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How to Clean Your Data Driven Marketing Mail File

In order to manage your mailing costs in data driven marketing, you want to take advantage of bulk rates from the U.S. Postal Service. Whether you’re paying first class or standard postage, you can still reduce your postage costs by performing some of the USPS’s functions for them.

In particular, standardizing and updating addresses using USPS-approved procedures can significantly reduce the cost of your marketing campaigns. Any credible mail vendor can perform this function for you.

Standardization of addresses in data driven marketing

In addition to requiring updated addresses, the USPS also requires bulk mailings to conform to certain address formatting and accuracy standards. In particular, they want to make sure that all the addresses in your mail file match exactly to deliverable addresses in their database.

You normally won’t perform this address standardization in house. It’s something that’s generally done by your mail house. There are literally hundreds of vendors and software packages out there that meet the postal service requirements. In fact, the USPS actively evaluates and approves software and service providers that meet its standards.

This formal approval is known as CASS certification. This stands for coding accuracy support system but nobody ever remembers that. Just remember: Never use a mail vendor that isn’t CASS certified.

In addition to ensuring that your mail can be delivered, CASS-certified software corrects address errors, recognizes business addresses, and adds the zip+4 codes (the additional four digits appended to your regular zip code) to your bulk mail. All of this reduces your mail costs and increases delivery rates.

Know who moved

You keep addresses current, in part, by using the USPS’s mover database. Updating addresses in this way is commonly referred to as performing an NCOA (which stands for national change of address).

You may be thinking, doesn’t the post office forward the mail anyway? Yes and no. If you pay for first class postage, the mail will be forwarded. But standard postage mail will not.

More importantly, the USPS does not like to forward mail. It’s expensive for them to do. It will not offer you bulk rates, even on first class mail, without some assurance from you that it will not need to forward very many pieces.

One simple way to do this is to address all your mail pieces to Occupant or Current Resident. But although this guarantees that all mail will be delivered, it also guarantees that a lot of it will go straight into the recycling bin on the way from the mailbox to the front door.

The other — better — way to reassure the post office is to update your mail file using the USPS mover database.

Because people move so often, you should update the addresses on your mail file as close to the actual mailing date as is reasonably possible. You don’t have to do it the same day. But if you do it two months in advance, you will likely be missing many movers.

In addition to providing tools to clean up and update your customer addresses, the USPS offers some other services that you may want to consider. In particular, there are a variety of methods for dealing with returned and undeliverable mail.

Some e-mail service providers provide similar e-mail address checks and updates for your e-mail. These services have advanced well beyond just checking to see that the e-mail address ends with .com. Though the cost benefits associated with cleaning up your e-mail files aren’t as great as with bulk mail, you may want to explore these services. At very least, they’ll improve your response rates by preventing undeliverable mail.

Picking the right e-mail service provider (ESP) is a really big deal. You should consider many things. You need to insure that your messages are being delivered. You want to stay out of spam folders and off “black lists” for over e-mailing.

There are a variety of technical aspects to setting up Internet domains and links that need to be considered as well. Reporting capabilities are also important. Experience in your particular industry is a big plus for a service provider. The DMA website is a useful place to find vendor candidates. But you should evaluate several formal proposals before settling on a service provider.

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