How Bad Mailing Lists Can Hurt Your Business

Overflowing mail 150x150 How Bad Mailing Lists Can Hurt Your Business

The mailbox of one elderly woman is overflowing with solicitations. She’s the 80-year-old mother of a former Spokane City Councilman. This fall, she received an enormous upsurge in business mail addressed to her husband. The problem? He passed away over a decade ago, and their business has been closed for almost 15 years. There isn’t even a business record at the Secretary of State’s office anymore.

Somebody’s gotten ahold of a bad mailing list. And they’re not alone. Let’s look at a few more examples of how injudicious marketing can hurt–rather than help–your business. 

A man in Medway, England, complained on his blog about receiving a four-inch-box containing a single piece of paper with a website address. Not only was he offended by the waste, he had to drive to the “depot” to pick it up, as it wouldn’t fit through the letterbox.

A blog by Jean Gianfagna at Smart Marketing Strategy cites the time her marketing agency “got five copies of this promotion and all were addressed to us at our old office suite number, though we moved three years ago. Even worse, only two were addressed to individuals who still work here…one of these former staff members got the mailing in her maiden name and she’s been married for 10 years.” Ironically, the business-to-business mail came from the U.S. Post Office.

At the Better Business Bureau, we have seen firsthand the furor caused when a teen exchange program allegedly bought mailing lists containing the names of dead students. Parents and grandparents were hurt and even outraged to receive solicitations in these students’ names, suggesting they’d been specially chosen for their academic ability.

Even email data can be dirty. “Buying Email Lists: The Ugly Truth” cautions business owners against “the damage that purchased email lists do to your email deliverability and your reputation as someone doing business online.” For example, one company which unknowingly purchased bad data emailed 100,000 potential leads, only to have 85,000 of them bounce, clogging up the server and causing an I.T. nightmare. 

Bad Mailing Lists: What You Can Do

Consumers: Call the companies. “It’s annoying to Mom,” says former Councilman Dean Lynch. “But what I hate about it is the waste. It’s a difficult economy for legitimate businesses. This doesn’t help.” Lynch has been calling the multitude of companies arriving daily in his mother’s mailbox to get the junk mail stopped. The offenders range from gigantic Internet, banking, and phone service providers to tiny local businesses in the Tri-Cities area. 

“The local companies have been very responsive and I appreciate it,” Lynch says, adding that he doesn’t get the same feeling of concern from the multi-glomerates.

Businesses:  If you’re considering hiring a company, are they a BBB Accredited Business, which has signed and agreed to follow our ethical standards? Do they adhere to the Direct Marketing Associations Guidelines for Ethical Business Practices? Steve Sellwood, a U.K. provider of direct mailing lists, has these additional questions to ask:  

  • How closely do the names on the list match your company’s target market?
  • When was this list built? If it’s new, has it been proven yet? If it’s older, know that it will require data cleansing before you buy it.
  • Has the list been cleaned on suppression files like the National Do Not Call Registry, the DMA Mailing Preference Service, and/or any bereavement or gone-away registers?

As my own mother used to say, “A word to the wise is sufficient.” Don’t alienate your customers and waste your money on bad mailing lists.

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About Holly Doering

Holly Doering has worked for the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho, and Montana for half a decade. Her areas of expertise include the CORE Values Program (Character, Optimism, Respect, Ethics) for Teens and Charity Review as well as writing and editing. Prior to that, she has written for two newspapers, a local magazine, and taught English at the community college. She is the proud author of a short story in ZYZZYVA literary magazine and has had good luck publishing lots of poetry. Each year she rolls up her sleeves and wades into the autumn Nanowrimo writing madness and has several unfinished novels to her credit.