Some marketers seem determined to make contact with the other side, offering credit cards, discounts and special offers to the deceased. It would be an incredible achievement on the part of the marketer to get any take up on the campaign from someone who is no longer living, so why do some companies not remove the deceased from their mailing lists?
There is a potential issue of fraud and identity theft here; reports of direct mail being sent to people who have died appear in the media with alarming regularity, and according to a study conducted by Wilmington Millennium with ex-offenders, 79% of these people believed that identity theft was an easy way to obtain cash fraudulently. Fraudsters intercept credit card offers and similar pieces of direct mail after checking obituaries or graveyard activity, and use these details to open credit accounts and run up a huge bill using the personal details of someone who has died. This is very distressing to the relatives of the deceased, as they are left to deal with the authorities alongside the bereavement process.
As well as the issue of criminal activity related to these erroneously sent communications, there is also the issue of negative impact on the reputation of a company that continues to mail out to the deceased. Elderly relatives that lived in a family home will have played a very important part in daily family life, and to be reminded of that loss with every piece of direct mail can be distressing for the family left behind. Dealing with unsubscribing from these companies’ mailing lists will not be a priority for the family, so the responsibility for managing the removal of the deceased from the mailing lists rests firmly with the marketer. When you consider that around two thirds of people would not consider dealing with a company that has sent direct mail to a deceased relative, it is even more important to get a removal process in place.
Companies whose products and services are aimed at the elderly have a much greater responsibility than most to get this right, as their database will have a higher proportion of deceased contacts (and goneaways where the elderly person has moved into a residential or nursing home) than most. Charities are especially susceptible to a high rate of deceased records due to the older average age of their donors, so proactively managing the suppression process and managing final communications can improve the brand image, whilst addressing the need for removing the deceased and goneaways from their databases. Charities can take the opportunity to pay tribute to a valuable donor; an action that can provide comfort for the relatives in a distressing time and potentially recruit new donors to continue the good work that was funded by the late donor. It is a sensitive issue, but when managed correctly can lead to more donors, and a positive reinforcement of the brand image.
Using up to date deceased contact lists is not an onerous task and the small effort required to make sure the database is cleansed against this list, far outweighs the potential negatives of leaving people on there that can no longer receive or read mail. With that in mind, can any organisation really afford to overlook such a simple, yet important component of data hygiene strategy?
With the looming introduction of the EU General Data Protection Regulation in 2018 there has never been a better time for marketers to improve their practices and work towards the industry standards by which all direct marketers will have to conduct business. GDPR represents the most significant overhaul of Data Protection legislation for over 25 years, it will require many organisations to completely reengineer core processes to become GDPR ready.
In this brave new world marketers will require opted-in permission from consumers to market to them and the old opt-out model will no longer apply. Penalties include staggering fines of up to up to 4% of global turnover.
The new opt-in permissions are likely to have a large impact on new customer acquisition as traditional data sources decrease in size and become costlier and legally complex. Maintaining permission to market to your existing customers will therefore be critical, as will retaining opt-in permission from multiple channels and keeping track of your customers as they move home to avoid diminishing returns from a continually shrinking database.
If a customer, who has previously opted in to receive postal communications, moves house and does not inform those companies who were sending mail, can that record still be considered as a strong opt-in? What steps can marketers take to ensure their campaign material still reaches the intended recipient? If the marketers can obtain the new address of an opted in customer then this can still be considered as a strong opt-in under current regulations, and there are existing products to provide marketers with this data. Using these products will reduce the proportion of direct mail that does not reach the customer, and improve the health of the database. It also increases the value of the database, as details are correct and up to date.
Using a goneaway suppression file such as Re-mover ensures that direct mail campaigns are not sent to addresses that an opted in customer has left, lowering the potential incidence of identity fraud. These actions lead to better compliance with data protection regulations and improve the reputation and image of the originating company as well as the direct mail sector over all. Re-mover is up to date with over 90% of house moves in the UK, 65% of which happen within the previous 30 days, making it the most current and reliable goneaway suppression file available.
Similarly, the National Deceased Register is equally current and provides reliable and accurate data on the recently deceased; it is most often cases of companies mailing people that have been dead for years that make the national press and contribute to the negative image of the direct mail sector, so with up-to-date suppression files available there is no excuse for marketers to bypass best practices. Ignoring the issues of identity fraud and crime that have been associated with credit and loan applications sent to those who are deceased or who have moved only furthers the impression that direct mailing companies are irresponsible and contravenes the incoming GDPR regulations with regard to an individual’s right to data rectification.
Suppression files notwithstanding, there has never been a more pressing time for businesses to look at their opt-in policies for marketing communications, and to ensure that any data processors they outsource to also adhere rigorously to the same standards. The pursuit of industry-wide compliance with opt-in policies, data protection regulations and the rules governing the processing and sale of personal information provided by customers is a journey that must be started very soon. Some companies will have more work to do in this area than others, and should commence the process of database maintenance as soon as possible. Ark Data are leading the way in accurate data suppression files that enable direct mailing contractors and companies managing large customer databases to meet the standards that the public deserve.