How to Handle Katrina Zip Suppressions

It’s been almost three years since Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, and in recent months the USPS announced that mail delivery to Katrina-affected zip codes would return to normal.

All told, an estimated 400,000 people—or 161,000 households—will now be able to receive mail delivery again. But are these customers ready to return to normal purchasing habits? Are they even living there anymore? And if they are, will they buy more—or less?

Before you let the suppression lift, create an action plan on how to handle your Louisiana house file records. Here are four steps to consider:

1. Look at the total universe of names going into the specific zip codes listed on the suppression. If you have a significant portion of your circulation going to these areas, review their purchasing pattern before and after the Aug. 29, 2005 hurricane. Have the purchasing patterns changed?

2. Rekey Katrina zips in your next merge. Just as you may rekey non-zip+4s, rekey buyer and requestor records in the Katrina zip codes so you can watch their performance and response rates.

3. Review your catalog requestor rate in these areas. You may find that the suppression has led to a higher catalog request rate, thus communicating a higher demand for your specific product offering.

4. Review your business model. Your offer could make or break your business in these zip codes. For example, a B-to-B mailer selling industrial cleaners or law enforcement supplies may find good reason to increase circulation (and maybe even become more promotional) to this area, while a niche offer supporting a hobby may end up reducing circulation.

The key to the four recommendations is to test and monitor your Katrina records for response and performance.

Jim Whitford is senior marketing manager at San Rafael, CA-based catalog consultancy Lenser.

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