For a mature market, suppression data has been showing remarkable signs of innovation and development. As David Reed finds out, new launches and returns to market could alter the way direct marketers think about goneaways for good.
Death and taxes may be the two things in life none of us can avoid. But you could now add social network presence to that list. Removing an account from one of the major sites is no mean feat, which is why the “Right to be Forgotten” has been proposed by Brussels. Just as ongoing mailshots to the dead led directly to the creation of deceased suppression files, so this persistence of identity online is now getting some attention.
In mid-April, Google announced a new after-death service. Users can now specify what they wish to happen to the data held by the search engine giant (prior to their death, obviously). Data can be deleted after three, six, nine or 12 months, or some of it sent on to relatives. Over at Facebook, deletion is not yet an option, but an account can be “memorialised”.
What this development points to is a recognition of how painful memories of a dead person can be to the ones who loved them and live on. It is the reason why deceased suppression for direct marketing exists - in order to avoid damaging brand reputation.
Just as Google’s new service represents an important step in the maturity of data management online, so the traditional suppression data market is itself showing signs of revival. With marketing activity starting to recover, brands are looking to mitigate wastage, especially by removing goneaways.
In mid-April, Wilmington Millennium marked its return to the marketplace with the launch of Smartdepart - a collaboration between Mortascreen and consumer data specialists Tracesmart. Using 70 million records collected over ten years, it aims to fill the gap left when home movers neglect to inform their commercial services providers.
“For years, we have been looking for a goneaway file to sit alongside Mortascreen to bundle for our clients,” says Karen Pritchard, product director at Wilmington Millennium. “We wanted to make certain we had something of the same quality and standard. We are very confident we have found it.”
Underpinning her confidence in the file is a double level of validation of goneaways. Within the total file, 22 million records are classified as “very high” having been doubly verified against two sources. “We not only have notification that the person has moved, we also have the back-up of notification of a new person at that address,” says Pritchard. A range of sources are contributing to the file, including the Electoral Register, Rolling Register, property ownership changes and change of address notifications.
This dual validation is important as a way of tackling one of the barriers to the use of suppression. “Clients are extremely concerned about over-suppression. By using double-verified flags, we can avoid that. We still need as an industry to convince clients - particularly high volume direct mailers - of the need for suppression. There are so many reasons why they don’t do it, we need to give them a new reason to suppress,” says Pritchard.
The company has returned to the suppression market with not just one, but two new products. Smartlink offers marketers the chance to identify a new address for existing customers who moved house without telling them. Over 23 million forwarding addresses can be appended in this way. “That was completely new for us. It gives us more flexibility in what we offer clients,” she says.
Innovations around goneaway suppression have been coming thick and fast in recent years. Certainly the level of investment by data owners should be providing the reassurance data users need that any matches identified are accurate. It also means that the process is no longer just the final stage in a campaign - it should be integral to the whole process of building the target audience.
When The Data Agency (formerly The REaD Group) launched Qinetic in 2011, it was very much with this new value-adding proposition in mind. “We call it intelligent suppression,” says managing director, resellers, Luci Penn. “One of the things we were seeing was that the market had become complacent towards suppression. Clients were not really thinking about it - they were just going to a database bureau, running standard suppressions and deciding yes or no whether to adopt flags.”
Built with 67 million records, six million deceaseds and the remainder goneaways, it provides the new occupier for 40 million addresses and the new address for 21 million goneaways. In addition, 93 per cent of records have a geo-demographic profile code and 97 per cent a risk score.
While keen to maintain this core element of data hygiene, the company also recognised an opportunity to add value for clients. “There is a lot of intelligence you can gather from suppression records themselves. Don’t just drop them,” says Penn.
Qinetiq was built with this in mind, incorporating date of birth as a matching field for greater accuracy as well as geo-demographic codes for both the former and new address for each record. “That allows you to see if that household is still one you want to market to,” she says.
Many home moves are the result of a lifestyle or lifestage change - upsizing because of a promotion or downsizing on retirement, for example. Tracking that shift in status is important as it tells a company whether existing customers still fit their target profile. It also allows the new residents at an address to be matched up as prospects.
“We are seeing an increasing demand for retargeting people because it is a cost-effective way of finding a new address for existing customers. We know it costs more to get a new customer, so it is cheaper to follow them to their new address,” says Penn. “That moves Qinetiq into the strategic plan.”
Her view is that moving suppression upstream is vital to its continued growth. “I feel very strongly that, because suppression has become widely-accepted practice, it has also fallen off the strategic agenda. Instead, it needs to be viewed as a strategic decision with a value that allows you to maintain a customer relationship,” she says.
Smartlink and Qinetiq are not the only new suppression files to be launched onto the market in the last couple of years. Ark Data released Re-Mover with the same goal - to provide 100 per cent validated mover data on 86 per cent of home movers and 45 per cent of renters. Using data from 2009 onwards, it offers 3.5 million property goneaways and 5.5 million individual movers.
To some in this sector, the arrival of new or refurbished propositions has been something of a surprise. “We have seen a general decline in the suppression market in value terms,” points out Keith Jones, head of data sales at Royal Mail. “Seeing new entrants come to market surprised us. You would expect them to go where growth is, rather than competing in a crowded market.”
He believes part of the problem has been the way data users apply suppression. “Temporary flagging of suppression data causes problems because the next time a marketer comes to use the source file, they either have to go through the same suppression process or they will run the risk of saying they have poor data quality,” says Jones.
This failure to adopt permanent flags is part of the fear factor around suppression with data users worried that they will eliminate a genuine and living customer. It is also likely to be a false economy - the comparative pricing of temporary and permanent flags means a record only needs to be accessed twice in a year to merit permanent suppression. “If you don’t do that, in the long term, you data will be in poor condition,” he says.
Instead, the downward pressure on prices of temporary flags, driven by low cost new entrants, has been encouraging the view of suppression as a simple, tactical fix. “The whole industry is compensated by volume. The problem for the end user is that this pricing model works against their own business model,” notes Jones. More suppression matches means more revenue for data owners, helping to fuel the suspicions about over-suppression.
To push this sector in the opposite direction, Jones has been involved in a major data development project at Royal Mail. Its National Change of Address (NCOA) file has been recognised as much more than just a goneaway suppression and new address locator. Beyond this, it can be used as a positive targeting file, since home movers will spend more in their first few months at a new address than in the subsequent half dozen years. Targeting that household the moment it indicates it is about to move could therefore be extremely powerful. Jones hopes to have this new data source on the market by Autumn 2013.
“There is a technical challenge because we need to access that data in a pemissible way, so we need to be careful about enabling end-users to directly access it,” says Jones. Part of the development will be more aggressive promotion of NCOA to consumers as a provider of real benefits. As Jones points out, “I’d be very surprised if you’ve ever seen an ad for it.”
Renewed data sources are an important element of reviving the suppression data market. It may well be that major direct marketers are already committed to running their targeting files against these screens, but there has been little growth in adoption outside of this core audience.
Demonstrating that suppression can generate value, rather than just being a cost, could change this perception and drive up usage rates. The fact that different businesses are investing considerably into this sector ought to be sufficient proof that something is about to change. After all, if Google has decided to do something for dead people, perhaps other marketers will, too.