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10 things you will only recognise if you clean marketing data

Keeping data clean can be a dirty business. How many of these situations do you recognise? Marketing data is a strange model of the real world, in all its messy chaos. This makes it harder for anyone charged with cleaning data! If you want to bring order to your marketing data, remind yourself of these common situations.

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1. You feel you’re marketing to a horde of zombies.

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Those cold suspects who never click? It's because they left their employer years ago. But their email inboxes remain active, mindlessly sucking in your optimistic outbounds and slashing your response rates.

2. Your single version of the truth is multiple-versions-of-a-lie.

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Marketing cleaned the data on a spreadsheet peeled off the Contact Database. Then your agency used that spreadsheet and reformatted it.

3. You’re under attack from the clones.

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A list might contain two or three John Smiths, but not thirty Zachariah Rossarians. Records with identical Firstname and Lastname are the first place to look if you've ever merged lists.

4. You’re being crowded out by the Nearly Men.

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Mr Alex Handel. Mr Alexander Handle. Ms Alex Handley. Which variations on a theme are real people and which are typos bloating your database? (Hint: typos happen in patterns and there's software that can help.)

5. You keep seeing old friends for the first time.

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The record says it's a fresh lead. But you know Bob Bloggs and your company go back years. If a long term client gets duped in error, you risk the whole customer relationship.

6. Huge positives send you into shock.

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A spike on a graph has the Sales Department jubilant. Unfortunately, the metric that caused it was hand-entered and the hand was a bit shaky. (Again, software can help. More than two standard deviations from the mean suggests a value is probably rogue.)

7. Your intern dragged-and-dropped a tad enthusiastically.

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An intern took "data cleaning" to mean "delete everyone who hasn't responded." Remember, a cold contact is still useful data: it tells you who not to call. Null them, suppress them, or flag them but don't delete them.

8. You notice contacts with dubious backgrounds.

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In a database full of Widgets Corps and Gadgets Ltds, there's a Pink Unicorn Dollhouses Inc. Perhaps the data was bought, not built? Every list is salted with the list owner's friends and family, so they know when it's being used. Save your Sales a prospecting call.

9. The conversation’s a bit freeform.

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Too many departments have access to the database and everyone's emailing en masse. This will send unsubscribe rates sky-high as recipients shut the conversation down.

10. Your boss says data cleaning is everyone’s job!

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Which means it's nobody's job, even when there's a billion of you! So data never gets cleaned on a proper schedule. With employee turnover around 30%, that means your list is decaying at 2% a month, even if none of the above ever happens.

So we're agreed: cleaning data can be a thankless task. Amazingly, there are some people out there who actually enjoy it. (Or at least enjoy applying their smarts to the problem.) Before you seek professional help, remember these pointers:

- Half the battle is maintaining a single database, in a single place

- Treat your database as a living organism that needs feeding, not a static list

- Using metadata properly can fully describe each Contact record, increasing its value

Data, schmata! Check out the Modern Marketing Essentials Guide to Data Management

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