Launching a political marketing campaign is a lot like launching a product marketing campaign. Just as a product marketer needs to understand and identify their best customer, a campaign professional needs to do the same for their “best constituent.”

Database marketing can help narrow your focus and can be a tremendous vehicle to deliver compelling and motivational messaging. But you better be 100 percent certain that your data is accurate and deliverable. In a nutshell, you need a database capable of reaching those “best constituents” who will help get you elected.

If you haven’t put some basic data hygiene practices into place for your lists, here’s a primer on some basic concepts that will help ensure the health of your database:

CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System)

When you CASS certify the addresses in your database, all you are doing is certifying that the physical address exists. If you are doing a blanket mailing of residents—with no names associated with the communication—then this service will at least weed out the bad addresses to minimize returns. One thing it won’t do, however, is allow you to determine whether an individual resides at that location.

NCOA (National Change of Address)

Most people involved in any type of direct mail campaign understand that NCOA is a necessary data hygiene practice. However, the problems come into play because many people do not do an NCOA “scrub” often enough.  At a minimum you should be doing a complete NCOA update every three months, with a monthly update really being your ultimate goal. I know that this service can get costly, but if you are having large quantities of mail coming back to you, the opportunity to get your communication read could have an even greater cost.

PCOA (Progressive Change of Address)

Let’s chat a bit about the people you could miss with a basic NCOA cleanse. Since many people are receiving their bills electronically they are avoiding foreclosure or creditors by going under the radar so to speak. Also, many people simply don’t bother to submit an NCOA to the post office, which means you could end up missing a lot with just a traditional NCOA . Progressive change of address matches up credit card data, utility turn ons and other data to associate a person with an address. This allows the opportunity to update your information and stay in contact with people who might otherwise become undeliverable records on your database.

Email Deliverability /Email Appends

You can “append” a postal list to gain associated email addresses and vice versa. However, when it comes to deliverability you need to remember that the average person has approximately four email addresses. So if you’re appending a postal list to gain emails—which one do you select?

It’s imperative that you understand what’s technically possible within the scope of your chosen append provider.  How do they determine the most active address? If your append yields a large number of dormant or closed email accounts, you’ll have a high bounce/undeliverable rate, which bodes poorly for your spam rankings. It will also net you a lower than expected result.

Be certain that your provider engages in all CAN-Spam compliant policies such as doing a “permission pass” email. This serves two purposes. It weeds out undeliverable emails and it also helps you eliminate any recipients who will not want your communication messaging—and who could potentially hit that spam button.

Data Enhancements/Data Overlays

Once you’ve got a postal and email database that you know (to the best of your abilities) is clean and deliverable, what’s next? Your database lets you know that there is a person, an address and possibly an email that are all valid, but that’s really all you know about that particular constituent. Political marketing, however, is all about reaching out to people on issues they can relate to and act upon. So if all you know is their name and a street address, then everything else about them becomes a guess. 

Today’s data technologies have opened up new possibilities and greater opportunities for pinpointed, niche-level targeting to very specific audiences. Gone are the days of basing marketing solely on a modeled, hopeful mix. Now, data is all about solid action statistics and quantifiable habits. At the very basic level a data overlay can provide you with demographics like age and gender. You can also find out if someone is a parent, owns a home, owns a car, is a gun owner and what their lifestyle and interests may be. Taking it to the next level, you can also match purchase history to get an even better idea of their interests as they relate to actionable habits.

Mobile Marketing

One of the topics I have purposefully omitted in this overview is data hygiene as it relates to mobile sms marketing.  There are so many factors that need to be taken into consideration when it comes to successful mobile campaigns that my advice would be to partner up with a reputable and very experienced provider. When you embark on a mobile marketing project, you need to consider how the message will be broadcast, the provider, the opt-in process, the actual type of phone and more. While there’s a lot that can go right with a mobile campaign, there’s also a lot that can go wrong. At the very least, be certain that your sms database constantly contains updated and recent provider information so that you can segment out the list for deployment.

Where and How?

Now that you know you need it, how do you make it happen when it comes to data hygiene and overlays? Basic CASS certification software is easy to obtain and can be installed for use in just about any CRM (Customer Relationship Marketing) software.

When it comes to NCOA and PCOA, this is best left to the pros. Be certain the provider you use actually does the “scrub” on premises and isn’t turning around to then send your file out to a third party. When time is of the essence, you don’t want to be waiting weeks for a data turnaround each time you need to clean the file.

This is also true of any provider you utilize for actual data. Be sure they are updating the file at their location so that they can provide you with accurate data—not data that was cleaned months ago.

It’s the same with data overlays and data appends. Be certain that the provider you team up with can actually get you accurate information on the file. While nothing is fool proof, you don’t want to be sending a mailing about Social Security to a 20-year-old recipient.

The bottom line is that the more you can find out about your targets, the better job you can do of sending messaging that will not only be of interest, but will be truly rousing. Having a database that’s ready for a momentary response to a current development, news story or issue will put you in a position to portray yourself as being on top of anything that comes your way.

Carol Lustig is CMO of Media One, a database and direct marketing firm with a specialization in U.S. registered voter data, constituent data, data hygiene, and data enhancements. Contact her at