Data scrubbing worth the effort for Dai Nippon subsidiary

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DNP IMS America Corp., a U.S. subsidiary of Dai Nippon Printing Co., started sending an e-mail newsletter to 2,000 value-added reseller customers and prospects in 2002. The messages were well-received. Between 40% to 45% of all messages were opened, said Emily Dononvan, a company consultant who was, at the time, its senior marketing coordinator. However, by 2005 the company's open rate had dropped, bottoming out in the low 30% range. A small component—a few percentage points—of the decline was due to spam filters, she said.

But the bigger problem was the list itself and the actual e-mail newsletter content. On the list side of things, the list was old and unchecked. There was no ongoing effort to keep the list clean and delete bad addresses. From a content perspective, users weren't necessarily getting what they wanted to read. DNP IMS America couldn't tie product purchases or information requests to specific names and addresses, so content was somewhat generic.

Donovan, in conjunction with MindComet, the company's Maitland, Fla.-based interactive agency, started with the basics, removing any names that were obviously bad, such as hard bounces and undeliverables. The company then hired interns for a week to call everyone on the list. The interns were charged with ensuring titles were still the same, collecting demographic information and requalifying everyone who answered the phone. Once this information was gathered, the list was divided by region as well as by either prospect or current account. The end result: a list of 1,400 highly qualified, interested readers.

"The bad addresses were probably 7% of the overall list, but the data scrub was really what improved the list considerably," Donovan said. "It was painful, but it was worth it because it really helped fine-tune segmentation."

Today, the company keeps the list clean by asking its sales reps to examine the database for changes or problems.

"This gives the salesperson a little accountability and, really, our salespeople know their customers better than anyone else," she said.

Since content is such a huge component of click-through numbers, Donovan worked with MindComet to improve copy and, therefore, relevance. MindComet tested one e-mail variable per month including subject line, content, location within the sales cycle and personalization. In addition, it sent out a survey at the beginning and at the end of the four-month test, asking recipients what they liked and didn't like about the newsletter; what their business goals were; and how DNP could best support those goals.

As a result of the testing, the newsletter offers improved content, includes photos of specific sales reps and provides better placement of the most relevant stories. The newsletter sender has changed as well: customers receive their e-mails directly from their own sales rep rather than a generic e-mail address.

MindComet also runs every e-mail through a spam test to make sure it won't be flagged specifically because of wording or content.

The results were twofold. The company's overall open and click-through rates went up again. But the real benefit was felt in the sales department. DNP would, for example, send a newsletter highlighting a specific ribbon, and salespeople would start getting phone calls almost immediately. "We'd get lots of phone calls in the first five days after a newsletter went out. We saw a significant increase in sample requests and general dialogs between prospects, customers and sales reps," Donovan said.

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