First impressions matter: good data hygiene is key for direct mail, good print quality too

Yesterday I got a direct mail piece from a travel agency. Or to be more correct: I got TWO direct mail pieces… Which doesn’t make a good impression. Why are they wasting my money – eventually I pay for these promotions, with my bookings – on two cards???

As you can see on the picture above, one card was addressed to Eddy Hagen, the other was to HAGEN EDDY, with also the complete address in all capitals. I prefer the first, but I don’t mind the second. But I do mind that I get them both. This does not make a professional impression. This makes a lousy impression, the exact opposite of what a direct mail piece wants to achieve. Period.

Yes, I know that it does take some structure and discipline to maintain a good database, in a correct and consistent way (I have designed and maintained membership databases a few times in the past). But it is necessary. Show this example to the people that are doing data input, show them how important their work is! And what a bad impression it makes for the whole company if they don’t do their work accurately.

The direct mail also had another issue: print quality. Or better: the lack of a protective coating. I guess they didn’t want a coating, or something similar, from a cost perspective. Yes, this is an extra cost. But mailing equipment isn’t always that nice to print… It can cause defects, as shown in the picture below.

Toner was rubbed off, probably by the mailing equipment or during sorting by the postal services (FYI: Belgian postal service have started a project to upgrade their sorting equipment two years ago, the new machines sort 24.000 pieces per hour!).


The toner that was rubbed off, was deposited on the next mailing piece… Which makes a really dirty impression.


Why does this matter?
When you are sending out a direct mail piece, you want to make a good impression. And then everything matters, including good data hygiene, including that extra cost of a protective finish. If you don’t care about that, you’ll make a bad impression, you’ll show that you don’t care about me, your customer. And that matters a lot…


UPDATE 11/01/2017: Today I once again received a direct mail promotional piece that was damaged, it had no protective layer. Saving on those protective layers will damage the printed piece. And your brand image.

Once again a damaged direct mail piece…


UPDATE 07/02/2017: This morning I received another nice example of bad data hygiene. It’s a promo piece from a large office supplies retailer. And it is addressed to ‘Abteiling Einkauf’, which is German for ‘purchasing department’. But my native language is Dutch, not German… German is an official language in Belgium (the country where I live), but it’s only used in a tiny part of Belgium, near the German border. Not in my town.

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About Eddy Hagen 133 Articles
The printing industry has changed significantly over the last few decades. And that change isn't over yet. Eddy Hagen has been observing all these changes from a front row seat, since 1988. He has seen and debunked hypes that still don't deliver. He has seen and promoted small evolutions that had a big impact. He has connected the dots to get a better view. He is an independent mind who might be able to give you unique insights in the world of print and innovation.


  1. We send a lot of direct mail and get daily calls on the damage issue. We also protect all our our postcards with UV coating. Regardless of whether you UV coat or film laminate, you can’t entirely get rid of this problem. We’ve investigated this problem and have some conclusions. Generally this is a postal sorting machine maintenance issue. What happens is that when there is a jam or the machine is idle there are rollers that spin in each sort pocket and those rollers slowly wear away at the mailed pieces. Over time ink is built up on the rollers and then that ink is higher than the rubber roller and begins to cut in and burn the pieces and the problem gets worse. The only way to fix this is they have to either replace the roller if it is too worn, or they need to clean the roller carefully to remove the ink/dirt build up and then no damage occurs. We frequently call the USPS when we see a particular area that is causing problems. I don’t know if anything happens with those calls or not, but ultimately it is coming from the large BMEU centers since most of the small local postal offices do not have sorting equipment so if you are doing a mixed sort it will go through more sorting steps and likely get more damage versus a 5 digit sort that may only be sorted once. Unfortunately it seems to be a problem in our industry that requires support from the USPS but our experience has been it is hard to actually talk to anybody that can do anything. While they do a great job, there is a mountain of bureaucracy. Here is a video we did on it.

    • Thanks for your reply Chris! Great info! And great job.
      And yes, it will never be possible to avoid all possible damages. But print buyers do need to be aware that unprotected mail might (or will) be damaged by postal sorting machines. That’s why I decided to publish these examples, so that print service providers can show them to customers to explain why that ‘expensive’ coating is a necessity.
      Here in Belgium we saw a rise in complaints the moment postal services started installing new sorting equipment, which is much faster (24.000 pieces/hour) and maybe applies a bit more pressure to be that fast.
      Again, thanks for your great comment!

  2. Dag Eddy, de beschadigingen door de sorteermachines zijn inderdaad al enkele jaren een issue. Voornamelijk bij small format. Het is zelfs zover gekomen dat bpost een speciaal postaal product heeft “uitgevonden” om de beschadigingen bij postkaarten te voorkomen. Indien je een postkaartmailing als een large format sorteert en afgeeft, zetten ze het op de large format machines en krijg je een onbeschadigde mailing aan het tarief van een small. Dus met een relatief kleine inspanning een optimaal resultaat. Wel jammer uiteraard dat dit voor andere small format zendingen niet mogelijk is. Groeten, Filip

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