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Data Collection

Preparing data for marketing purposes is the critical first step in the direct marketing process and following these five guidelines will greatly enhance data value:

  • Careful data entry is essential.  Develop companywide data entry rules and monitor adherence.
  • Evaluate your data from a marketing perspective.  Is the information you’re gathering useful for highly-targeted marketing?  What other information could be collected to deepen your customer knowledge?  What is being learned and documented that can become instrumental in building strong customer relationships?
  • Is the data kept in a form that is useful for personalization?  Is the name information separated, so a letter can be either formally or informally addressed?  This can be accomplished by using independent fields for prefix, first name, middle name, last name and suffix.  Another approach is to include different fields for formal and informal salutation and also formal and informal mailing name.  This method allows decisions to be made at data entry for unusual names.  What about couples?  Is there a way to address the couple together and also individually?
  • Keep data accurate and complete as possible.  Well-executed personalization creates appeal, but sloppy personalization is irritating and detracts from it.
  • Keep the ZIP Code in its own field.  This enables the mailer to take advantage of lower presorted postage rates.  Also, if a list includes foreign addresses, your database needs a country field so foreign addresses can be sorted for mailing.


Two key considerations when designing your piece:

  • It helps to have the data for the campaign when materials are being designed.  The designer can account for and create space to accommodate varying amounts of data.  If a person’s name is to be included in the headline, knowing the average length of names, as well as the longest and shortest, helps when choosing typefaces and font sizes.  A piece can be set up to use a larger font for short names and a smaller font for long names, or two headline versions to be used in accordance with name length.
  • What information will vary in each piece?  Of course, name and address information always vary.  Considering the purpose of your piece, what else will help you communicate more effectively with recipients?  Different product photos for different customers based on the products they have purchased from you?  More attractive service offers for car owners who live far from a dealer than those nearby?  Varying feature and benefit copy according to what you know about customer preferences, needs and past purchases?  Or, for non-profits, what can you do to recognize your largest donors as the vital supporters they are?

File Preparation

Five considerations when preparing your file:

  • Data files may be provided in a variety of formats.  Excel is the most common, but any format that can be exported to database software is fine.
  • Rather than sending your entire database, export only the data needed for a particular campaign.
  • Documents can be created in any software that allows export as an EPS file.  The most popular programs are QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign.  Sample variable information should be included in the document and then highlighted on an accompanying PDF or laser print.  Please send native application files (rather than exported EPS files).
  • Be sure to include all linked supporting files with your document, including fonts, logos and images.  We prefer images as 300 dpi EPS or TIFF files.  Use maximum quality JPEG compression for EPS files and LZW compression for TIFF files.
  • Our preferred format for exported data is tab-delimited.  Usually the data export will have a header on the file that indicates field names and the order in which they appear.  Please add such a header to your file if one is not automatically included.  Tab-delimited text files can be edited in any word processor.  Make sure that all fields necessary to produce the printed piece are in the file and provide a printed list of those fields.  We also accept data in DBF, Excel, FileMaker Pro and Microsoft Access formats.  If you are planning to use variable images, we will need to know which image is to be used with which record.  One approach is to include the exact file name of the image as a field in the appropriate database record.  Another is to set up rules for which image is to be used – such as everyone on the list who has children receives a photo of a family climbing into a van, while seniors receive a photo of a retired couple happily riding in their luxury car.

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