Spruce Up Your Holiday Mailings

Oct 16, 2006 9:02 PM  By

The large volume of mail processed by the U.S. Postal Service between Thanksgiving and Christmas can provide challenges to both catalogers and mail carriers. In anticipation of the holiday rush, you should allow ample time to employ sophisticated list cleansing strategies so that you can be sure your mailings reach all of your customers and prospects.

Here are 10 ways to refresh your holiday lists to make sure your mailings are delivered correctly and in a timely manner to help you reach desirable results. Each of these steps will help improve deliverability and thus save you postage and printing costs while increasing response rates and your bottom line.

1. Use NCOALink.
The NCOALink database provides information on more than 160 million address changes that are filed directly with the USPS. The average lift in response by mailing to the new addresses is more than 400% compared with mailing to the old addresses. Catalogers can see up to a 1% match rate for each month since NCOALink was last employed.

2. Identify name and address duplicates.
Duplicates can be the largest waste of advertising resources for a cataloger. The good news is that sophisticated service providers can save you a lot of money by reducing if not eliminating duplicates in the mail. Some strategies include using enhanced software or service providers that identify special-situation duplicates, such as the female married/maiden name duplicate.

3. Use customer data integration (CDI) linkage to identify more duplicates.
CDI is a data management process in which prospects and customers are linked through the use of a historical repository that ties records together even if they don’t have the same address, thus identifying more duplicates. For example, you may have a Jon Smith in Dallas and a Jon Smith in Houston. CDI linkage can determine if they are the same person and, if so, which is the current address.

4. Use special suppress files.
Among special suppress files that can be used to identify undesirable mailings are deceased suppress files, prison suppress files, and old address suppress files.

5. Code more records by using multiple zip + 4 engines.
To meet USPS automated sorting standards and achieve maximum postage discounts, mailing addresses must be appended with zip + 4 and carrier route codes. Accurate zip + 4 coding enables you to reduce undeliverable mail, lower postage expenses, increase response, and improve your overall mail delivery. By using multiple zip + 4 engines, you can add the correct codes to an additional 0.5%-1% of input records.

6. Use supplemental processes to zip + 4 code more records.
Some service providers use of proprietary processes to add zip + 4 codes to records that could never be coded by the standard zip + 4 engines—for instance, by adding a street numeric to an address with no street number.

7. Use supplemental processes to correct records with missing or invalid secondary numbers.

Using proprietary processes from some service providers to append missing secondary information such as apartment numbers is well worth the investment before your holiday mailings. Tests have determined that, on average, 25%-40% of the records destined for a high-rise building without an apartment number or with an invalid apartment number can be repaired, improving delivery and thus response.

8. Consider proprietary change-of-address (COA) systems.
It has been estimated that 35% of the people who move each year do not file an official change of address with the USPS. These same individuals may, however, notify their local utilities, their bank, or their favorite publications and direct mail companies of the change. Proprietary databases can give you access to millions of address changes reported by sources other than USPS.

9. Use DSF2 for address verification.
The USPS-licensed DSF2 file can be extremely valuable in determining your file’s actual makeup. By matching your records to the DSF2 database, which contains more than 140 million addresses, you can verify that each of your addresses represents an actual delivery point. If your input address is 8220 Lake Street N, for instance, a
zip + 4 engine, which uses ranges, will put the appropriate code on this address if 8200 through 8298 Lake Street N is a valid range for this street–therefore suggesting that the input address is a good address because it falls within the ZIP + 4 range for this address. DSF2 matching, however, will reference the input address to individual addresses on the file–8218 Lake Street N, 8222 Lake Street N, 8228 Lake Street N, and so forth–and if it does not match an individual address, the output would indicate that 8220 is not a valid delivery point. DSF2 is important because a significant percentage of the records that don’t match to DSF2 do not get delivered.

10. Consider using LACSLink for conversion of addresses.
With this, another USPS-licensed product, you can convert rural-style addresses on your files to street-style addresses, thereby correcting delivery points that are altered, for example, when local government renames or renumbers streets. This is another system to use for your holiday mailings to improve deliverability. Records on the LACSLink database are considered a conversion, not a move, and therefore the information is not on the NCOALink database.

As you continue to invest significant time and money in planning and producing your holiday marketing campaigns, be sure to consider and incorporate, when possible, these list processing techniques. A little bit of list cleansing will result in not only on-time and cost-effective mailings but also a happier holiday for you and your customers.

Mike Yapuncich is the vice president of Solutions Support for Experian, a global information solutions company and a nonexclusive full-service provider licensee of the U.S. Postal Service. Yapuncich may be contacted at mike.yapuncich@experian.com.