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Election campaign highlights the importance of clean data

Direct mail is playing a crucial and high-profile role for the competing politicians, so ensuring that it gets to the right people is paramount, writes Sophie Sail, head of product management for Experian's marketing services division.

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The build-up to the 2005 election has seen sophisticated US-style
voter targeting by the major political parties in the knowledge that the key to election victory lies in the hands of a small proportion of swing voters in certain marginal constituencies. What is of interest is that all three parties have turned to direct mail as their channel of choice to reach out to these voters.

Figures released by Thomson Intermedia indicate that the Conservative Party has spent £500,000 on 800,000 pieces of direct mail in two months -- just £90,000 less than on outdoor display advertising. The growth in the use of direct mail has been fuelled by the recognition that this channel offers perhaps the most cost-effective and focused way to target thousands of swing voters scattered across the country. 

However, the volume of direct mail and the amount of precision needed to ensure that these high-profile campaigns are a success requires data integrity.

The main parties have been directing a number of their key policy announcements to young families. This sector of the population also happens to be the most active on the property ladder in a landscape where 12.2% of Britons move house every year. For each communication to hit a continually moving voter target, the case for routine data cleansing prior to each campaign is clear.

In this particular instance, the data used to target young families is likely to decay at a particularly high rate. Taking the Conservatives as an example, were data cleansing not to be used prior to rolling out its direct marketing campaigns, they could stand to waste £60,000 in direct mail being inadvertently sent to people that have moved house. 

Furthermore, research conducted by Experian highlighted that 58% of consumers that regularly receive mail addressed to a previous occupant view the company sending it as "impersonal and clearly out of touch with my personal circumstances". In under a week, the polling stations open and this kind of reaction from a voter to a party's poorly targeted mailshot is the last thing needed when every vote counts.

The latest industry figures from Experian Intact, the data cleansing service of choice for two of the three major political parties, indicate that 22% more direct marketing campaigns in the UK used goneaway suppression to identify and suppress home movers from receiving direct mail in the 2004/05 financial year than in the previous year.  

Data cleansing is simple, cost-effective and protects the mailer against the financial, regulatory and brand-image risks posed by poor data quality. In our view, there is no reason not to do it and the increase in adoption rates we have seen in the last year strongly suggests that the industry's thinking what we're thinking.

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