The Guide to Direct Mail Data

Data is the lifeblood of your direct mail program. Smart marketers make sure that their data is accurate and protected from misuse or harm. This builds trust with customers and prospects and saves postage and printing costs.

Your marketing data includes your mailing list and all the information you have about the people on your lists and how they respond to your messages. How you collect, use and protect that data can make the difference between a thriving marketing program and one that struggles with finding and retaining customers, achieving department goals, and driving a greater contribution to your company’s growth and prosperity.

That means there’s a whole lot riding on your data! Wouldn’t you love to have a guide that will advise you on all the big data issues you face? We’ve got your back on this one.

This guide will take you through many of the challenges you face as a data-driven direct marketer. It covers the things you know you must master, like these:

  • Defining your audience
  • Segmenting your data
  • Using variable data printing

But we don’t stop there! Our guide also walks you through some topics that you might not have known about, like these:

  • Working with data vendors
  • How to rein in data costs
  • How to manage digital jobs

Ready to dive in? Let’s go!

Part 1: Your direct marketing data management

As a marketer, your big challenge as a marketer is making good use of the data you have to make your direct mail interesting and helpful to a potential customer, and to drive action. This first section will help you either get started in the right direction or do a course correction to get you back on track.

a) Define your data

Whether you’re targeting a wide or narrow audience in your outbound marketing, you need to define your ideal customer. If you’re starting from scratch – compiling your own list – you have many ways to build a database such as generating online or offline leads from social media, surveys, event signups, and online forms, just to name a few.

This is only a starting point. And depending on the market or markets you serve, you might wish to take it slow when asking prospects for information.

In many cases, it might be more prudent to try to get people to opt in for email first before asking for a physical address.

Also, you can target your established customers differently from your prospects, based on modeling and how much data you already have on them.

Developing your own list only goes so far. To be more effective more quickly in marketing your products and services, use a third-party provider for high-quality, verified data. With more qualified names, you’ll also be more likely to test different segments and offers, even audiences of one.

b) Segment your direct mail data

Segmentation of data has been around for decades. Gender, age, income, financial status and education level are all pretty obvious ones. Thanks to data you can match and append from vendors, you can dig even deeper into psychographics like hobbies, religion, and many more.

Geomarketing, which uses the customer’s or prospect’s address to target prospects, can drive response. In its simplest form, it selects by state, city, zip code, or by street or neighborhood.

Easy-peasy, except that you can further refine your campaign by applying other demographics. You can also choose to focus on customers within a certain distance radius of a retail location, if that’s what your mail is promoting.

Behavior is one of your most reliable segmentation factors because it reflects what your customers or prospects have done. One way to incorporate behavior is to list your customers using the RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) model.

Your best customers have bought the most recently, buy most frequently, and spent the most money. Ranking them by quintiles (groups of 20%) lets you prioritize what customers should get more of your attention, especially with data-driven offers and direct mail to keep them coming back.

Speaking of behavior: A customer’s online actions can result in data that spurs a direct mail effort. With programmatic mail, a company can retarget someone who showed interest in a product or service with a follow-up printed mail piece.

If it meets certain behavioral criteria, a personalized special offer can be mailed in just a few days, reminding prospects of their original intent and maybe providing an incentive to make a purchase.

c) Personalize your direct mail using variable data print

Variable Data Printing (VDP) is more than just a tactic, more than mere personalization. It’s a powerful strategy that tailor-fits a direct mail package to each recipient based on individual data points.

A marketer can use this print and software technology combination to produce copy, images, and offers unique for every prospect or customer in a mail campaign.

Because it is personalized in a deeper way, often with high visual appeal, the mail piece has a higher perceived relevance to the recipient. Direct mail that is relevant is compelling and valuable … and results in more conversions.

For example, a retailer can use direct mail to drive customers to the doors of one (or more) of its locations by including a personalized map with a route for them to follow, as well as distance information.

Considering all of the data that marketers and their third-party data partners have on the average consumer, VDP offers many possibilities. But you must be cautious!

It’s easy to misuse this data. That can make your brand and messages come off as overbearing, disrespectful or creepy. Instead, leverage what you know in such a way as to bring immediate value to the relationship you’re starting or growing.

Using data wisely is the foundation of creating a good customer experience, not its end goal. Need some tips and ideas? Here you go!

  • Take special care when creating VDP direct mail for certain industry verticals. Handle financial, age, and health data in the mail piece with the greatest respect for sensitivity and privacy.
  • Leverage your relationships with your customers by using transpromo mail – bills and statements. These let you present data in a more interesting and appealing way, as well as make new offers on other product or service upgrades.
  • Use purchase history data to target customers with special offers based on their behavior, not necessarily your promotions.

Part 2: Data processing terms you must know for success

The bare minimum of data processing for all mailing projects has three components: CASS certification, pre-sorting, and deduping. You can’t bypass these steps. You must do them in order to produce a list for pre-sorting mail and for the laser and printing machines.

Read on to learn more about the three data processing components for direct mail projects that are effective in keeping mailing costs down.

a) CASS Certify

The CASS system (Coding Accuracy Support System) was established to help the mailing industry improve the accuracy of postal codes, delivery points (DCPs), and carrier routes. This is the first step in the direct mail data processing process, and is one of the most important in improving accuracy and driving down costs spent on incorrect or faulty addresses.

Click here to read more about the CASS system.

b) Pre-Sort

Pre-sorting mail is the next step. In addition to CASS certifying mail and addresses, pre-sorting is another cost-saving technique. Commercial mailers that take the time to pre-sort mail often find that this step also reduces postage costs.

c) Dedupe

Data deduping is eliminating the duplicate copies of data. During this process the list is verified against data bureau services, any extra characters or blanks are eliminated, and duplicate records are removed. This step is crucial for your direct mail campaign. It makes sure people are not getting the same message twice, and it can lower your costs by eliminating unnecessary duplicates.

There is another step that your direct mail provider can take to maximize your campaign’s success, and it is called NCOA.

d) Update your data with the National Change of Address (NCOA) database

Commercial mailers can access the National Change of Address (NCOA), which is a database of 160+ million records of individuals, families, and businesses who filed a change-of-address with the USPS. NCOA is also required by the USPS every 90 days.

The next section helps you put these terms to work.

Part 3. Three ways to make your direct mail data processing faster

Managing direct mail projects can be challenging. If you aren’t careful or organized, they can eat up a ton of time, money, and resources.

Although working with a reputable vendor can help immensely in the direct mail data process, there are also some ways to make your vendor’s life easier, which can save you and your business time and money.

Here are some helpful behind-the-scenes hints that will help you and your vendor execute an efficient direct mail data processing hand-off and fulfillment.

a) Make sure your vendor requires NCOA and deduping

A clean list can ensure more targeted recipients and save money on postage. The USPS requires some processes and recommends others.

CASS certification is required with every mailing. It evaluates the accuracy of address formats such as 5-digit zip, zip+4 and others.

Pre-sorting is also required for sorting the list order into delivery areas and as detailed as the postman’s walk sequence.

NCOA is another required process. However, it only needs to be run on a list every 90 days.

We strongly advise you to dedupe your list. This process removes duplicate names or multiple recipients residing at the same address. This can certainly save money on postage, but, more importantly, it targets your recipient. Mail-bombing a household with multiple copies of a mailing campaign is a sure way to diminish its impact.

HINT: A fully cleansed list can save you enough money in postage so you can repeat the mailing again in the near future. Repetitive mailing campaigns increase your chance of piquing your customers’ interest.

b) Focus on zip codes

When you buy an assortment of different zip codes, each list has to be imported separately to compile the full mailing list.

HINT: If you use mailing technique regularly, then consider researching the top performing zip codes for your message and focus on building that list out, creating a ‘house’ list with that segment, and/or having your direct mail vendor further cleanse the mailing list.

You’ll save time and money when you compile a strong list from an assortment of zip codes rather than buying different types of zip codes each time.

c) Separate the parts of a name

If a list with names is given to your direct mail provider as one full name – “Jade Smith” for example – it is harder for the software to detect the separation of the two names. This inconsistency can add time to the process.

Instead, give your direct mail vendor names in the following format: salutation, first name, last name. This speeds up the process and makes for a more readable and personal piece.

HINT: An added bonus: This lets you call out the first or last name for further personalization.

Part 4: Digital jobs

Digital jobs involve a few extra steps, depending on a client’s variability needs for the piece.

Some projects might only want the text to be variable. For example, each person’s name, account information, or offer can vary. Here, the data must be coded to call out the different demographic types so it is clear to which list segment the piece will be delivered.

More complex projects can call out different texts and images. This is called “versioning.” It means that the text and images can change for each segment of the market or list.

For saturation mailings, a process called “walk sequence” is used; also known as DSF2. This type of processing is only done when the list is for a saturation mailing of a certain area. This means that the addresses are processed in the order of the letter carrier’s ‘walk sequence’ in delivering the mail. This gives a better postage rate. However, around 80% of the list must be localized around a certain zip code to be used.

By following these three crucial steps in the direct mail data process, you achieve three key operating goals: You improve efficiency, increase accuracy with each direct mail project and s drive down postage costs.

Wrapping it up

If you need help, the data management experts at mailing.com have years of experience working on complex campaigns using direct mail data of all kinds. We can help you put together a complete and cost-effective direct mail campaign to accomplish your goals quickly.

Drop us a line or call us! We’d love to show you how you can put data-driven direct mail to work in your next campaign.

More From the Mailing.com Blog