10 ways to do database marketing badly

This article was first published as a guest post on the ALPSP blog.

We’ve learnt a lot over the years about the wonderful world of database marketing, and how things can sometimes go a little wrong if the right tools and processes aren’t in place.

As we reflect on 10 years helping publishers make the most of their customer data, here are 10 ways to do database marketing badly (and how to avoid them)…

1. Call your customer “Ms Ass”

Or “Ms Ass Librarian” to be precise. Yes, this really happened. Somehow the job title of “Ass Librarian” ended up in a customer’s first/last name fields, leading to a very unfortunate address label. Some basic checking and clean-up could have avoided this particular mistake.

2. Get their name (and gender) wrong

Unfortunately, overly vigorous data cleansing can also be a problem in its own right. Our Communications Director Jillian (female) regularly receives post addressed to “Julian” (male), presumably due to a software rule deciding that her real name must be a typo, and unhelpfully “correcting” it. Moral of the story: do clean your data, but try not to make it worse.

3. Try to sell something they’ve already bought

With the complex world of package and consortia deals, this probably happens to unfortunate sales staff way more than it should. You send prospects a tempting deal… only to discover they’ve already bought the product in question. Properly getting to grips with your sales data isn’t always easy, but it is the only sure way to avoid this type of embarrassment.

4. Try to sell something they’ve absolutely no interest in

Another awkward sales scenario: alienating your (potential) customers by trying to sell them products which don’t match their interests. The “hey, let’s just include everyone!” mailshot is a great way to do this. And the “hey, let’s get our data together and do some proper segmentation!” project is a great way to avoid it.

5. Don’t respect opt-outs

Ah yes. There is perhaps no greater way to turn a potential customer into an angry ball of rage, than to keep marketing to them after they’ve opted out. Companies don’t do this intentionally of course, but plenty do it by mistake – often when opt-out requests aren’t properly consolidated across different customer databases behind the scenes.

6. Don’t communicate with opt-INs

Not respecting opt-outs definitely annoys customers, but so does neglecting to communicate with customers who are interested. If John Smith has taken the trouble to tick the box and opt in to your news and offers, you’d better send him some. Asking customers to opt in sets the expectation you’ll have something useful and interesting to send their way.

7. Send far too much email

Many people are perfectly happy to receive relevant promotional messages from time to time, but nobody wants to feel bombarded on a daily basis. This can often happen if different departments or divisions are all marketing to the same pool of contacts, without coordinating their efforts to keep it to a reasonable level. A company-wide comms strategy should help solve that.

8. Get your facts wrong

It can make for a really compelling message to merge customer-specific details into your marketing emails, for example: “Your recent high/low usage of product X suggests you’re really loving/hating it!!” But of course that’s only impressive if the key facts are correct (and it makes a bad impression if they’re not). Be sure of the quality and accuracy of your underlying data before trying this type of campaign.

9. Send marketing to the deceased

At its worst this mistake can be very upsetting for relatives of the deceased. There are services like Mortascreen out there to help remove deceased contacts up-front. But even without that level of checking in place, the most important thing is to make absolutely sure that any notice that a contact has died (often sent via email to customer services by a relative) is acted on promptly to ensure no further marketing is sent ever again.

10. Assume everybody has one unique email address

It’s easier for databases to assume that one email address equals one person, but in reality many of us will have multiple emails (for home, work, etc.) and some share a single email address (‘family_robinson…’ etc.) It can be annoying for customers to receive the same message more than once, so it’s good practice to get to grips with multiple emails and organize your comms accordingly.

But let’s not feel too disheartened – it’s true that database marketing can go wrong, but getting it right isn’t rocket science. It’s just a question of giving proper attention to data quality, establishing some form of single customer view, and ensuring you have a clear company-wide comms strategy. With those pieces in place, database marketing can be hugely effective.

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