By Greg Brown, Marketing Director at Melissa Data
Whether you use your customer database for direct marketing, transactional mailings or provide mailing services for your clients, the latest postal increases–effective May 12, 2009–will have an impact on your bottom line. 
When you add the postal increase to skyrocketing energy prices and an uncertain economic outlook for 2009, there is no better time than the present to make some simple changes that will provide immediate ROI. By implementing these five address management rules, you’ll be able to save money, reduce costs and improve response rates. 
Rule 1: Clean It Up or Clear It Out
What good is an address if you can’t deliver to it? But unfortunately many companies are doing just that – sending mail to undeliverable addresses. Undelivered mail is truly junk mail and it costs American businesses over 1.8 billion dollars a year. Not only are companies wasting money on postage and printing, they are missing opportunities to communicate with customers and prospects and grow their business.
Thankfully, cleaning up addresses is easy these days. Mail preparation software is available that will reduce errors due to missing or incorrect directionals, incorrect street names, missing or incorrect suffixes, incorrect ZIP® codes, and more. Make sure that the mailing software you purchase is CASS Certified™. To be CASS Certified, software must pass an annual USPS® test to verify and correct addresses to the ZIP + 4® level with 98% accuracy, among other requirements. Starting in 2008 CASS processing now includes DPV™ and LACSLink™ for a greater level of accuracy. DPV confirms an address has an actual point of delivery, while LACSLink identifies and updates business and residential rural route addresses to street-style addresses.
Additionally, mail preparation software will presort and barcode your mailings, helping you qualify for the lowest postage rates and applicable discounts. Here’s how one company achieved their goals.
A college magazine publisher mailed out thousands of copies of their monthly publication but needed to find ways to cut down on their costs. They investigated and purchased mail preparation software to barcode their mailings for postal discounts. Not only did the software qualify their mailings for presort discounts resulting in thousands of dollars a year in savings, it also verified and corrected incomplete and incorrect addresses which dramatically cut down on the amount of returned mail. 
Rule 2: Get a Move on It
Another culprit in the high cost of undeliverable mail is your customers – they are a constantly moving target. An estimated 43 million Americans pick up and move every year. That means up to 20 percent of the people or companies in any database could have a new address – a fact that presents some pretty big hurdles to maintain quality mailings lists, and low postage and production costs. Today NCOALink processing every 95 days is mandatory to receive First-Class Mail® and Standard Mail® automation and presort discounts. 
The USPS maintains a database with approximately 160 million records or 48 months of permanent address changes. It’s called the NCOALink® product. You can submit your mailing list or database records to USPS approved vendors for NCOALink Move-Update service to match your addresses to the records on file with the USPS. Since 1986 when the USPS introduced the product, NCOALink has saved mailers billions of dollars that otherwise would have been wasted in paper, postage, and labor costs. 
Here’s an example of the volume of bad records that can be found in a database. A state Republican Party submitted its voter lists to be matched against NCOALink. Of the 3.9 million voter records processed, about 528,000 records were matched to recent movers in the USPS file.
Rule 3: Eliminate Duplicates
Picture this. You walk out to your mail box and discover you’ve received four solicitations from your favorite charity — one addressed using your full name; one addressed using your initials; one addressed to your spouse; and one addressed to your entire family. Why are they wasting my donation on multiple solicitations you wonder?
While receiving duplicate mailings annoys recipients, the problems it causes sending organizations are even more significant. Especially considering the average customer database contains 10 percent duplicate records. Maintaining that level of duplicate records costs companies money, reduces response rates and hurts marketing efficiency. 
Thankfully, there are easy-to-use merge/purge software programs available, as well as data hygiene services, which can quickly dedupe your list – or multiple lists. And you can dictate the type of matches you’d like to find in your database from names, addresses and city/state/ZIP structures to telephone numbers, customer numbers or email addresses.
Keep the records you want – and for budget’s sake, get rid of the duplicates. 
Rule 4: Put a Little ZIP into Your Database
They may look like just nine simple numbers, but to a direct marketing specialist, the ZIP + 4 code on an address is a golden opportunity for effective, responsive target marketing. Using the ZIP + 4 code, you can access the following information: 
1. Latitude/longitude
2. Census data
3. Carrier route codes
4. City and county statistics
5. Area code & time zone – and more.
With this information, you can effectively identify the demographics and geographics of your consumers, target your best market, reduce postage, eliminate waste, and of course, increase delivery and response rates. 
One direct mail services company helps customers develop targeted mailings using ZIP codes, and by offering demographic filters and a street selection process to zero in on specific neighborhoods. To make it easier for customers to develop a mailing list, the company uses a geocoding product that adds latitude and longitude coordinates to the ZIP + 4 level to each address in the mailing list. This is helpful for realtors who farm a neighborhood around a house they have sold. The company also creates mashups with Google maps so that its customers can see exactly where the materials will be sent – down to the individual houses to which their mail will be delivered.
Rule 5: Tap into the Power of a Name
B-to-B and B-to-C are no longer the marketing buzzwords of the day–today P-to-P (person to person) communication is king. Customers prefer personalized communications and it shows. A recent survey by Yes Mail revealed that response rates increase dramatically (5- to 10-fold) with a corresponding increase in the number of personalization elements within the communication. 
And nothing is more important to the success of a personalized mailing than the name. If you spell a person’s name wrong, or use an incorrect salutation, your direct mail piece will likely hit the can without even being opened. 
There is software on the market that will fix typos in the name, as well as truncations, abbreviations, OCR errors, and
common data entry errors. Some software can genderize your entire list and split names into their structural components i.e. Prefix (Mr., Ms, Dr, etc.), First name, Middle name (or initial), Last name, and Suffix (M.D., Ph. D.). And, most importantly, the software should be able to create salutations.
All in all this type of software will help increase the impact of your communications by tapping into the power of the name with personalized variable elements that are already in your database – driving response rates up which leads to new business.
Catching undeliverable mail before it leaves your door is one of the easiest and most effective ways to save on postage, while keeping production costs low. And, regularly cleansing your database of outdated addresses and duplicate records gives you an additional cost-saving measure to cope with increased postal rates. But at the end of the day it’s all about generating response–and the best way to increase business is with highly targeted, personalized marketing that delivers the results you need. Remembering five simple address management rules when putting together your marketing campaigns has never been easier or more affordable, nor has it ever been more of a critical bottom-line issue to the success of your business. 
—Source: Greg Brown, Marketing Director at Melissa Data www.melissacom