10 Tips for Data Processing, Personalization

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Direct mail professionals succeed only if they get myriad production details right. What good is the most beautiful customized piece if it is not delivered because of failed U.S. Postal Service regulations such as barcode clear zones, addressing space/shift allowances or reflectance requirements?


Direct mail communications depend on proper planning and effective execution. Get your next project produced right and on time by involving your direct mail production services representative early in the job planning stage.


Here are 10 important printing and mailing tips to consider when planning list file processing and direct mail personalization:


Check grain direction of materials to be laser-personalized. When printing materials for downstream laser personalization, grain direction can be critical. Flat sheets less than 10 inches wide (usually 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches or 8 1/2 inches by 14 inches) should be planned for grain-long production. On the other hand, sheets wider than 10 inches should be produced grain-short.


Limit pre-printed information. Consider pre-printing one shell with common design elements for projects with multiple versions. During the personalization process, you can create different mailing versions with today's flexible laser imaging technology. Widely available versatile software solutions allow black-and-white copy and digital image changes on the fly between versions. If carefully planned, software flexibility means that all versions of a project can be produced in a single run while preserving mail sort order and all postal discounts.


Select paper stocks for laser-imaging performance. Not all paper stocks are well suited for high-speed sheetfed and continuous-form laser imaging. A simple change in stock selection can mean the difference between jobs taking a few hours to personalize and days. Here are two important guidelines: 1) Offset (uncoated) stocks ranging from 50-pound to 9-point usually run well. If your application calls for a coated stock, choose either a dull or matte sheet with a thickness between 7 points and 9 points. Gloss stocks should not be used because toner does not adhere well to enamel coatings and is subject to flaking off or causing sheets to stick together.


Use standard-size window envelopes for automation discount mailings. Address placement is very important for a personalized component that "flies" a package by showing through an envelope window. Use envelopes with standard-size windows (1 1/8 inches high by 4 1/2 inches long) so the address will not shift too far up, down, left or right while traveling in the mail stream. Do your own "tap test" by inserting a mock-up of the personalized component in the envelope and tapping it on all sides. Check that no portion of the printed address block disappears beyond the window. If it does, you may need to reposition copy or change your mailing specifications.


Do a National Change of Address check on your files at least twice a year. To ensure that the largest percentage possible of your mail reaches the destination, house files and membership lists should be regularly matched against an updated NCOA file. No file is too small to benefit from the NCOA process of eliminating bad or outdated addresses. Most mail and data processing vendors can make arrangements to provide this service through a licensed NCOA provider.


Take advantage of Bulk Mail Center/Sectional Center Facility discounts. Projects with high concentrations of mail to select geographical areas of the country -- usually 8,000 pieces or more -- may be good candidates for BMC or SCF postal discounts. The discount for BMC entry at any of the 29 USPS BMC facilities is $19 per 1,000 pieces. Mailings targeted to concentrated local areas benefit from proper preparation for local SCF entry. (For example, in the Baltimore/Washington area, SCFs are located in suburban Maryland, northern Virginia/Dulles, Linthicum, Baltimore and southern Maryland.


The SCF discount rate is $21 per 1,000. Mailing service production companies automatically prepare qualifying mail for SCF acceptance. However, the procedure varies from vendor to vendor. Check with your data processing services provider to ensure that you get all available postal discounts.


Laser-personalize a newsletter or multipage component. Duplex continuous-form equipment can create fully personalized eight-page newsletters. Both of these options provide added capacity for direct mail reply devices with highly personalized newsletter-style enclosures. Design and production capabilities vary from vendor to vendor. Consider this option for impressive content-driven personalized marketing impact.


Planet codes. Adding a planet code barcode to just a few pieces of mail per ZIP code or mail tray provides a geographical tracking opportunity for customers and mailers alike. Planet codes are unique to individual mailings, and the USPS can scan the code on the mail pieces as they flow through the postal stream. Online reporting options provide a quick and easy interface for evaluating in-home delivery dates and greatly help project leaders coordinate an integrated marketing effort. Planet codes can also be pre-printed on return mail pieces to track early response levels, which is valuable in fulfillment situations.


Review any and all data audit reports. The integrity of your lists used for direct mail projects can be the most important factor in the success of your mail campaign. Many data processing vendors provide initial audit reports that detail the integrity of incoming lists. Use these reports to identify and correct missing information like prefixes, names and complete addresses. Some advanced mailing services companies offer data audit reports upon request.


Add sophisticated personalization. Today's computing technology allows personalization to extend far beyond the basic elements of name, address and salutation. Variable content can be made pertinent to the needs of individual recipients and will greatly increase the relevance of your direct mail piece on a one-to-one basis. Consider including valuable information about history, buying preferences, contributions, purchase dates or other areas of special interest. Personalization is limited only by the amount of information available in your database.


Many of these tips can be applied to all types of projects, including self-mailers and postcards. Check with your data or mail processing services company well before production begins. Direct mailing professionals frequently can offer money- and time-saving ideas on how to take advantage of the latest equipment and software solutions.


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