The coronavirus has forced all of us to stay home, to get what we need through delivery to our doorsteps.
To that end, said Bud Walker, chief strategy officer at data verification firm Melissa Data, firms need the cleanest, most up-to-date and accurate information possible as they make the pivot toward eCommerce and improving sales and marketing efforts.
Amid the pandemic, Walker said, “for us, it’s been a wild ride.” As hundreds of millions of consumers stay sheltered in place, there’s been an increasing need for Melissa’s core offerings, tied to address verification and data matching, that ensure people reside where they say they do.
Walker noted that prior to the pandemic, ascertaining that address information was, at its most basic level, standardized and deliverable was among the firm’s most in-demand capabilities.
Now, he said, verification stands as a “preliminary step — and it’s a basic building block of trust. It addresses the basic requirements of ‘how do we get this product to the right place, to the right hospital, to the right people?’”
Merchants need to corroborate the consumer information that is passed to them from eCommerce platforms like Alibaba — and the platforms, conversely, need to verify merchant details.
In the latter case, Walker said, Melissa can verify that businesses are solvent, are incorporated and operate in a specific location, and can even verify their sales volume. Among recent signups to the firm’s address verification service is the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which needs to track information tied to those grappling most directly with the coronavirus.
Dealing With Data Decay
Any attempt at verification, at assembling the building blocks of trust, requires timely and accurate data.
As Walker told PYMNTS, there remains the ever-present challenge of “data decay,” where information becomes stale, sometimes quickly.
That’s especially true with address verification, where (before the coronavirus) as many as 33 million people in the U.S. move to new dwellings each year.
Also part of the equation are life changes, such as death, divorce, new household formation, new jobs and, of course, having kids.
“In data repositories, specifically the most volatile data is customer data, client data, patient data. Because there are so many things that happen to people,” noted Walker.
Thus, the patient data that a medical insurance company has in hand when reaching out to its enrolled base may not be up-to-date.
The firm that performs a change of address check, or verifies that phone numbers and email addresses are still current, is in effect performing a “sanity check” on its last-mile efforts to deliver goods or reach out with new marketing campaigns.
A systematic approach of checking names, addresses, phones and email addresses — and constructing a composite image of an individual or family — can save time and money.
Walker stated that there’s a difference between “passive” rules-based checking of data and “active” checks that have been corroborated by multiple authorities, like the telephone company, the postal address system and various county government systems.
“All these data sets that we bring in use multi-source reference data that’s curated and meant to be accurate in the real world to the best of the researcher’s ability,” he said. “So when that data is examined during an ‘active’ check, you’re much more likely to trust it.”
As Walker told PYMNTS, this progression of steps is necessary to target the right age groups and appropriate candidates for a particular initiative.
Most recently, he said, government agencies, spanning municipal and county agencies, have sought to build their own “clean” data sets. These agencies may have a lot of data at their disposal, but they might not have the right combinations or depth of data needed to contact people in a shelter-in-place world.
On the other side of the pandemic, noted Walker, sectors that have been hard-hit by the coronavirus, such as hospitality and travel, will need to pivot and reframe their various messages to re-capture business. That makes data more important than ever before.
“My sense is that many of these companies that weren’t doing a lot of e-marketing, and were relying on word of mouth or television ads, are now switching to more dynamic messaging,” he said. That trend will continue once the economic headwinds abate a bit.
A Global Network
Asked whether we might be headed toward a global network of data and ID verification activity, Walker acknowledged the complex nuances of creating that network (across far-flung databases and languages), but said we’re headed in that direction.
That’s due in part to the fact that so much consumer data has been compromised, where the Dark Web has made selling that data a gold mine.
Walker pointed to digital documentation, where passports or drivers’ licenses can be scanned with mobile apps and verified through optical character recognition.
“I do see that becoming much more the norm in the future,” he told PYMNTS. “People will become more comfortable with that type of process.”