Monday, March 2, 2009


Clean your housefile…Clean up on your next mailing!

Anyone who has studied Direct Mail 101 understands that mailing to a clean list is critical to the success of a project. A clean list reduces printing, production and postage costs…even as it increases percentage return.

Clean up your housefile and you’ll look like a marketing genius. I guarantee it.


Consider this: 20% of the US population moves each year. Some marry and merge households; some divorce and split households; some die; some just move away. Thus consumer files can go stale quickly.

Or this: 20% of small businesses fail each year, and a somewhat smaller number of larger companies merge, get bought out, or move—sometimes “off shore.” Furthermore, the specific individual you want to target may be downsized or promoted, on maternity or military leave, retired or replaced. Organizations mailing into the government have an even greater challenge, due to personnel turnover.

Or this: maybe you are your own worst enemy. Maybe you have people listed multiple times on your datafile. Don’t deny it! I’ve seen databases just like yours. Duplicates everywhere. And that means wasted money…and upset recipients.

It is hard enough to find people who are interested in your message…people who are willing to buy from your company or donate to your cause. Staying in touch with them can be just as difficult.

You probably intuitively know that it is less expensive to keep customers or contributors than to replace them. Prospecting is expensive. And it rarely breaks even. So it only makes practical sense to periodically clean your housefile.

Yet so many direct mailers don’t take that one simple—and inexpensive—step. Instead, they watch as their list slowly atrophies and their return rates plunge. And they wonder what’s wrong.

The answer is simple: poor list hygiene. Cleaning a list is simply the best way to keep your customers and donors active and keep your prospecting costs down.

And list hygiene needn’t be a laborious process. There are several ways to clean your housefile.

The first method is to call everyone on your list before you mail to them. While your accuracy will be assured, you will never get anything into the mail because you’ll always be on the phone. Unless you have a staff of thousands with nothing better to do, try another technique.

A second method is to mail everything First Class. It’s effective: the Post Office will forward your information to your intended recipient. Voila’! Prime mission accomplished! But at a price. You are paying dearly for your postage, your intended recipient may get a package that has been handled so many times it is no longer readable and you may not get back needed corrections in a timely fashion.

A third solution is to use endorsement lines (such as “Address Forwarding Requested.”) Depending on the endorsement you select, you will get predictable results. In one instance your mailing will be forwarded to your recipient—new yellow stickers and accusatory pointing finger stamps and all—and you get a photocopy. In another instance, the package comes back to you with the correct address (if known) noted so you can send out a fresh piece. But again there are downsides. Sometimes you can’t read the photocopied forms. They are too light or have a sticker over a crucial piece of information. If you get the piece back for remailing, then you’re paying twice for postage. It can take weeks or months to get your information back. And, unless you’re mailing First Class, you have to pay a price for this service—but only on the pieces returned. So using endorsement lines can be expensive.

A fourth method is to NCOA your file before you mail. NCOA—or National Change of Address—is a software solution to updating your datafile. An NCOA service provider like Orion Direct can check your existing database again a Post Office master database. If an entry has changed, your database changes. It’s that simple.

Or not.

You need a provider like Paul & Partners that can help guide your list through this process. The list has to be modified to NCOA format...then run against the NCOA list...then returned to your native format. You truly need a professional like Paul & Partners on your side. It will make your life--and your list--so much happier.

So what is an NCOA file?

NCOA files are maintained by the Post Office. (Remember the last time you moved? Remember that yellow Post Office form you filled out with your old and new address? You intended the postal service to forward your Time Magazine properly, right? Well, they did forward your Time Magazine to you, but they also put your addresses—both old and new—into a database. And then they made that database available to mailers to confirm address accuracy.)

Upon running your housefile through the NCOA process, you are awarded a certificate. That certificate allows you to mail First Class Presort, Standard Presort, or Nonprofit Presort (NCOA certification no older than 90 days is required for all presort categories of mail) should you wish. It also shows the Post Office that you are concerned about list hygiene and doing your part to keep your list clean. Call it “good will” if you wish. More practically, it updates your file and reduces your outlay for non-deliverable packages. NCOA certification is valid for 90 days.

Upsides: It’s fast: an expedited NOCA can happen in a couple of hours. And it’s cheap. NCOA processing will also catch incomplete addresses (i.e. missing apartment/suite numbers) or mismatches between states and zips, or incorrect addresses (no such street number). It will tell you if someone has moved, and if so what their new address is. It will tell you if someone has moved overseas (no luck on that address, though). And it will tell you if the person is gone with no forwarding address (best to check Heavenly Acres for current residence status). So you can fix your list and get in the mail faster with cleaner information. That means more positive results faster.

Downsides: Did your recipient fill out his/her yellow moving form legibly? If the input keypuncher can’t read it, the entry may be wrong in the database. Mail could be misdirected. So there is a small element of human error involved. And about those incomplete or incorrect addresses: NCOA processing probably can’t fix them for you. It can pinpoint problems, but you have to make the fix later.

Also, an NCOA of a company file can not pinpoint if your specific recipient is still employed in his/her position; it can only tell you if the company address is still viable.

Bottom line: For speed, accuracy, cost and getting your corrected information back in a timely fashion, no other list cleaning technique equals an NCOA.

Direct mail marketing is tough enough. Mailing to people who no longer live where you think they live only makes it harder and more expensive.

Make it easier on yourself—and your organization’s pocketbook. Keep your data clean, eliminate duplicates and kill the “deadwood.” But get a professional like Paul & Partners to guide you. Professional help costs nothing more than the NCOA fee. But get that NCOA done. You’ll be surprised at how much your return rates will improve on your next mailing! Best yet: your boss will think you’re a genius.

Now that’s a win-win!

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Phone: 703.996.0800 Fax: 703.996.0888 travis.boaz@paulandpartners

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1 comment:

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