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There’s Gold in Your Do Not Mail File

In recent best practice reviews of the marketing practices of three catalog companies, we discovered very large do not mail files that included not only non-buyers, but also a sizable percentage of buyers. The files had accumulated over a very long period of time. No one was really paying attention to the size of the files, with the files routinely being sent to both cooperative databases and merge service bureaus as suppression files.

In the cases of all three companies we took the following action:

    • records that been added in the past 12-months were continued as suppress files;
    • all buyers 12-month to 48-month were mailed;
    • the balance that made up over 80% of the total were sent to a cooperative database for reactivation modeling with 20% of those being mailed; and the non-selected names were added to the cooperative database score files and allowed to come back in regular prospect models.

The resulting response rates of the buyers were higher than comparable RFM buyers; response to non-buyers was higher than normal prospect models. In one case, the sales of the company increased over 20% in the months following the change!

So, what are your legal obligations? At present, there are no direct federal or state law regulations requiring merchants to honor unsolicited “do not mail” requests by customers. Rather, companies have provided for do not mail options at the urging of the DMA, or to avoid mailing individuals who request removal from a mailing list. What is required is that companies honor what they have advertised as a policy under a “truth in advertising” obligation.

What are best practices when it comes to do not mail files?

    1. State a policy regarding do not mail and do not rent or exchange in your website privacy statement and allow individuals to opt-out either by clicking a link embedded on the privacy policy page. Do not place an opt-out box anywhere on the site or a shopping cart page.
    2. State in your catalog that if an individual wishes to be removed from future mailings, they must log on and visit your privacy policy web pages where they can opt-out. DO NOT indicate that the individual can visit the DMA’s website and request to be added to the DMA Preference File; if you do so, you could be obligated to run the DMA Preference File against your house file with the DMA obligation remaining for a minimum of five years. Similarly, do not refer individuals to any other organization to unsubscribe from postal mailings or state that you abide by their policies.
    3. The do not mail policy should not be open ended but should clearly state that it will be honored for a specific period of time such as one or two years and then must be renewed. Also state that a purchase or catalog request will result in being removed from the do not mail
    4. Most merge service bureaus and cooperative databases use the DMA Preference service as a suppress file. Be sure that it is NOT applied to your house files – only to prospects.
    5. Only use the portions of suppress files you are obligated to use. If you state that the request needs to be renewed every two years, then mail after the two years expire. If you have a large legacy “do not mail” file and change your policy to a set retention period, then either mail or optimize and mail the individuals whose requests are older than the new retention period.
    6. When you apply any do not mail file, but sure that you use an individual match rather than a household or address match; very often requests are made because a household is receiving multiple catalogs and only one is desired. Don’t use a household match and wipe out a high response buyer!

Bottom line, it’s not in your interest to have prospects or buyers unsubscribe from catalog mailings. The same people who request to receive your catalog will yield a high response when mailed. I have frequently heard from those managing cooperative databases that the country’s most avid catalog buyers are on the DMA Pander File.

Make it a priority to examine what your company is suppressing as do not mail files. There may be gold in those files you are leaving on the table. Reexamine what you state in your catalog and on your website. Institute the best practices that we recommend above.

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