Data is central to everything in direct marketing. Because of the rise of its importance to the industry, a few years ago the DMA changed its name to the Data and Marketing Association. This made sense.
How you use data can make – or break – your direct mail campaign. Do it right, and you’ll save money and keep your production process going better than ever before. And you may even discover possibilities you never knew existed. Do it wrong, and you’re in trouble.
Please read on for why you need to understand how the quality and integrity of your data – big, small, or somewhere in the middle – will be critical in building your direct mail campaigns.
The Dangers in Undelivered Mail
Avoiding nixies – mail that can’t be delivered – should be a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you want to save as much as possible on your postage and printing costs? Bad addresses mean that you’re using bad data. Mail that gets returned has to be handled and processed by USPS, then by you. And if you get your lists from third-party providers, that’s even more money down the drain. It also leaves a bad impression with clients.
How can you ensure that your data is accurately managed? By practicing good hygiene.
There are several tools you can use to keep your lists in continuous great shape.
CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System) is a certification offered by the U.S. Postal Service that corrects and standardizes address elements like zip codes and misspelled street or city names. Vendors offering this service have to apply annually to keep up with the latest USPS guidelines.
NCOA (National Change of Address) is a database of all new address information filed with the USPS. With an average of almost 40 million Americans moving every year, the importance of cross-referencing your data using this process cannot be understated. And to avoid a surcharge on your campaign, it must be done no more than 95 days before your mail date.
You should be aware that the USPS is changing the validation process for move updates. Mailing campaigns with an Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb) will be checked against established thresholds on the Mailer Scorecard each month. Exceeding a 0.5% error rate for the month will now incur additional fees.
ACS (Address Change Service) gives mailers a data file with address changes (or other reasons for non-delivery) after a mailing campaign is dropped. Using it means getting up-to-date address changes at a reduced cost per record, and in a more timely fashion.
ASE (Ancillary Service Endorsements) is a type of manual address correction that gives USPS options on how to proceed after delivery of your mail is attempted. For example, your mail can include a printed “Return Service Requested” endorsement.
Complying with these regulations, then, goes a long way toward achieving lower rates for your pre-sorted direct mail campaigns. There is a lot that goes into preparing your data for direct mail.
Keeping Your Direct Mail Data Secure
In the past few years, it seems like every day brings news about attacks on our data. Whether it’s credit bureaus, Facebook, banks, retailers, medical or voting records … there seems to be no guarantee that any of our most personal information is safe from hackers or thieves from anywhere on the planet.
Another one of the results of this near-constant state of war is apprehension, if not a complete lack of trust, in the ability of any company to protect their clients’ data.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, be proactive in safeguarding all of your data, no matter how or where it’s housed. Take regular steps, like keeping up with the latest security procedures, as well as all software and hardware updates. And you should also reassure your clients that they – and their customers – are in safe hands … yours. To solidify their trust, disclose, in general terms at least, some of the measures you’re taking to back up your promises.
Wrapping it up
- Keep on top of how information flows into your lists from customers. For example, when they respond to a direct mail offer (or order) online by completing a form, an address validation service can ensure that it is compliant with USPS.
- Use an outside service to update your customer or prospect data before sending your job to the printer.
- Get a handle on the vast amounts of data you’re collecting on customers and prospects. Take a detailed inventory of where it’s all stored – both in-house and with third-party – before developing plans to keep it secure.
- Use purchase history data to target customers with special offers based on their behavior, not necessarily your promotions.