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Thoughts on Data Quality and Contact Validation

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Posts Tagged ‘Data Quality’

Making an (email) list and checking it twice: Best practices for email validation

For most organizations, one of the most critical assets of their marketing operations is their email contact database. Email is still the lingua franca of business: according to the Radicati Group, over a quarter of a trillion email messages are sent every business day, and the number of email users is expected to top 4 billion by 2021 – roughly half of the world’s population. This article will explore current best practices for protecting the ROI and integrity of this asset, by validating its data quality.

The title of this article is not just a cute play on words – and it has nothing to do with Santa. Rather, it describes an important principle for your game plan for email data quality. By implementing a strong two-step email validation process, as we describe here, you will dramatically reduce deliverability problems, fraud and blacklisting from your email marketing and communications efforts.

The main reason we recommend checking emails in two stages revolves around the time these checks take: many checks can be performed live using a real-time API, particularly as email addresses are entered by users, but server validation in particular may require a longer processing time and interfere with user experience. Here are 3 of the most important checks that are part of the email validation process:

• Syntax (FAST): This check determines if an email address has the correct syntax and physical properties of an email address.

• DNS (FAST): We can quickly check the DNS record to ensure the validity of the email domain (MX record) for the email address. (There are some exceptions to this – for example, where the DNS record is with a shoddy or poor registry and the results take longer to come back.)

• Email Server (VARIABLE, and not within the email validation tool’s control): Although this check can take from milliseconds to minutes, it is one of the most important checks you can make – it ensures that you have a deliverable address. This response time is dependent on the email server provider (ESP) and can vary widely: large ESPs like Gmail or MSN normally respond quickly, while corporate or other domains may take longer.

There are many more checks in Service Objects’ Email Validation tool, including areas such as malicious activity, data integrity, and much more – over 50 verification tests in all! We auto-correct addresses for common spelling and syntax errors, flag bogus or vulgar address entries, and calculate an overall quality score you can use to accept or reject the email address. (For a deeper dive, take a look at this article to see many of the features of an advanced EV tool.)

Here are the two stages we recommend for your email validation process:

Stage 1: At point of entry. Here, you validate emails in real-time, as they are captured. This provides the opportunity for the user to correct mistakes in the moment such as typos or data entry errors. Here you can use our EV software to check for issues like syntax, DNS and the email server – however we recommend setting the API configuration settings to no more than a wait of a couple of seconds, for the sake of customer experience. At this stage either the user or validation software has a chance to update bad addresses.

Stage 2 – Before sending a campaign. Validate the emails in your database – using the API – after the email has been captured and the user is no longer available in real-time to make corrections. In this stage, you have more flexibility to wait for responses from the ESPs, providing more confidence in your list.

It is estimated that 10-15% of emails entered are not usable, for reasons ranging from data entry errors to fraud, and 30% of email addresses change each year. Together these two steps ensure that you are using clean and up-to-date email data every time – and the benefit to you will be fewer rejected addresses, a better sender reputation, and a greater overall ROI from your email contact data.

The Top 7 Skills of Successful Marketing Professionals

Good marketing is the bedrock of most business’ revenue pipelines; their number one job in many instances is to generate high quality leads through a variety of channels that can be converted into sales. Add to that the responsibility for creating, managing and communicating the entire organization’s brand, and the importance of marketing’s role becomes clear.

So what are some of the ingredients of a successful marketing professional? Here are some of the key traits of the very best ones:

Creativity. We put this first for a reason. More than anything, marketing creates “a-ha” moments by framing what businesses do in a new light. Where did Apple’s call to “think different,” Progressive Insurance’s Flo, or Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man in the World come from? From the minds of people who thought far beyond MP3 players, insurance policies, or beer.

Communication. Marketing inherently tells a story. And whether that story involves quality, productivity, or success, good marketers place customers in the middle of a credible narrative that improves their lives. When you searched on Google, purchased a book or a dust mop on Amazon, or drove off in a new Tesla, you bought into a story that promised to tangibly make your life better.

Project Management. When you watch a football game or a musical performance, you are seeing a team executing specific roles under the direction of a good coach or bandleader. Marketing is also a thoughtfully composed performance, led by people who can get stakeholders like product developers, data analysts, sales managers and operations staff to all play in harmony.

Flexibility. Marketing is the polar opposite of the person who makes the same widget for 20 years. Markets change, opportunities develop, and competition never stops. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said that the best players don’t skate to where the puck is, but to where the puck is going – and in much the same way, good marketing professionals are always thinking three steps ahead.

Results. Professional comedians make their craft look easy on stage, but in reality, their acts are refined from months or years of experience about what works best with their audience. Likewise, good brands are fueled by information, market research, and outcomes evaluation.

Market savvy. Whether it is a manufacturer selling airplanes to airlines, or a hipster hoping their product video goes viral, every market has its culture and norms. Good marketing professionals “get” things like what strategies work with what market segments, what the size and potential of their market are, and what their competitive landscape looks like.

Data savvy. We saved the best for last. Marketers from a generation ago would never recognize how much data drives the revenue stream of today’s businesses. Smart marketers recognize that they need tools to help them make better decisions about the customers they serve. In addition, to maximize the value of lead data and be effective in communicating with customers and prospects, marketer’s need to have data quality tools in place to be sure their contact information in their database in genuine, accurate and up-to-date.

This is where we come in. Service Objects came into being nearly a generation ago – and nearly 3 billion contact records ago – to do something about the estimated 1 in 4 contact records that are inaccurate, incomplete, fraudulent, or out-of-date. Our proprietary tools, which combine up-to-date USPS, phone and demographic databases with sophisticated capabilities for lead validation and customer insight, add power (and revenue) to your marketing efforts. We can validate contact information, append missing information, and even score leads for quality, across a suite of products that plug in to your application or data processing. Visit www.serviceobjects.com for more information.

Why Data Quality is Key to the Sales and Marketing Relationship

History is full of famous “frenemies,” from opposing politicians to the latest Hollywood gossip – people who work closely together but get under each other’s skin. But in your workplace, one of the most common frenemy relationships is between sales and marketing.

On paper, of course, both teams drive the revenue side of their organization. Their functions are critical to each other, and they support each other’s efforts. But scratch the surface, and you’ll often find some built-in sources of conflict:

“Marketing doesn’t give us enough good leads.”

“Sales piddles around and then blames us for not closing the deal.”

“Marketing doesn’t listen to our needs.”

“Sales is always making unrealistic demands about lead quality.”

In reality, both teams are linked to a common shared goal, and often frustrate each other when these goals don’t happen as planned. And very often, the culprit is data quality.

The problem in most organizations is that data quality is nobody’s job. Marketing is focused on lead acquisition, and sales is focused on closing contracts. Making sure that contact data is accurate, names aren’t fraudulent, or leads are qualified all take time away from people’s daily workflow. And over time, more than 70% of this data becomes even more incorrect as changes happen. Unfortunately, the result is that bad data is accepted as part of the status quo – or worse, leads to fingerpointing.

The solution to this problem is obvious: automate the process of data quality. Thankfully, solutions exist nowadays for turning your raw contact data into a stronger revenue generation engine. Here are some of the capabilities you can build right into your contact intake and marketing process:

  • Lead Validation can verify contact addresses against real-time USPS and Canada Post databases, cross-validate these addresses with phone, email and IP address data, and then return a lead quality of 1-100 from an analysis of over 130 data points.
  • Phone Append can take your contact data and find corresponding phone numbers, using a proprietary database of over 800 million consumer, business and government phone number listings, with up to 75% accuracy.
  • GeoPhone capabilities can produce latitude and longitude data from your phone contact data for geographically-based marketing efforts – or even find corresponding mailing and SMS/MMS addresses, for over 400 million available phone numbers in North America.
  • For outbound telemarketing campaigns, Phone Exchange can verify the accuracy and type of your phone contact records. In addition to lead accuracy, this can help you discover numbers that have changed hands since your last campaign, particularly wireless numbers – and help keep you from running afoul of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), where fines for unwanted calls can run as high as $1500 per violation.

Capabilities like these yield an immediate ROI for the effectiveness of your sales and marketing efforts, which are fueled by the quality of your contact data. In addition, as prospects turn into customers, they can play a key role in preventing fraud and maintaining customer satisfaction.

This is a situation where a little technology can make a real difference in the dynamics of your sales and marketing teams. Here is an analogy: with real life “frenemies,” family therapists generally try to find solutions that help both sides feel like they are winning. Data quality tools are like family therapy for your sales and marketing team: they take their most common points of conflict and turn them into revenue-building solutions that everyone can be happy with.

The Path to Data Quality Excellence

“In the era of big data and software as a service, we are witnessing a major industry transformation. In order to stay competitive, businesses have reduced the time it takes to deploy a new application from months to minutes.” – Geoff Grow, Founder and CEO, Service Objects

The big data revolution has ushered in a major change in the way we develop software, with applications webified and big data tools woven in. Until recently data quality tools that ensure data is genuine have not kept pace. As a result, developers have had little choice but to leave out data validation in their applications.

In this video, Geoff will show you why data validation is critical to reducing waste, identifying fraud, and maximizing operation efficiency – and how on-demand tools are the best way to ensure that this data is genuine, accurate, and up-to-date. If you develop applications with IP connectivity, watch this video and discover what 2,400 other organizations have learned about building data quality right into their software.

Celebrating Earth Day

April 22 marks the annual celebration of Earth Day, a day of environmental awareness that is now approaching its first half century. Founded by US Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970 as a nationwide teach-in on the environment, Earth Day is now the largest secular observance in the world, celebrated by over a billion people.

Earth Day has a special meaning here in our hometown of Santa Barbara, California. It was a massive 1969 oil spill off our coast that first led Senator Nelson to propose a day of public awareness and political action. Both were sorely needed back then: the first Earth Day came at a time when there was no US Environmental Protection Agency, environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council were in their infancy, and pollution was simply a fact of life for many people.

If you visit our hometown today, you will find the spirit of Earth Day to be alive and well. We love our beaches and the outdoors, this area boasts over 50 local environmental organizations, and our city recently approved a master plan for bicycles that recognizes the importance of clean human-powered transportation. And in general, the level of environmental and conservation awareness here is part of the culture of this beautiful place.

Earth Day

It also has a special meaning for us here at Service Objects. Our founder and CEO Geoff Grow, an ardent environmentalist, started this company from an explicit desire to apply mathematics to the problem of wasted resources from incorrect and duplicate mailings. Today, our concern for the environment is codified as one of the company’s four core values, which reads as follows:

“Corporate Conservation – In addition to preventing about 300 tons of paper from landing in landfills each month with our Address Validation APIs, we practice what we preach: we recycle, use highly efficient virtualized servers, and use sustainable office supplies. Every employee is conscious of how they can positively impact our conservation efforts.”

Today, as Earth Day nears the end of its fifth decade, and Service Objects marks over 15 years in business, our own contributions to the environment have continued to grow. Here are just a few of the numbers behind the impact of our data validation products – so far, we have saved:

  • Over 85 thousand tons of paper
  • A million and a half trees
  • 32 million gallons of oil
  • More than half a billion gallons of water
  • Close to 50 million pounds of air pollution
  • A quarter of a million cubic yards of landfill space
  • 346 million KWH of energy

All of this is an outgrowth of more than two and a half billion transactions validated – and counting! (If you are ever curious about how we are doing in the future, just check the main page of our website: there is a real-time clock with the latest totals there.) And we are always looking for ways to continue making lives better though data validation tools.

We hope you, too, will join us in celebrating Earth Day. And the best way possible to do this is to examine the impact of your own business and community on the environment, and take positive steps to make the earth a better place. Even small changes can create a big impact over time. The original Earth Day was the catalyst for a movement that has made a real difference in our world – and by working together, there is much more good to come!

The Impact of Data Quality on Your Direct Mail

Some things are – sadly – a fact of life. Less than a third of people floss their teeth every day. The average US household has over $16,000 in credit card debt.  And according to the United States Postal Service, undeliverable mail costs businesses roughly $20 billion every year.

Ironically, the quality of your contact data is far and away the most easily fixed of these three things. We can’t stop people from using credits cards, and we can’t make flossing your teeth more fun. But we can easily and inexpensively automate the quality of your mailings – and in the process, save you from some very real and tangible costs.

Let’s look at some of the real costs of poor data quality for direct mail:

Time. Direct mailing remains a labor-intensive process, where sorted physical pieces of mail are prepared for delivery. And when some of these are addressed to an out-of-date lead who has moved – or someone gave you a fake name and address, like Bugs Bunny in Rabbitville, Wisconsin – you are wasting human effort at each step of the life cycle of the process, from mail preparation to updating undeliverable addresses in your database.

Money. If bad contact data isn’t enough of a problem, according to Biznology over 70% of it changes every year as people move, change jobs, or get new contact information. Multiply this across the sunk costs of a direct mail campaign, from printing to postage to manpower, and you are looking at a substantial drain on your marketing budget.

Conservation. Is your company “green”? Not if you aren’t strategically addressing your data quality. The USPS alone estimates that it handles over 6 billion pieces of undeliverable mail annually. Multiply this by the impact on trees, energy use, water and landfill space, and you have a huge and largely preventable impact on our environmental waste stream.

Customer Satisfaction. The impact of data quality gets even worse when you don’t deliver what you promised, and your customer reputation takes a hit. Add in the costs of inventory loss, re-shipping, and bad publicity on channels such as social media, and you risk a loss of customer good will, repeat business and market share.

Missed Market Opportunities. They call them leads for a reason – and if your lead is sitting in a landfill somewhere because of bad contact data, they become the customer that never happened. And then the actual costs of this bad data get compounded by the loss of potential future business.

The worst thing about each of these costs is that they are all completely preventable. Real-time contact data validation is an easy, inexpensive capability that can be built right into your applications, or used directly on your lists via the Web. Once in place, they leverage the power of continually updated contact databases from the USPS and others, and you reap the financial benefits of good data quality forever after. It is truly a situation where an ounce of prevention is worth much more than a pound of cure.

Service Objects Lands on CIOReview’s Top 20 Most Promising API Solutions

Service Objects is very proud to have been recently selected as one of CIOReview’s Top 20 Most Promising API Solution Providers for 2016, judged by a distinguished panel comprised of CEOs, CIOs and VPs of IT, including CIOReview’s editorial board.

Now if you are reading this, you probably have one of two reactions: “Wow, that’s cool!” Or perhaps, “What’s an API?”

If it is the latter, allow us to explain. An API, short for an Application Programming Interface, is code that allows our data validation capabilities to be built into your software. Which means that applications ranging from marketing automation packages to CRM systems can reach into our extensive network of contact validation databases and logic, without ever leaving the application.

What this means for them is seamless integration, real time results and better data quality. Their databases have correct, validated addresses. Their leads are scored for quality, so they are mailing to real people instead of “Howdy Doody.” Their orders are scanned for potential fraud, ranging from BIN validation on credit cards to geolocation for IP addresses, so that you know when an order for someone in Utah is originating in Uzbekistan.

What this means for you is that the applications you use are powered by the hundreds of authoritative data sources available through Service Objects – even if you never see it. Of course, we have many other ways to use our products, including real-time validation of lists using our PC-based DataTumbler application, batch FTP processing of lists, and even the ability to quickly look up specific addresses via the Web. But we are proud of our history of providing world-class data validation tools to application developers and systems integrators.

Now, if APIs are old hat to you, this award represents something important to you too: it recognizes our track record within the developer community of providing SaaS tools with superior commercial applicability, data security, uptime and technical support. As a companion article in CIOReview points out, “Service Objects is the only company to combine the freshest USPS address data with exclusive phone and demographic data. Continuous expansion of their authoritative data sets allows Service Objects to validate billions of addresses and phone numbers from around the world, making their information exceptionally accurate and complete.”

There is much more coming in the future, for systems integrators and end users alike. Our CEO Geoff Grow shared with CIOReview that one key focus is “more international data, as many of our clients are doing business outside the United States and Canada … The European and Asian markets are becoming increasingly important places (and) it is important for us to expand our product offerings and our expertise in more regions of the world.” And of course, our product offerings continue to grow and expand for clients in each of the markets we serve.

If you are a developer, we make it easy to put the power of Service Objects’ data validation capabilities in your own applications. Visit our website for complete documentation and sample code, or download a free trial API key for one of our 25 data quality solutions. We know you will see why our peers rank us as one of the best in the industry!

My Bright Orange Swedish Pension

Our professions don’t exempt us from real life. Doctors get sick, contractors have leaky roofs – and people who work at Service Objects receive misaddressed mail, just like the rest of us. But one piece of junk mail that recently arrived at my house wasn’t just a mistake: it was a full-fledged tutorial on everything that can go wrong in a direct mail campaign.

For starters, it was a big orange envelope with a bold message on the front – in Swedish. Which I don’t speak. A quick visit to Google Translate revealed that by opening the envelope, I could discover how to see my entire Swedish pension online.

Alas, I don’t have a rich Swedish uncle who has left me a pension. However, the person who used to live in my house did speak Swedish. So this mailing might have been useful to her when she lived here. Unfortunately, that was over 12 years ago.

So now, let’s suppose that this was meant for her, and that she in fact would like to learn about her Swedish pension. The next problem was that her last name was incorrect. Or more accurately, it would have been correct had she not gotten married 18 years ago and taken her husband’s last name.

But that’s not all. The street address was incorrect as well. Actually, they kinda sorta got it right, which is why it probably ended up at my house. But the street name was translated into the same kind of pidgin Swedish that I haven’t seen since the prank subtitles in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. For example, “Saint” = Sankt and “Anne” should be “Ann”.

Mercifully, they did get my city of Santa Barbara, California correct. But it was written in European format, with the ZIP code first (e.g. 93109 Santa Barbara CA). And apparently they don’t do commas in Sweden.

Finally, they did at least make sure that this went to the United States. Because they put this no less than three times in the address, in three different styles (US, USA, and U.S.A.)

Of course, spending a little quality time with Service Objects could have fixed all of these problems, easily and automatically:

  • Our Address Validation 3 product would have turned this address into a correctly formatted, CASS-certified USPS address.
  • More important, our National Change of Address (NCOA) Live would have produced a current, up-to-the-minute address for the intended recipient.
  • Finally, our Lead Validation product could have validated their contact record and assessed the overall accuracy and viability before sending.

This incident was pretty funny. But at another level, it is also sad. Think of all the resources that were expended sending this piece of junk mail across the Atlantic. Now multiply this by all the other misaddressed pieces of mail that were probably sent out in this campaign. Then multiply it again by the amount of direct mail that crosses the globe every day. That sum could pay for a lot of Swedish pensions.

If there is one silver lining to this story – aside from hopefully entertaining our blog readers – it is that at least this piece of mail will not end up in a landfill somewhere. It now hangs proudly on our Wall of Shame here at Service Objects, as a reminder for why we do what we do. And how we can help YOU save money and resources.

Data Quality in Marketing: Trends and Directions for 2017

Asking whether data quality is important to your marketing efforts is a little like asking if apple pie and motherhood are important – of course, the answer will always be “yes.” Recently, however, some interesting quantitative research was published that shed light on just *how* important it has become.

Marketing research firm Ascend2 performed a survey of 250 mostly senior people in marketing, to see what they thought about data quality. Over 80% of the respondents were in management roles, with more than a quarter of the sample holding C-level positions. Fully half were associated with large companies with over 500 employees, and more that 85% had over 50 employees. Respondents were also equally split between short versus complex sales cycles.

The results showed very clearly that data quality has risen to become a critical consideration in marketing success nowadays. Here are some of their key findings:

Improving data quality is their most important strategic objective. With 62% of respondents rating this as their top objective, data quality now ranks far above more traditional marketing objectives such as improving marketing data analytics (45%), improving user experience (43%), optimizing the lead funnel (26%), and even acquiring an adequate budget (20%).

Data quality is also their biggest challenge. Respondents also ranked data quality as currently being their most critical challenge, in smaller numbers (46%) but in similar proportions to the other factors such as those mentioned above.

But things are getting better. Fully 83% of respondents feel that their marketing data strategy is at least somewhat successful at achieving objectives, with over one-third (34%) rating their own efforts as “very successful (best-in-class).” Similar numbers also feel that their tactical effectiveness is improving as well. While 14% feel that they have been unsuccessful in achieving objectives to some degree, only 3% consider themselves to be very unsuccessful.

Data quality is a downstream process. Respondents clearly favored cleaning up contact data versus constraining how it is collected. Nearly half (49%) felt that validating contact data was the most important tactic for improving marketing data quality, while less than a quarter (24%) felt that standardizing lead capture forms were important. Other upstream measures such standardizing the data upload process (34%) and developing segmentation criteria (33%) were also in the minority.

Call in the experts. An overwhelming majority of respondents (82%) outsource either some or all of the resources they use to improve marketing data quality, with over a quarter (26%) using no in-house resources at all.

The results of the survey clearly show that data quality is one of the largest challenges that marketers are currently dealing with. Whether you are frustrated with incomplete or inaccurate sales lead data, tired of bad contact data causing customer service issues, or wasting money on marketing campaigns with results negatively impacted by poor contact data, understanding the quality of your data is the first step in identifying the true costs that poor data quality is having on your organization.

Service Objects is the industry leader in real-time contact validation services.

Service Objects has verified over 2.5 billion contact records for clients from various industries including retail, technology, government, communications, leisure, utilities, and finance. Since 2001, thousands of businesses and developers have used our APIs to validate transactions to reduce fraud, increase conversions, and enhance incoming leads, Web orders, and customer lists. READ MORE