter out those that remain unconfirmed.

You can download our new whitepaper on GDPR compliance and the role of data suppression here.

Marketers and GDPR – Heads in the sand?   

Marketers and GDPR – Heads in the sand?  

Simon McLaven, CEO of The Ark 

We have all read the plethora of statistics that point to the country’s lack of preparedness for GDPR. Yet speaking to many data managers, CIOs and compliance officers over the last few months, I do not believe that this corporate inertia is simply a matter of marketers burying their heads in the sand.  There is a growing feeling that all levels of the organisation – from backroom to boardroom – remain genuinely unclear about certain aspects of the Regulation, especially the issue of consent, and that this confusion is paralysing compliance efforts.

Sadly, firms are being deterred from progressing with the necessary overhaul of their strategies and systems due to the dearth of detailed guidance on the practicalities of GDPR implementation. The DMA Group has recently added their voice to calls for greater clarification – from the ICO in particular – to bring an end to this state of limbo. The RNLI case – where a database repermissioning project from last year may fall foul of newer guidelines – will cause increasing frustration among marketers (and rightly so) because it penalises what should be a laudable, best-practice example of proactivity. This type of publicity sends out all the wrong messages, actively discouraging organisations from giving the green light to their plans for fear of having to go over the same ground twice. Let’s hope that common sense prevails.

Put simply, the ongoing uncertainty is no excuse for delaying all GDPR preparations. In fact, waiting for guidance about the opt-in model could mean losing valuable time in the race to shape up for one of the most basic elements of compliance – data quality. The overarching principle of data accuracy is enshrined in the Regulation in crystal clear terms: Chapter II, Article 5 (1d) states that personal data must be kept accurate and up-to-date, and that “every reasonable step” must be taken to make sure that inaccuracies are “erased or rectified without delay.”

This means that databases must be maintained to the highest possible standards which includes suppressing or updating the records of deceased or goneaway customers. This is an area in which many companies have become complacent, believing that the legacy suppression files they have relied upon for years will do the job. It’s a risky assumption – and at worst could lead to a technical breach of GDPR with its hefty financial penalties. Aside from the commercial benefits to be gained by boosting the accuracy of customer data, it is also worth bearing in mind that healthy databases will be the cornerstone of any repermissioning exercise.  With the costs of customer acquisition set to rise in the GDPR era, now is not the time to lose track of valuable, opted-in customers when they move home.

The clock is ticking and companies that push ahead with their preparations now – especially in the fundamentals of database management – will reduce the likelihood of being thrust into a reputation-damaging, last-minute compliance panic as the enforcement date looms.


Why returned mail won’t cut it as a suppression strategy under the GDPR

Why returned mail won’t cut it as a suppression strategy under the GDPR

At the beginning of March the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) published its draft consent guidance for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which could have far-reaching consequences for UK businesses.

Without the ‘right’ consent in place many businesses may struggle to legitimately send marketing campaigns to their customers and may be required to re-permission their entire customer database. There has been much discussion about the significant impact these changes will have on a business’s ability to engage with their customers and generate revenue from their marketing campaigns. But the change also creates an additional unintended consequence when it comes to data suppression.

Smaller campaign volumes result in a reduction in the amount of returned mail. Many businesses, especially in the banking sector, rely on deceased and gone away notifications from these returns to keep their data up to date and accurate. Without this source of data, they will need to find alternative ways – such as using external suppression files – to keep their databases accurate and compliant.

GDPR is a legal requirement. Failure to comply with the Regulation’s requirements carries the risk of severe financial penalties. The Regulation states that personal information must be kept up-to-date and accurate. Any inaccuracies must be corrected or erased as quickly as possible and personal information should not be kept for longer than the purpose for which it was originally acquired. Deceased data that no longer serves any purpose should therefore be suppressed (if there is no purpose for keeping those deceased records on file). Failure to do so is a clear technical breach of the Regulation.

What’s more, a new requirement of GDPR is breach notification: the ability to notify individuals in the event that data has been lost or stolen. Notification needs to take place without undue delay and only those living persons at risk should be identified. If a business has not suppressed or flagged the deceased in its customer database, it will clearly not be able to meet this requirement. Suppressing in the wake of a data breach is the wrong time to take action.

Failure to put the right processes in place to ensure data remains accurate and up to date could represent a technical breach of the Regulation and incur a financial penalty to the tune of 2 per cent of global group turnover, or €10 million. It is therefore crucial that businesses – particularly those that still rely heavily on returned mail to keep their databases up to date – include suppression within their wider data review as they prepare for May 2018.


Is your deceased suppression strategy GDPR compliant?

Is your deceased suppression strategy GDPR compliant?

If you regularly screen your data using a deceased suppression file you would expect to have clean and accurate data. However, you may be surprised to discover you could still have significant numbers of deceased customers in your database, leaving you at risk of non-compliance.

Unfortunately, it’s a common problem. Misconceptions about suppression files mean many data managers are completely unaware that solutions they have been using for years are failing to suppress all their deceased data. What’s more, because they believe they’re working the problem often goes undiscovered for many years.

Over time this results in large numbers of undetected deceased records and inaccurate non-compliant data. With GDPR being implemented since May 2016 the consequences could be serious and far reaching. So how can companies make sure their strategy doesn’t fall short of the standards required?

Here, we dispel some common misconceptions and offer guidance on what every data manager needs to know about deceased suppression.

You don’t need to evaluate your deceased suppression strategy

You do.

Firstly, keeping personal data accurate and up-to-date, and deleting or rectifying inaccurate data, is a compliance requirement, not a nice to have. A lack of awareness of how your suppression strategy is performing is unlikely to be accepted as an adequate excuse for holding inaccurate data. For more information on the rules and standards set out by GDPR download the ICO’s overview.

Secondly, the suppression market has evolved, products have changed. If you’ve been using the same file for several years it may contain very different data today, then when it was first licensed. And that may mean it’s no longer effectively removing your deceased customer data.

We recommend you evaluate your strategy at least once every three years. It’s a simple process and provides assurance that your solution is still fit for purpose and remains compliant.

If you use a bureau to manage your data suppression most will be happy to audit your data free of charge, and share the results so any ‘gaps’ in strategy can be addressed.

KEY TAKE-OUT: Evaluate your suppression strategy at least once every three years to ensure it’s working effectively and your data remains compliant. When using a bureau, make sure you understand any suppression strategy decisions they make on your behalf and the reasons for making them.  Question them if you don’t understand as it’s your responsibility to explain your data suppression strategy under GDPR.


If you are using a deceased suppression file your customer data is compliant

Whilst this may be true, the only way to be certain is to evaluate all the suppression files in the market and implement a solution that is accurately removing all your deceased data. There are two important questions to ask:

  1. Is your solution removing all your deceased data?
    Are you certain that the solution you are using is the ‘right’ one for your data? It’s important to understand how each of the market suppression files performs before deciding.  Relying on a single suppression file rarely identifies all known deceased.
  1. Can you trust that the data is accurate and reliable?
    Does the suppression data have a strong provenance? You need to understand how the data is sourced and verified: How many sources and types of data have been used to create the file? How have they been collected? Is the data derived or volunteered?  How has the data been verified? Verification is critical; if an individual is identified as deceased across several independent data sources it corroborates accuracy.  Volunteered data is rarely as accurate as data captured as the result of a transaction (a policy being cashed-in or cancelled for example).

KEY TAKE-OUT: Evaluate to ensure your solution is removing all your deceased customer records. Always check how the suppression data has been sourced and verified. Data that reaches the market quickly has a commercial advantage – the process of verification takes time – so always check the suppression data you license has undergone stringent checks.


All deceased suppression files are the same

They’re not.

Although it’s true that all the suppression files on the market have a level of overlap, they contain different data sources that have been collected and verified in different ways. Each file will contain ‘unique data’ that will never be found on any other file. And if those unique customers happen to be in your database, but not in your suppression file, your customer data will remain inaccurate.

One of the UK’s largest insurers recently evaluated all the leading market deceased suppression files and found their database contained over 89,000 deceased customers. This worryingly large number had gone undetected by all the suppression files they previously relied upon to keep their data clean.

Also, don’t be fooled into thinking that the overall size of a deceased suppression file is all that matters.  It’s important to audit how many deceased records each file identifies on your own customer data and how recent those deceased records are. Biggest isn’t always better.

KEY TAKE-OUT: The overall size of a deceased suppression file isn’t all that matters. Unique data is an important factor to consider when choosing a suppression file; those deceased customers may be sitting in your database.


You only need one deceased suppression file

This is a rather bold marketing claim and one that we don’t feel is justified. Even though our deceased suppression file contains at least 30% unique data when compared to the other two market leading files, saying you only need to rely on one file alone is certainly not a claim that we would make.  The only way to be sure you have the right file(s) is to evaluate all the options and choose the combination that performs best for your business.

KEY TAKE-OUT: Always evaluate suppression files to choose the optimal blend of files, you won’t achieve adequate coverage and protection with just one file.

With the introduction of GDPR in May 2016, there’s never been a more important time to make suppression a priority. With so many common misconceptions about data suppression leading to inadequate solution choices, it’s imperative that data managers evaluate all the available options and base their file selection on fact. It’s the only way to be sure that the solutions they chose deliver reliable and accurate results and help them to achieve compliance with GDPR

Identity fraud victim’s £500k home put on market

Identity fraud victim’s £500k home put on market

A gang has been identified and two men jailed after being found guilty of committing identity fraud. The victim, Minh To of Stockport, Greater Manchester was targeted by criminals who transferred the deeds of his £500,000 five-bedroom home and attempted to auction his property.

The fraudsters targeted Mr To’s mail and stole utility bills. They then forged his signature and transferred the deeds of his home falsifying the documentation required to auction his property. Mr To was alerted to the deception by his daughter who saw his home on Rightmove for sale just three days before the auction was due to commence.

This case further highlights the risks of fraudsters intercepting mail and using it to commit identity fraud; one of the fastest growing crimes which is estimated to cost the UK approximately £5.4 billion per year.*

Criminals often target mail as it can contain lots of personal information. The most obvious of these being financial details such as bank statements and credit and debit cards. Unfortunately, consumers are often less aware of the risk of other mail, much of which still contains a wealth of information that fraudsters can put to good use.

How to avoid being the victim of identify fraud

The safest way to avoid being targeted is to ensure that all mail is safe. If a consumer moves home, they should change their address with all organisations that send them mail as soon as possible to ensure it doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, we know that this doesn’t happen in practice and many people simply forget to tell everyone. In fact, research shows that when asked to rank the organisations that people would tell when they were moving house respondents categorised just five types as ‘essential to inform’.

Typically, the top tier was advised of a new address within three weeks of a move. Important organisations were told within two months and non-essential organisations (including many heavy direct markers such as retail, charity, and entertainment) were not told at all.

We always advise our clients sending mail to screen their data against goneaway and deceased suppressions to help to minimise the impact of mail not reaching the intended recipient. It’s not enough to rely on consumers updating their personal details. With ‘potential opportunities for fraud’ to add to the long list of reasons to screen data, it’s easy to see why it’s a no brainer for any responsible marketer.

* Source – Annual Fraud Indicator 2016, PKF & Experian.

Hello… is anyone at home?

Hello… is anyone at home?

If you knock at the front door of one of your customers you will know when they answer whether they are the person you are trying to reach, but how do you ascertain whether your direct mail communications are reaching the right person when you can’t visit each and every home you are contacting?

Thousands of people move home (in some cases leaving the country altogether) every year and this figure is increasing, but the lowest priority these people have is updating their contact details with every company they have ever done business with; updating address details with banks, credit card companies, utility suppliers, mobile phone providers, loyalty cards, pension providers, solicitors etc. can be a mammoth task alongside the general hassle of moving house.  Perceived as an unimportant activity for a mover, it is unsurprising that customers fail to inform companies about a change of address.

The incoming tenant often has to deal with months of unwanted post addressed to people that have long since moved away, and many people throw this away instead of returning it to the original sender.  Although a lot of direct mail is returned each year as a result of house moves and people wishing to unsubscribe from future mailings, there is a huge amount of direct mail that disappears into landfill, never reaching the intended recipient nor making its way back to the sender for removal.  Further to this, many companies never action these returns, or take so long doing so that sending continues, despite having the information that some people have moved or do not wish to receive any further communications.  This inaction on the part of the originating company can lead to negative perceptions of the business and its practices.

Research by The Software Bureau indicates that each piece of returned mail costs the originating company £4, yet many companies continue to print and send mail to these obsolete addresses, quickly amassing a huge bill that could be avoided through undertaking regular database cleansing.  Estimates put a figure of 40% of returned mail being due to unsubscription requests, and 60% being due to goneaways.  Printing and sending communications to addresses that are no longer related to a genuine customer is a waste of money and resources; funds and time that could be more efficiently assigned to attaining a cleaner and more reliable database.

One reason businesses do not remove goneaways from their databases is to avoid incurring the associated costs, but this is a short-sighted view as the costs of continuing to mail people who are not there will far outweigh that of keeping the database clean.  Using a cleansing file like Re-mover means your database will be up to date to within one month of all house moves at any given time – that is much quicker than relying on new tenants to return the odd bit of unwanted post.  If a direct mail campaign involves sending several iterations or reminders about a service, there is every chance that time and money has been invested in contacting a customer who has moved.  If the new tenant then eventually returns all the unwanted mail you could be looking at a cost of £40 per record over a period of a few months – this adds up fast and cuts into the available marketing budget as well as skewing ROI figures.

Companies that regularly use Re-mover and other suppression files will see a much better return on investment from their campaigns, a lower overall campaign cost (due to reduced print and postage costs) and a much better reputation for not sending unwanted or irrelevant postal communications.

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