Our privacy is shrinking… or at least our concept of privacy is certainly evolving into something new in a world where just about everything we do, think, read, buy, eat, spend, or consume is digitally tracked. In such a world, your small business database of information on your customers is gold. It is not only how you stay in contact with clientele for invoicing, shipping, and marketing, but in the new world of “BIG DATA” it will increasingly define your profits and growth. Up until now, your data on each customer might be as straightforward as name, address and phone number or email. But as progress continues, you will be presented with the opportunity to gather FAR more data on individuals such as purchasing history, income, political and social affiliations, their avenues of consuming information and purchasing goods, their interests, dislikes, lifestyle and so on. Being able to organize, interpret and manipulate this data for more effective marketing will be at the core of your business’ success.
For now, even if your database is essentially a spreadsheet with customers and their contact information, spending the time to get all this information correct, organized, delimited and “usable” for various marketing efforts is time well spent. Standardization for every entry and every category of information is critical. If you have many folks all entering data into your system about customers or transactions, they all need to be doing so in the exact same way… the “rules” need to all be standardized so that, for instance Mary J. Sawyer, Mrs. MJ Sawyer, Ms. M. Jane Sawyer, Sawyer Mary J., and M. J. Sawyer are not all entered in your database like 5 different people! At a very basic level, that is an important first step.
We do mailings and variable data printing for many clients, and to receive what could be called “clean” data for a mailing is truly the exception rather than the rule. We have methods to “correct” and clean up data, but the sad part of that is usually clients do not want the “new”, corrected data back… so the errors continue to live and repeat in their database – a costly shame.
When you do a mailing, the USPS requires that the address information meet NCOA requirements. NCOA is the National Change of Address program that makes available to mailers the last 48 months of updated addresses where folks have moved or changed address. It flags duplicates and corrects out-of-date address information. Further sorting and certification software for mailing will standardize address spelling, zip codes, street numbers and other inaccurate information. But it is essential that once you have paid your printer or mailhouse to correct and use your database list for a mailing, that you recover that new information and reintegrate it into your database. It is the first step toward “cleaning house” and starting a good first step into the world of “big data” manipulation.
Be sure to ask your printer about how to best streamline the process of supplying your mailing list to them AS WELL AS them returning the corrected, updated list back for reintegration into your database. They will help you set up a routine that makes the file transfer flawless and easy. The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!