A hotel I stayed at this week had no hot water. A circuit breaker had tripped during the night, so in the morning no one had hot water. I will remember that every time I see the chain’s name, because they goofed on a basic part of the hotel trade.

Catalog recipients complain a lot about mailers making equally basic mistakes. I have received some of those complaints in the past and had to dig into the nuts and bolts of direct mail. Two common mistakes: mailing to people who do not want to be mailed, and not getting mail through to people who do want it.

The DMA Mail Preference file is a great start to avoid mailing people who do not want any commercial mail. Good second and third steps include “soft kill” and “hard kill” files. Some consumers want direct mail but not your direct mail. A soft-kill file of individuals’ names and addresses can go into your merge/purge to suppress specific people at an address while allowing others at that address to request and receive your mail. I started a hard-kill file when I got requests to mail to Elvis Presley and Johnny B. Goode at a nonexistent address. That file was used to suppress physical addresses regardless of who requested mail to be sent there.

Ensuring that your mail is delivered to those who want it can be more complicated. If you have a strict policy about maximizing postage discounts by requiring a minimum number of pieces per carrier route, zip+4, or zip code, you might repeatedly drop requesters in low-density routes and zips. I have started must-mail files to overcome such policies, as well as to be sure that the company’s board of directors received copies of the latest catalogs.

Prospects and customers are also sometimes excluded through test groups and vanity addresses. Testing can be valuable. But customers put into control groups to receive few or no catalogs may feel slighted after all your efforts to make them expect regular communication. Consequently their ordering can suffer. Vanity addresses, such as “Sears Tower” in the first address line instead of “233 S. Wacker Dr.,” can get kicked out of address standardization processing. This can also slight customers and prospects and make you and your mailing operation look incompetent.

Checklists and regular validation can overcome these slip-ups. Spot-check for a few records from your soft- and hard-kill lists in the postmerge file to make sure they will not reach the mailstream. Seed your address and those of some of the company’s distant employees into every mailing. Track your must-mail records to ensure that they are not dropped through initial edit-fail or in later hygiene steps. Regularly request and review dumps of the edit-fails and rejects to see why they were dropped.

If necessary, insert the must-mail list into the postmerge file to guarantee that they get out. Keep up with the nuts and bolts of your lists and data processing so that your prospects and customers will remember you fondly, and not for goofing up the most basic parts of your trade.

Bill Singleton, president of Algonquin, IL-based consultancy Singleton Marketing.

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