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The Harte Hanks Blog

10 Tips to Avoid Costly B2B Data Purchase Mistakes

Analyzing B2B DataPurchasing B2B data isn’t rocket science. There are common areas that can be learned quickly, and vendors can help with less common queries. However, once you expand your requirements beyond your country, you might be surprised at how complex buying can become. These 10 commonly overlooked areas require careful consideration, or your data purchase decisions could cause the failure of an otherwise fantastic campaign.

1)      Turnaround times vary, greatly!

In Western markets, 24 – 48 hours turnaround time for counts is the norm.  Other markets respond slower. Far Eastern vendors, for example, can take 5-10 days to return a count. Work this into your timelines. 

2)      Adhere to local data legislation.

Be careful to adhere to local law and best practice, and ensure your data suppliers follow regulations too.  In Germany, double opt-in rules mean there is no such thing as a cold email. Conversely, the UK operates opt-out for B2B, so you can have a broader reach with email campaigns.  This is not just important from a data perspective – there is no point creating a fantastic campaign if it cannot be deployed.

3)      No database is perfect.

Some databases are fresher than others, but none are 100% accurate.  Business data decays rapidly (Watch this video to see how rapidly!), so you need to know local benchmarks and the vendors’ guarantees. That way you can expect certain inaccuracies, order over-supply when necessary and identify if the quality of the data you purchased is genuinely unsatisfactory.

4)      Language.

Can non-English data be handled accordingly?  Can your systems cope with special characters found within many European languages such as German or Spanish?  What about double byte characters from Russia and the Far East?

5)      Variation of variables – do they meet your needs?

Not all vendors collect, manage and store data consistently. Variables like employee size and turnover can be banded or actual, and the latter could be local currency or US Dollars.  Check how vendors report these variables early in the planning process.

6)      NACE vs. SIC vs. NAICS – ensure consistency of selection.  

There are different ways an organization’s industry can be categorized. In Europe, a NACE code is used whereas in the USA, US SIC codes or NAICS is used.  While there are similarities between all systems, there are also subtle differences. Aim for consistent use of industry codes, especially when using multiple vendors.

7)      Put data volumes into context. 

If you listen to vendors’ claims, then every database is the biggest and best on the market. But don’t worry, a bit of common sense will ensure you obtain genuine datasets. If the vendor claims they have 40m businesses in the USA, then it’s probably not true. Why? Research shows there are only 20m businesses, so the 40m figure is more likely to be contact volume, not sites.

8)      Lack of data quality standards.  

In the UK, we have an established association, The DMA, who produce guidelines and member Codes of Practice on acceptable data quality benchmarks. However, in some developed markets – including North America – there are no comparable benchmarks and vendors set their own standards. Don’t make any assumptions; ask suppliers what their guarantees are and why. Ask probing questions about their data collection methods and quality processes.

9)      Know the cost and usage terms.

How do you want to be billed, €, £ or $? If it’s different to the vendor currency, ensure you work in the correct exchange rates and include caveats allowing for fluctuations. How do you access the data? Annual subscription licences vs. per record purchase? Must data be downloaded from a portal or can it be transferred by SFTP?

10)   Data formats vary.

With 180 + countries globally and many of them having individual address standards, there are different ways to represent an address.  Communicate to the vendor exactly what you need for the campaign. Taking international phone numbers as an example, should country code be a separate field? Does the number need leading zeroes?

Buying data can be complex, particularly for international campaigns in markets where you are unfamiliar. The 10 areas above are the tip of the iceberg. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about the above, or need guidance on how to apply these tips to your marketing programs.

Mail is BACK: Direct Mail Trends and Marketing Innovations

Woman getting direct mail out of mailbox

By: Charley Howard

With over thirty years in the direct mail and postal industries, I’ve had the privilege of watching trends rise and fall, marketing innovations come and go. One of the most interesting turns of the tide has been that of direct mail.

For years now, digital communication channels—email, social media, mobile apps, etc.—have earned far more marketing attention than traditional channels. With the rise of fast, catchy and inexpensive digital communications, paper mail– with its comparatively long lead times and high costs– seemed to fall out of fashion almost overnight. This rise in digital communications also contributed to the creation of an entire generation of young people that has never used direct mail and has little interest in receiving it. Finally, a rise in postal rates coincided with a drop in the economy, which could have been the final nail in the direct mail coffin.

Digital Consumer Burnout

But the tide has turned again. All of the excitement around email marketing has created an overload of emails and consumer burnout. You would never send a prospect three direct mail pieces every day or drop a postcard in her lap while she’s having lunch, but such overly zealous attempts at email marketing have pushed many consumers over the saturation point, leading them to tune out and unsubscribe.

Case in point: a friend of mine described to me how one national retail chain used GPS to track subscribers’ smart phones and ping customers with an email offer when they walked into a store. While this may have seemed like clever plan that promotes engagement, many loyal customers got fed up, saying they received far too many communications while they were trying to shop.

Direct Mail 2.0

Considering that direct mail still offers nearly 20 to 40 times the response rates of email marketing, savvy marketers have started looking more seriously at direct mail again, searching for ways to make it more compelling and effective. Through a fresh outlook and new ideas, I believe these marketers are bringing direct mail back. This new version of “direct mail 2.0” will be smaller than the heyday of mass mailings and saturation mail, but it will be more powerful—taking lessons learned from the hard times and becoming smarter, more focused and more targeted.

This resurgence in direct mail will also be built to drive conversions both offline and online. The most innovative and effective programs will combine print mail with digital marketing in new and novel ways that play to the strengths of each, grabbing attention and creating high-touch campaigns.

Creating Offline/Online Synergy

How do you combine direct mail with high-engagement digital marketing? Let’s start by taking a look at the typical direct mail offer. You send out a coupon, you get a good response. But if you start sending coupons regularly, you eventually start seeing that customers only come in when they get a coupon. By adding technology into the mix, you can raise the interest level for your consumers and keep them coming back, independent of your mail cycle. Instead of barraging prospects with emails or encouraging bargain-seeking with a standalone mail piece, you can use a strategic combination of the two to create an interactive, technology-driven experience for your prospects.

For example, you can send a mailer with a peel-off QR code that links to a personalized URL. When your prospect scans the QR code, he is brought to a page customized just for him. He sticks the peel-off on his fridge for future use, and every time he interacts with the QR code, you can offer him new messaging based on his previous interactions. That’s true dynamic, relevant messaging! If your now-loyal customer feels like coming in to the store, he can scan the peel-off for a discount rather than waiting for a coupon. The peel-off is a physical reminder of your offer, and the QR code adds a high-tech, high-touch element to the program that enhances the experience and drives traffic to your website—and your retail store, if you have one.

You can even bring in a social element by adding perks for sharing on social media or sending the offer to a friend. As you interact with the same consumer over time, you can get to know his habits and preferences to further fine-tune offers for even higher engagement.

CoverGirl’s Example

CoverGirl demonstrated an innovative approach to mail at the Postal Vision 20/20 4.0 conference. The company sent out a mailing encouraging prospects to use their smart phones to match make-up to their individual skin tones. This mailing was a fabulous use of augmented reality. The user would scan the mailing to be brought to the website. She would then take a photo of her face and the app would bring up an entire list of products that matched her skin tone. That’s no technology gimmick; that’s using the combination of mail and technology as an effective tool to drive sales.

Use it Wisely

Direct mail has come a long way. The examples above are just a few of the ways that adding digital marketing tools to paper mail can enhance your marketing efforts. But just like email marketing, you still have to use it wisely. For example:

  • It has to be a good experience. If you use direct mail to drive your customers to your website, make sure your sites are user friendly, engaging and offer real value. If not, it’s a wasted effort.
  • Be relevant, focused and use it sparingly. Just like email, you can send too much direct mail. If prospects feel they’re getting too much, they start thinking about all the trees you killed.
  • Use targeting and segmentation. The more refined you get in your targeting, the more relevant the mail will be for the recipient. Consider dynamic digital printing; it allows you to be fully variable from one piece to the next, while still taking advantage of postal discounts, delivery performance, etc.
  • Plan ahead. Giving yourself more lead time allows you take advantage of more advanced direct mail techniques that deliver better response rates.
  • Make small changes. If you’re not ready for a complete overhaul, tweak your current direct mail efforts by simply adding a QR code that goes to a dedicated landing page. Then expand your efforts from there.
  • Track your results. Be sure to capture who did respond along with who didn’t to help you further refine your efforts.

Smaller but Better

I don’t see mail booming like the old days—after all, it is a digital world. But mail still works. It has always worked, and it has one of the best returns on investment out there. Direct mail ROI is only going to improve as more marketers learn to mix tried and true direct mail techniques with the best of digital marketing, creating a combination that is more sophisticated and attuned to the needs and desires of our customers.

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