The deceased can't buy: Clean your lists the right way

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If the direct marketing and telemarketing industries would remove the names of deceased individuals from their customer and prospects lists, they'd be saving big bucks in mailing and telephone expenses. Unfortunately, they don't bend over backwards to remove these names.

The U.S. Postal Service says 5 percent of consumer mail is sent to the dead. What a waste of printing and postage. It's reported that 15 million to 17 million households receive mail addressed to the deceased each year. It may take from six months to 2 years for marketers to remove these names from their lists.

Marketing plans can be made. Creative can be conceived. Forecasts can be predicted. ROI can be anticipated. But it's all in vain if the hygiene of the list is lacking. When post mortems come around and campaigns didn't perform, the solution can often be found with a good scrubbing.

Most marketers do their own cleaning. But many do no more than NCOA their files. It's well known that NCOA catches only a fraction of the moves, since the input file does not match the USPS file. Besides, about a third of the movers don't tell the USPS. Between these two unfortunate situations, the NCOA process will match about one-half of the actual moves. If a widow or widower moves (and many of them do) and they don't tell the USPS, his or her address may never be changed.

The two most important sources of lists are government and private databases. Change the name or delete the name of the deceased from these two sources and marketers will be taking a major step forward to reducing their mail volume. The compilers of residential data, namely Equifax, InfoUSA, Acxiom and Experian, are the major suppliers of consumer lists. They process tens of thousands of orders for residential lists yearly. As far as can be determined, most of these firms utilize the Social Security files for suppression purposes.

My research shows private industry does a relatively acceptable job in deleting. However, the public sector can do more. State motor vehicle departments, driver license lists, tax rolls and utilities can certainly improve their list accuracy and name removal procedures.

A surviving spouse is encouraged to contact the list owners and request that the deceased name be removed. Included would be the telephone directory, the motor vehicle bureau, mail order companies, subscription and contributor lists, bank and insurance companies and utility providers. It's this malaise, on the part of the public sector and, in a smaller degree, in the private sector that requires vast improvement.

To really get the job done right and once and for all, the marketers themselves should grab the bull by the horns and utilize the Social Security death list. In 10 years, at 3 million names per year, the list will generally total 30 million names of the deceased.

There are other lists married into this file since the list is limited in its information. It contains only the first initial, last name, city, state and ZIP code plus the Social Security number, date of birth and date of death. Local addresses are missing. Nonetheless, it's a massive file and if used regularly will identify a significant number of deceased persons for deletion purposes.

Some service bureaus attempt to match other data to the Social Security list. Adding local addresses will help the matching techniques and will result in some degree of overkill. Without this additional matching underkill is normal. The ideal situation occurs when both the Social Security file and the matching file both contain Social Security numbers. Unfortunately, only the financial institutions, insurance companies, healthcare firms and the Fed maintain this ever so private number. There are some private industry lists that contain these numbers but are not available for matching purposes.

The Direct Marketing Association Mail Preference Service list totals about 5 million records. If you register via the Internet there is a $5 charge. If the USPS is used, the service is free. The DMA subjects the MPS list to NCOA processing during the year and it automatically deletes records that are four years old.

As a list compiler, manager and broker, our files total tens of millions of names. Our list owners have been encouraged to clean their files. Our house files are matched against the Social Security list yearly. There are several very dependable service bureaus that perform this service.

If the direct marketing industry does its own cleaning, and the surviving spouses or relatives do theirs, then their heartfelt sorrow will be considerably reduced. And marketers will not only be mailing with more compassion, but with greater ROI. There's no other way.

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