Personalization: Is There an Acceptable Error Rate?

Written by Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Print Industry Consultant
Personalized Direct Mail
Our family recently received a prospecting mailer from a well-known brand marketer. It was mailed in a full-color envelope and was name personalized . . . with my father-in-law’s name. The personalization was on the front of the four-color envelope, so the error was front and center. My father-in-law’s name was repeated three times: “John! John! John!”
I started a discussion about this on the XPPGN’s LinkedIn discussion board. My take was that the marketer missed its responsibility to properly cleanse and manage its purchased prospecting list. Toni Schottenhammer, Xerox marketing manager, business development, however, chimed in with a slightly different take.
She wrote:

We all know it and hear it: “Data is king!” However, easier said than done. A purchased list always has records that will need a review (or at least that is what I have found in the many direct marketing programs I have been intimately involved in).
For example, consider my last name, which is a whopping 14 characters long. I typically see my name cut off in mailers I receive, and always think that the company didn’t go the distance [in accommodating longer last names]. I am sure that I am not the only person with 14+ characters in their name!
The other thought I have is looking at the list for competitors. If I consider a list from Direct Marketing News as one example, then I am sure competitors to Xerox will be included in a general marketing magazine list. There are suppression lists that have to be considered to run against a purchased list.
Or what about the large number of consultants that are a part of that list? Those individuals can even be harder to suppress due to the fact that the company name is their name or something not obvious to add to a suppressed list.
Consider user misinformation, as well. Data is only good as what is created.
There is a final consideration. Is the cost of taking the time to review the list worth it? For many companies or organizations, it isn’t. Their infrastructure doesn’t allow for it, and their deadlines to get the marketing out to reap the benefits of the offer is a constant pressure. [When it comes to personalization], my philosophy is, you have to start somewhere or years will go by and you may be doing what you did before—spray and pray.
This is where I believe GC providers can help these companies/organizations as they typically have the technical staff to manage these lists and add value.

I raised this same issue on another blog, too. Another commenter had a similar perspective to Toni’s. He wrote:

With regard to list inaccuracies, I believe the focus should be on the number of pieces that received correct personalization – probably well in excess of 85%. We all know that freshly rented lists are immediately 5-10% out of date even after all available industry hygiene process have been applied. I would argue that “errors” like this are part and parcel of all personalized DM (collateral damage), and I reserve the error label for truncated fields, lazy upper/lower case hygiene, poorly chosen default solutions for empty fields, and so on.

What do you think? Is there an acceptable error rate for personalization? Especially if it makes the difference between getting involved in personalization or not? Let’s hear it!

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  1. Michael Gitzi February 6, 2014 -

    At MY opinion print- and also webpersonalized DM have done correct or you can not get into a dialog with the recipients. Means database-preflight is necessary.
    Best regards from Vienna
    Michael Gitzi

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Walker February 11, 2014 -

    Agreed. There is also the argument that some error rate must become acceptable or no one would ever use 1:1 for prospecting. That’s the cost-benefit that large brand marketers take. The question is what steps they take to try to reduce it and at what point it is no longer cost-effective.

  3. Liz Pate February 21, 2014 -

    Having only been in the B2B space for about 6 years, I believe in the power of using a data list for personalized DM, and I think effort should definitely be made to ensure accuracy but it’s always going to be contingent on available resources. During my days as an intern, I was tasked with making sure names were correct on all DM communications. And, despite the names having been pulled from a list and “proofed” for accuracy (via Google searches), mistakes were still made. Currently, I am responsible for BtoP (business to personal) or as some are calling it H2H (human to human) engagements, which allows me more time to make sure I know who, how, when and where I engage with people. I think we can expect to see more of that these days as “old school” DM and data lists continue to lose novelty.

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