Benefits of Customized Merge/Purge

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The term "merge/purge," though frequently tossed around by direct marketers, is often both misunderstood and underused. Direct marketers have a lot to gain from understanding its many specialized facets and how project-level or customized merge/purge can put them in command of making their data achieve virtually any goal.


There is more to merge/purge than combining two databases to remove duplicate names and addresses.


Customized merge/purge processes maximize marketing effectiveness - from targeting to message relevance, from response to return on investment, from prospecting to customer loyalty. Marketers who realize this and use the multitude of custom data processing options will save time, energy and money.


Project-level merge/purge, unlike automated merge/purge procedures, involves a highly trained data processing professional who understands and works closely with your files and databases. This human touch and understanding reveal key differences and nuances in the different applications of a merge/purge and ensure that the desired results are achieved.


It is important to remember that merge/purge is a general term that covers three basic processes:


• A standard merge/purge combines files and removes duplicates.


• The suppression method takes a main processing file and removes duplicates with a file or files that contain the data that need to be suppressed.


• The intersection process is used to find records appearing on multiple input files. Any records that are common to two or more files are kept and all others are purged.


Essentially, all merge/purge procedures compare different database files and look for fields that have matching information, such as last name, phone number, ZIP code, standard industrial classification code or any other data that overlap.


The options for applying these three procedures are unlimited. Custom data processing projects often call for multiple merge/purge procedures on the given sets of data.


Specialty merge/purge and other customized data processing techniques enable marketers to mix and match databases and create unique files based on the requirements of their campaigns.


For example, by using a customized merge/purge procedure called "gathering," you can identify the best of both lists and end up with a unique and very targeted file that is better than the sum of the parts.


One list may have a home phone number, one a business number, one a complete address and one just a post office box. Under a normal suppression or merge/purge, one of those records would have been judged a duplicate and would have been lost.


Gathering captures all the information from both lists in one unique record, giving a fuller picture of that individual or business.


A merge/purge procedure known as "stacking key codes" can be used to identify the best prospects for a campaign.


Here, merge/purge is used to identify prospects whose names appear on several lists, according to key code. The more key codes attached to a person's name, the more likely that person will be receptive to the product and offer.


Marketers should not necessarily discard duplicates in the merge/purge process because names that appear on more than one of the selected files are often the best prospects.


If a marketer has paid for the duplicates anyway, he should consider doing a second mailing to these strong prospects or going after them first.


Two case studies. Here are examples of how custom data processing has helped different marketers meet or exceed their campaign goals:


• Suppression procedures are critical to the data selection process for a resort company that sells time-shares and is required by law to honor certain states' legislation that prohibits requiring consumers to "tour" the resort in order to get a terrific price for their stay.


In addition, the resort is required to suppress the "do not solicit" and "do not call" files for each state. The custom data processor also conducts geographic suppressions based on a given radius around the resort locations (telephone prequalification is used to attract prospects within a 200-mile radius of the resort).


The file for this client is also suppressed against recently mailed targets so it will not mail to someone who has received a similar mailing within the past few months.


This process, which involves several million records, is performed up to seven times per week. A group of processors, each with its own specialty, is devoted to ensuring that this is done correctly and


efficiently.


Upon completion, a quality control specialist, who understands the different stages and requirements of the job, verifies that every step was performed correctly, ensuring legal compliance and new prospects. The result is a growing, well-oiled marketing campaign.


• A seminar company wanted to hit its best prospects first. It also wanted to hit them with multiple pieces. This client opted to use a merge/purge process to stack key codes. For each mailing, the company used 10 carefully selected, proven lists.


Because the campaign was concentrated in a metropolitan statistical area, there were many duplicates across the 10 lists. Theoretically, the records that appeared on two or more lists were the best prospects.


The seminar company mailed to the names that appeared on multiple lists first and hit those hot prospects with several mailings. Using this customized processing technique, the client generated a good response.


Investments in custom data processing pay off. Specialty merge/purge processes often require a significant investment. However, depending on what they have been trying to accomplish, marketers have learned that the upfront investments in customized analysis services have more than paid off with the return on investment.


Marketers wanting to take their data to new levels of achievement via specialty merge/purge procedures should follow these guidelines:


• Realize that the human expertise and the technology application are integral to the custom process.


• Work with data processing experts who have experience with custom merge/purge processes.


• Ensure that the custom data processors thoroughly understand what the campaign is expected to accomplish.


• Request a customized guide and documentation explaining both the process and the results of the procedure.


• Mike Peterman is national account executive and director of the travel and hospitality data strategies group at AccuData America, Cape Coral, FL.
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