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Is Your House File "Dirty"?

How much is that costing you?

Apr 12, 2018

By Bob Stimolo

Ask any service bureau manager which files are the “dirtiest” and the response you get will always be the house or customer files.  They get that way for two main reasons:  One, the database they are housed in doesn’t have enough fields to accommodate the data that must be kept on file; and, two, the data entry clerks are too pressed for time to enter data in a consistent manner.

Maintaining clean and accurate data regarding your customers and inquirers is important for a number of reasons.  It saves money whenever you make a mailing to your customers, it makes a good impression on customers, and it improves your opportunity to identify other educators who teach in the same district or school as your customers.

School and District Data is a Challenge

School and district addresses represent a challenge to maintaining a clean customer file.  Most companies that use direct mail to support their sales usually rent educator names and addresses from an education database company and then merge and purge their own house files of customers and inquirers so as not to send two promotions whenever their house file names are also on the rented files.

When names and addresses are inaccurate or placed in the wrong fields they are much more difficult to deduplicate from names and addresses rented from a database company.  Consequently, two records that represent the same individual can survive the merge/purge process that takes place prior to creating the final mail file.

There are some legitimate challenges in eliminating duplicates.  For example, many school names are longer than most databases can accommodate.  Often they have to be abbreviated and this makes the school or district name a poor choice to include in the merge/purge logic.  Most service bureaus dedupe institutions based on street addresses and this can also pose a challenge when schools are on street corners or when there are two or more schools at a location.

Names Must Be in the Proper Fields

Address issues exist, but they are limited.  Many more challenges arise when deduping names.  There are a number of reasons why most companies have issues with the names in their house files.  First, many orders are received on purchase orders that don’t include the name of the actual buyer, but rather the name of a purchasing agent.  Second, most order entry systems are unfamiliar with the school market.  Consequently, the number of fields and the length of the fields aren’t sufficient to accommodate complete school or district names, addresses and/or shipping instructions.  When an order entry clerk has to get creative with data entry the likelihood that that record will dedupe with a rented record declines significantly.

The more names that are entered into your customer files in an inconsistent manner, the lower the deduplication will occur.  For example, if we have a house record where the contact’s name “Mary Smith” is in the same field as a delivery identifier such as “Room 227,” the merge/purge program will not recognize this as a duplicate against a rented record for “Mary Smith”.

Many order entry personnel are less concerned with the integrity of the data fields than they are of making sure the order is entered quickly and fulfilled and delivered correctly.  A good marketing manager will interact with the order entry people to make them aware of the importance of consistency in data entry.

It’s Costing Money and Much More

A typical cost for a catalog “in the mail” is about 70 cents.  Thus for every hundred duplicates the mailer wastes $70 and for every one thousand duplicates the mailer wastes $700.  But that’s just the beginning.  The mailer also makes a bad impression of the school secretary who distributes the mail and the recipient as well.

And there’s more.  One technique many mailers use is to match their customer files against a rental database.  By tagging the matching schools, they can mail more educators in schools where they have customers than in schools where they do not.  But if your customer file is unkempt you will miss a number of matches rendering this marketing strategy less effective.

The idea of renovating and cleaning your house files can be daunting, but there are numerous marketing advantages to maintaining a clean file.  There are many more order entry systems on the market today and they are much more user friendly than older programs. is a website that lists over 60 different order entry software packages, including a brief review and the website address for each one.

This article was written by Bob Stimolo for the Education Market Association’s “Essentials” magazine Spring 2018.  He is the Official School Market Consultant for EDmarket and President of School Market Research Institute, a full service marketing and research firm.  SMRI provides direct mail and email lists and services exclusively to school marketers.  To learn more contact Kathleen Bill at 800-838-3444 x201.