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Last week in Politico, Dave Gold, founding partner of the mail firm Bouchard Gold Communications, wrote that over-reliance on data models since Obama’s 2008 campaign has contributed to the epic fails of the Democratic Party: loss of 63 seats and control of the House, loss of 11 seats and control of the Senate, loss of 13 governorships, loss of over 900 state legislative seats and control of 27 state legislative chambers.

“We Democrats have allowed microtargeting to become microthinking. Each cycle, we speak to fewer and fewer people and have less and less to say,” Gold writes.

While you can expect that a mail consultant would argue for a larger contact universe, Gold’s argument for storytelling and focus on emotion is compelling, and Gold’s piece is worth a close read (it was shared heavily among my political Facebook friends, so there’s some agreement here). Gold also backs up his points with results from the difficult-for-Democrats Harris County, Texas, where an independent expenditure he advised “helped Democrats win every contested race in Harris County for the first time in a generation, including the district attorney, sheriff and 30 judicial races.”

I tend to agree with Gold that microtargeting efforts can cause more harm than good if they lead to contacting smaller universes. Micro-messaging – telling different voters different stories, can take the benefits of data and use them to drive increased turnout.

When it comes to voter outreach efforts, it’s accurate and complete data that really makes a difference. When you can only robo dial landlines, you need complete landline coverage. When you can text cell phones with apps like Hustle, Relay and Handstack, you need more cell phone numbers. And when you’re using Facebook ads or email to reach voters, you need phone numbers and emails for accurate custom audience matching.

And despite advancements in campaign tech, accurate data isn’t the easiest to come by. That’s where Accurate Append, one of my longest-running partners from NationBuilder and The Adriel Hampton Group, comes in. They provide data append services for campaign vendors and directly to campaigns, and their email append and verify products improve both ad targeting and delivery rates. If big data is killing campaigns, perhaps better data can help save them.

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Guest post from Roger Buehler

The two things that I absolutely HATE to do more than anything else is landscaping and sales, and it’s all due to what was the worst job I ever had:  selling lawn aeration.

For those of you not up on their horticulture, lawn aeration involves taking a machine with a big steel drum on the front of it and rolling it over your lawn.  The drum is covered in short hollow tubes, which stick out like spines.  As the drum rolls over your lawn, the tubes press into the soil and pull out hundreds of little “plugs”, or as I call them, “goose poop” (since that’s what they look like), and leave your lawn filled with hundreds of little holes. By punching the holes in the lawn, oxygen is supposed to make it to the plant’s root system, and your lawn is supposed to get greener.

At one time or another, you’ve probably had someone like me knock on your door.  If you answered, I’d give you a spiel about how I and my co-workers would be in your neighborhood in a few day’s time, aerating your neighbor’s lawn, and since we were already here, we’d be willing to swing by and aerate your lawn at the fantastically low price of…(Insert made-up price here).

In truth, I and 5 other guys would squeeze into a Toyota extended-cab pickup belonging to the owner of the company, and he would drop us off at a random Bay Area neighborhood.  We would disperse, and spend the rest of the day going door to door haranguing all those unlucky enough to answer their doors with our sales pitch.  We would get any number of responses (I was threatened with an “ass-whoopin'” on more than one occasion), but a surprisingly large number of times (surprising to me anyway) we would get a “yes.”

At the end of the week, the owner paid us a percentage on the sales we made, and then he went to the customers’ houses with the aerator and punched holes in their lawns.  What he never shared with the customers was his “trade secret”; he secretly applied an industrial strength lawn fertilizer that would, as he called it, “make asphalt grow,” to pretty much guarantee a greener lawn in about a week.  Of course, without continually being “juiced,” the lush green lawns turned brown a few weeks later, and then he’d be back with a new crew, trying to sell the same customers on getting their lawns aerated yet again!

I kicked ass at that job (yes, it surprised even me), but I hated the job so much that it turned me off sales and yard work to this day.

The biggest problem was that we had no information regarding our potential customers.  We just knocked on door after door.  I would have to knock on anywhere between 2 and 25 doors before I even got to talk to someone.  

The job would have been so much easier with some key customer information: What hours is the homeowner at home? Do we have their work number and home number? How much money do they make? Do they take care of the lawn themselves or do they hire a gardener? How much money do they spend on lawn care annually?

Any of this information would have allowed us to just focus on the customers who were potentially interested in our product, and skip the houses with no one home, and who had their own gardener doing this work for them already.

So clearly, our marketing and sales process was inefficient, but I wonder, how many companies’ sales processes and marketing campaigns are just as inefficient, and consist of just emailing as many potential customers as possible, making sales where they can, while pissing off a whole lot more?

If you want to be successful in sales without alienating potential customers, you need accurate, timely, customer data. Luckily, lawn aerators of today across the country can rejoice in the fact that they have access to infinitely better data than I ever did.

Accurate Append provides companies with complete data append, phone append, mobile phone append, email append data and cell phone append.  They can also integrate data processing capabilities into your business processes, so you know that your data is always current.  Their team has more than 45 years’ data processing experience, so they’re uniquely qualified to provide their clients with the timely, accurate and complete contact data they need to profitably grow their customer base.

So, don’t just electronically knock on every door out there, call a data append company like Accurate Append, and see how they can help your business grow (even without special fertilizers).

Uncle Sam Calling

American consumers really hate robocalls. The FCC says automated calls are the number one source of their complaints.

However, that doesn’t change that it’s now legal for U.S. government agencies – including Congress – to use automated dialers to hit up your cell phone for official business. In fact, one of the groups that recently got a favorable ruling from the FCC on this issue provides tele-town hall services to Congress.

From Consumerist’s report on the robocall ruling:

“We emphasize that … a call placed by a third-party agent will be immune from TCPA liability only where the call was placed pursuant to authority that was ‘validly conferred’ by the federal government, and the third party complied with the government’s instructions and otherwise acted within the scope of his or her agency, in accord with federal common-law principles of agency,” reads the ruling.

That means that while survey contractors and town hall vendors can now broadly use cell phone numbers on behalf of the federal government without fear, they’re still off-limits for, say, political campaign robocalls.

Town halls and accurate government surveys depend on reaching Americans by phone – and more than half have abandoned their landlines for cell-only, according to CDC research on mobile phone trends released last year.

Robocalls to cell phones aren’t just annoying, they are often grossly inefficient at reaching the right party. New laws allow creditors to call people who own a number even if they’re not the right party, which protects the vendors but not you and I from unwanted calls. Unlike the Verizon directory for landline directory assistance, there’s no official source for ownership changes to cell phones. And the richest data source – consumer credit card application data – is off-limits to the federal government for town hall and survey purposes (while it is available for debt collection).

That leaves agencies and vendors still scrambling to assemble the best possible phone lists from data append specialists that rely on consumer opt-in information.

It’s been just a few months since the FCC opened cell numbers to increased access by robo dialing. How long before there’s a more reliable way to reach the right parties?

Whether you’re running a marketing campaign, or a political campaign, data integrity and completeness is essential. I work for, and buy product from, phone append vendor Accurate Append because they’ve been leaders in data quality for decades. Data quality isn’t just having access to many sources – it requires innovative approaches to merging that data and good judgement in what to keep and what to throw away.

Data quality is a big problem for political campaigns. Poor data quality mars polling, stops folks from voting, and results in multiple records for each one of use in different databases in different regions, states and on different companies’ servers. Here’s where the highest quality data comes in handy:

Get more of your mail delivered. While you can often trust Gmail addresses as valid, records from voter files change – and emails addresses don’t change in sync with physical addresses. Good data hygiene reduces email bounces and improves your sender reputation with ISPs.

Email matching for your tech program. Accurate email addresses are critical to building strong custom Facebook audiences, reducing advertising costs. For political campaigns, they also increase matches with services like VoterCircle, which you can use to enlist supporters in peer-to-peer canvassing.

Reach more supporters with accurate cell phone numbers. Open rates for texting are a magnitude higher than open rates for email. Instant lead validation on entry for all of your forms (possible with Accurate Append’s Gravity Forms OSDI WordPress plugin) makes sure you have the right numbers for texting, and line typing ensures you’re differentiating between contact methods for home, work and mobile numbers. You’ll appreciate accurate phones at every step of your operation – there’s nothing that discourages volunteers or lead gen staff faster than wrong numbers.

Save on your mailing costs: Mailings can run as high as $1 each – that means bad addresses can cost hundreds or thousands in wasted mailings, and a heck of a lot of waste. Consumer and postal mail updates mean more of your targeted mail reaches the bullseye.

To use Accurate Append efficiently, remember my tip to first remove the Gmail addresses – until some other email service eclipses the efficacy of Google’s service, those are going to be golden and don’t need much cleaning or updating. If you need phone numbers beyond the U.S., Accurate Append offers Canadian phone append. Another way to save is to narrow your target universe before sending over your file – don’t waste time or money with an unwieldy file. Remember to source complete data that allows you to reach your supporters on the most reliable channels – email, phone, doors. You can also narrow your outreach by adding donor histories and donor models to your contacts as a custom service from Accurate Append. And if you’re trying to register new voters, try their consumer file filtering to identify likely unregistered, eligible adults.

My growth services agency works with clients of all kinds, but our specialization is design and marketing for civic tech companies. My definition of “civic tech” is simple – technologies meant for the politics, government or nonprofit customer. I’ve helped companies expand into this market, and worked with folks who target this niche and it alone. My background in civic tech began as I worked inside the SF City Attorney’s Office and bean exploring ways that social media and other new communications and collaboration tools could forge new ties between government offices and an increasingly digitally connected public.

Today, one of my favorite clients is iConstituent, a DC-based software company that introduced the eNewsletter to Congress 15 years ago. iConstituent’s flagship product is robust constituent management software for managing incoming email (including form letters) and tracking issues through their lifetime. Can robust citizen engagement tools create a better government? We think so.

For much of my four years at NationBuilder, I worked on email deliverability – either directly monitoring the results of our customer email blasts, or working with the delivery director on thorny deliverability issues and strategies and documentation to help our customers get more out of our email product.

I always look at bulk email delivery as an art as well as a technical challenge. While nonprofits and political campaigns want to get their message to as many people as swiftly as possible, internet service providers (ISPs) are devoted to keeping their customers’ inboxes as clean and relevant as possible. This means they have teams of engineers working to keep unwanted bulk mail out. In order to successfully navigate the inboxes of supporters and voters, you need to send relevant, wanted messages that will be regularly opened. And you’ve also got to avoid technical problems that signal to ISPs that your emails might be spam. When emailing, it’s not what’s legal (such as sending emails to a voter file list), it’s what the ISPs think of your e-blasts that ultimately matters.

One of the biggest things you can do to improve e-blast results is regularly eliminate bad and bouncing addresses from your sends. Thankfully, NationBuilder does much of this for you in an automated fashion. And while I was with the company, I developed a relationship with Accurate Append, a firm that specializes in verifying emails before you send to them. You can do this in two ways – in real time as emails are submitted on web forms – or in bulk with any list you haven’t been sending to regularly. It’s estimated that you can lose as much as 2% of your list each month due to changes in folks’ email addresses. That means if you’re running for office and using a list of personal contacts whom you don’t routinely email, 20-50% of your list may be bad. You can “clean” your list simply by running it through an inexpensive process with Accurate Append, and make sure you stay on the ISPs good side by sending to highly valid addresses where your messages will be opened, read and responded to.

If you’d like to read more email deliverability tips, NationBuilder has a good guide to email best practices. For campaigns and other outreach efforts, Accurate Append also provides email append and phone append products. I recently wrote up a guide to using appends to generate laser-targeted Facebook advertising audiences.

If you’d like to learn more about how Accurate Append can help with your data challenges, just give them a call or fill out a web form.

Guest post from Candice Variano-Comisi 

Data management is my bread and butter. I love collecting data, putting it together, analyzing it, and using it to reach target audiences. But, as any person who manages data knows, you cannot reach your leads unless you have accurate contact data on which to rely. You need it now and you need it to be correct. I’ve certainly been buried in a pile of proverbial spreadsheets before. It seems Accurate Append may just be a lifesaver.

Responsive, affordable, and reliable
Data append specialist Accurate Append is a trusted source for data managers across professional industries. Since 1999, Accurate Append has provided thousands of clients with reliable and affordable data append services. They show they care about their clients by providing customized help and speedy turnaround.

Email appending
Accurate Append’s email append service adds email addresses to your contact lists. Accurate Append will process, match and append email addresses within just a few minutes.

Phone appending
The phone append feature adds and edits landline or mobile phone numbers to your voter, business and consumer lists. In just a matter of minutes, you’ve got your updated list and you’re good to go.

Lead validation
You no longer need to waste your time hunting false leads. Accurate Append’s lead validation function validates all of your lead’s contact information.

NationBuilder App Integration
Customers using or interested in using NationBuilder are in for a real treat: Accurate Append is NationBuilder’s voter data enhancement partner. That means their services are integrated and will add to the type of information you’re able to collect, such as demographic information. You can use a single Accurate Append account to manage as many NationBuilder nations you have, saving you time and money.

Be sure to follow Accurate Append on Twitter to get the latest news on this great service.