Suppression Is Not a No-Brainer for Subscriber Files

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Just when you thought there was one thing you didn't have to think much about, think again.

When doing a mailing, you spend a lot of effort deciding who will receive mailings. You've got to get lists - rented lists, exchanged lists, and you also have your house lists of customers/subscribers and prospects.

The question is, to whom do you not want to mail? Is there anyone you don't want to see your carefully designed and executed mail piece? Is there anyone to whom you do not want to sell? Those people are the ones you need to get on your suppression files, and you have to think carefully about them as well.

First, of course, are the people who asked you directly or asked the Direct Marketing Association or their state not to be contacted via direct mail. There are two good reasons to suppress these folks: They have the legal right not to be contacted, and they are very, very unlikely to respond favorably to your offer.

But there are other lists we might call "optional" suppression names. First among these are people who already are your customers. For a magazine file, this is your subscriber file. For subscription offers, the determination of who should be suppressed from the mailing seems like a no-brainer. Don't mail to your current subs, or to those who abhor being contacted through the mail. Seems simple, right?

But how about your expired subs? Do you mail to them again? How about those who expired a long time ago as opposed to those who just expired last month? Remember, you just finished contacting recent expires repeatedly to get them to renew. If they didn't respond to all those entreaties, what is it about this mailing that will persuade them?

For older expires, reactivation is a great idea. But old expire files may not be maintained like an active subscriber file and may contain outdated addresses. If you're using a file of older subs, you'll have to take steps to verify the addresses, perhaps run a deceased screen, perhaps use a Nixie file. You'll have to do these things to the file before it goes into the merge purge as a suppression file, which will add cost.

People who changed their addresses will have the new addresses on file. But what about the addresses where they used to live, the change of address ghosts? If you're going to correct addresses on all your lists before the mailing, then you shouldn't worry. If not, then these COA ghosts may be good candidates for suppression. After all, you know they're not at that address now but maybe one of the lists you rented doesn't know that.

What about your bad-pay files? These are folks who got your magazine but didn't pay you and were banished to a large - maybe very large - flat file where nothing is done to maintain them. They should be suppressed from all future mailings, right? Maybe.

If you use your bad-pay files as suppression, and most people do, consider how many months-years of bad pays you want to suppress. People's circumstances change. These folks were interested enough to subscribe. They loved you once. Maybe they'll love you again. Conventional wisdom is that these names should be suppressed, but some will test these names. They just probably won't give them a "bill me later" option.

How about your complimentary subs, and your cancels and suspends? You most likely want to suppress them. Are there other in-house lists you should think about? Perhaps a list of the CEO's friends and relatives?

If you are going crazy trying to figure out exactly who should be on your suppression file, here is a suggestion. Instead of thinking about whom you don't want to mail, ask yourself whether there's anyone on your current customer/subscriber file you do want to mail. If the answer is no, then take the entire customer file as a suppression. If there's someone on your list you do want to mail, then leave them off the suppression file. This eliminates the pain of identifying every possible permutation of subscriber type.

Suppression files are critical, but keep your eye on the objective: saving money on processing, printing and mailing while not annoying current subscribers who definitely will get annoyed if they've been subscribing for 10 years and get an amazing introductory offer for half what they're now paying.

Finally, you are obligated to suppress those previously mentioned who have requested not to be contacted. But for the optional suppressions, if the cost of selecting and processing the names exceeds the amount you will save not mailing them, then think it over.

No-brainers are few and far between in direct marketing. We could whine about this but, after all, it's our job to figure it out. As an old boss of mine used to say whenever I moaned about some difficulty, "If it was easy, I could hire anybody to do it." So consider it job security and look carefully at merge-purge reports to see what those expensive suppression files are actually accomplishing.

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