Lots of organizations keep their list of members
or customers in a spreadsheet program. It's an
easy way to keep track of names, addresses, renewal
information, or the date of last contact. If
you've been collecting this type of information, you
can reuse it for database marketing such as mass
mailings to your customers. And it's not as hard as
you might think to get that data out of the
spreadsheet and into your marketing piece. The trick is to
use the mail merge features built into Microsoft Word.
In many cases, you'll want to use addresses in
a merge, but the data in the spreadsheet may include other information related to each address
as well. For example, in a spreadsheet keeping
track of membership, you may be tracking
membership payments as well. Word simply looks at the
column headings in your spreadsheet and inserts
the data into fields in the document that have
names that correspond to the headings.
1 Use Word's Mail Merge Helper
To begin the merge in Word, start by choosing Tools|Mail Merge. In the first step
of the Mail Merge Helper, you select the type of merge. Choose from form letters, envelopes,
labels and catalog. The first three are fairly
self-explanatory, but information on the last is scarce.
Basically, a catalog merge creates a list of your
information, with one item directly following the previous item.
2 Select the data source
Next you specify what file contains
the data you want to put into your document. Word lets you create a data source (a Word table in
a Word document) or select an existing file, using Open Data Source. Note that the default file
type is a Word document. To link to a spreadsheet, you must
select the matching entry from the File Type list at the
bottom. Also be sure to activate Select Method
3 Link to data
Word can link to data in a number of different ways. Choose the method Word uses to
link up to the data source in the Confirm Data
Source dialog box. The default method that's the basis
of Word's mail merge technology, DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange), is almost ten years
oldthat's ancient in computer terms! DDE is
relatively slow, and when used with Mail Merge, it
opens the Excel application.
ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) isn't bad, although it's also on its way out.
With ODBC, you can only link to data in the first worksheet in an Excel workbook, however.
Most often, the worksheet converter gives the best results; it's
faster than DDE, and you can select any worksheet.
4 Edit the main merge document
Once you've chosen a method, you need to edit the main merge document. Type the
letter just as if you were addressing it to a singe
person. But in every place where personal
information would appear, you insert a merge field
instead. Look for the Insert Merge Field button on
the special toolbar. Select the field that contains
the information from the list, and it is inserted
5 Display the contents of each record
Of course, just seeing the field names
isn't very meaningful (remember
correspond to the column headings in your spreadsheet). Sometimes it's more useful to see
the actual data. Click the ABC button to view the data. The set of buttons to the right of ABC
let you view all the records in the data source one
by one. You can jump to any record by typing its number in the box and pressing Enter.
6 Set records by setting criteria
You may not want to merge to all records in a data source, but only to ones that meet certain
criteria. In this case, click the Merge button, then
click Query Options. The next dialog box lets you
specify criteria. For example, suppose you only want to
send the letter to people who have not yet paid this
year's dues. Select the membership dues field (M2000)
and then the comparison "Is blank" to pick up
only records where no entry exists in the column.
The last step is to execute the merge. A form letter merge results in a separate letter for
each record included from the data source. You can
send the merge either directly to the printer or to a
new document. If the appropriate software is
installed, you also can send the merge to a fax or e-mail
application. Select a destination from the dialog box
accessed via the Merge button. I rarely print a
merge directly; usually, I send it to a new document first
to make sure the results are what I expect. If I need
to, I can also make a change here and there for an
individual or two. The new document, containing a
letter for each person in the data source, can be
saved and/or sent to the printer.