The focus on green initiatives has become a respected—and expected—business practice in today's world. It not only promotes a more efficient management of resources, it cuts down on unnecessary costs, as well. While mail volume may be down for good in the U.S., direct mail is still an integral part of marketing a company's products and services—and doing it well has the potential to make or break any campaign. With fewer mail pieces entering the system, it is even more critical to take an über-attentive approach to direct mailing operations.
Every part of the direct mail life cycle has potential for achieving environmental, economic and social benefits—from mail piece design and mailing list preparation to post-delivery management. But to effectively green the mailing process, the best place to start is list maintenance and target marketing. The following mailing processes are not only green, but make good business sense and have the potential to get any direct mail campaign off to a great start:
1. Address Data—Consistency Is Key
The addresses in your database must be in a consistent and correct format to facilitate the highest match rates and most efficient data hygiene processing. The better organized your data to begin with, the better your results will be in applying each of following steps. Take the time to set up a proficient program for placing your contact data, especially address elements, into appropriate, consistent fields.
2. Dedupe—Merge-purge for Savings
Duplicates happen. A standardized, consistently fielded database will produce efficient match recognition and decrease the likelihood of duplicate entries. Duplicate mail not only irritates customers, it collects in trash cans and landfills and can ultimately tarnish your brand image. It also costs you additional money on postage and printing, with zero added benefit at the door. It is well worth the effort to schedule routine deduping, whether using a merge-purge program in-house or a service bureau.
3. Fix It—Validate and Correct for Accurate Delivery
Always use address validation and correction software or a service bureau before you execute any direct mail campaign to clean up lists and standardize address data. This includes repairing address information, filling in missing elements, standardizing address formats to respective postal requirements and flagging addresses that cannot be corrected and may require further attention or removal. Addresses that cannot be validated for accurate delivery may not qualify for postal discounts. These mail pieces will probably not be delivered or returned, and will just add density to your carbon footprint. Look for mailing programs that are USPS CASS Certified to validate and correct U.S. addresses.
4. Update the Movers—Use Change of Address Data
In the U.S., more than 43 million Americans move each year. Once all the addresses in your list are standardized, deduped and corrected, the next critical step in your data hygiene regimen is to update your list for change-of-address information. The USPS NCOA database contains approximately 160 million records, or 48 months' history of permanent address changes. There are several options for updating lists with change-of-address information. You can become a non-exclusive licensee, use a Web service, or submit lists to a service bureau or mailing house. Service bureaus usually include address verification as part of the process, at no additional cost.
5. Suppress Records—Keep Unwanted Mail Out of the mailbox
Suppression enables you to remove records from a mailing list based on internal or industry protocol. Eliminating these records trims postage and production costs, reduces waste and enhances your ROI. Take advantage of the DMA "Do Not Contact" data available through service providers to remove consumers who have requested not to receive direct mail. You can also maintain an in-house suppression file that enables customers and prospects to opt-out of your company's mailings on a selective basis. Don't think suppression doesn't make a difference. In one year alone, 930 million pieces of unwanted mail were eliminated by 1,500 U.S. marketers using the DMA's Mail Preference Service.
6. Target Effectively—Make it Relevant
Do you really need to mail to your entire list? The most relevant messages should reach a target audience of consumers most likely to respond. Discover the demographic and geographic data available through location intelligence and accurate geographical coordinates, business and consumer data appends. Use profiling and filtering to ascertain what your best customers have in common so you can find more just like them. When you initiate a targeted, more personalized marketing campaign, you increase your opportunities for response and growth and reduce waste at the same time.
Take a hard look at your company's green initiatives and determine whether or not the practices in place are indeed "evergreen"—promoting not only environmental conservation, but also sound business practices and solid return on investment to ensure sustainability in any economic conditions. Greening your direct mail does not have to be complicated. List hygiene and targeted communications are only part of the solution, but an essential first step to getting it right.
Greg Brown is vice president of Melissa, provider of global contact data quality and identity verification solutions that span the entire data quality lifecycle and integrate into CRM, e-commerce, master data management and Big Data platforms. Connect with Greg at email@example.com or via LinkedIn.