Postal: Coming Clean

By using these various address hygiene services, a direct marketer can save money by cutting mailing waste and improving deliverability to prospects and customers.

How to get the most impact from list hygiene

As a direct marketer, you now that the list, creative, product, offer and mailer all play significant roles in motivating your customers to buy from you. The list-your file of customers-is often cited as the single most important factor in your marketing. We suggest that the delivery process is the second most important factor because the most beautiful package featuring a compelling offer of a marvelous product is wasted if it does not get into the hands of a potential buyer.

The single biggest difference you can make to the delivery process is having a clean, deliverable file of names and addresses. How you handle your list-all of the data hygiene steps that you take-will help to ensure that your mailing will reach the people you want it to reach.
Data Hygiene Steps
Each list hygiene procedure has a different contribution to make to improve the deliverability of your file and, therefore, reduce the amount of mail pieces you would otherwise waste. You need to apply at least address standardization and NCOA and sort your file to get discounts on your postage. Starting Nov. 23, you will have to update the change-of-address information on your file within 95 days of your actual mailing date to get the maximum postal discounts from the U.S. Postal Service.

  • Address standardization. This process is fully compliant with the USPS standards and is required to apply the other steps. This routine moves name and address elements into the correct fields, formats the addresses and adds the ZIP+4 to the ZIP code. For example, “12 Main St. E Anytown Penn” will change to “12 E. Main St., Anytown, PA.” This process also will confirm if the address is in a valid address range for U.S. delivery.
  • Delivery point validation. This file determines if an address can be confirmed as a valid delivery point by the USPS. After the address standardization process confirms that an address is in a valid delivery range, the DPV process confirms if the address is occupied and actually able to receive mail.
  • Apartment append. This step fills in missing address elements. Apartment append is often used to add apartment numbers to a consumer record. However, this service can fill in more missing address elements by comparing the addresses in your file to a national database of addresses prepared by private firms. The pre-directionals, street suffixes, post-directionals, apartment numbers, route numbers and route box numbers are filled in through a name and address match. The typical match and correction rate for a consumer file is 2 percent.
  • National Change of Address. This is the best-known hygiene process. The USPS issues monthly updates to its file of approximately 160 million change-of-address records. The database contains names and addresses for individuals, families and businesses. The average rate of updating records to current deliverable addresses is 3 percent.
  • Change of address plus. The address changes that NCOA does not catch can be checked with COA+, which is a service offered in addition to the USPS NCOALink product. COA+ is offered by individual companies that compile data about individuals who have changed their addresses, such as magazine subscription records. This step typically provides a 3 percent improvement over and above the NCOA lift.
  • Delivery Sequence File. DSF is a database managed by the USPS which contains information on all addresses known to the USPS. DSF can identify residential and business addresses and seasonal addresses. The DSF results are not used on a per-match or uplift basis, but as a tool for more targeted mailing. A consumer marketer might use the output of this process to drop any small office/home office businesses from a promotional mailing.
  • DMA Mail Preference Service. The Direct Marketing Association’s do-not-mail list provides millions of addresses of people who chose not to receive advertising mail. This list will drop about 1 percent of a consumer file. Each direct marketer usually has its own file of customers who do not want to be mailed. After several years, this internally maintained company do-not-mail list can be as much as 3 percent of a firm’s customer database. Both files keep you from wasting mail pieces on households that have taken the time to express their preferences.
  • Deceased file. This information is provided by database firms and the DMA and is used to suppress records that are identified as deceased individuals, according to the Social Security Administration. A consumer file will generally see about a 2 percent match and suppression rate.
  • Prison file. This file is also derived from database companies. It suppresses records that fall within a prison ZIP+4 code. There is usually a 1 percent or less match rate.
  • Profanity suppress. This service suppresses records that match to a list of profane/unwanted words. A typical match rate is 1 percent or less.

The Impact of Dirty and Clean Files
The hygiene chart (shown above) shows the services just discussed and their expected rates of corrections applied to a national file of consumer households. Applying all of the services to 1 million records will cost about $5,900 and could fix a maximum of 16 percent. However, because some records will overlap between hygiene services, let’s use 14 percent to see what impact this processing can have on using your most important marketing asset.

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