Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Direct Mail 101 - 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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