Prevent returned mail from foiling campaigns

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Beatriz Santin
Beatriz Santin

Finding an accurate mailing address for a campaign can be more difficult than most people realize. Marketers see the returned mail that comes back after a direct mail campaign but rarely stop to find out why the mail was undeliverable. There are many contributing factors that cause poor contact data quality, but one frequently overlooked problem lies in the difference between physical addresses and mailing addresses.

A physical address is the location where an individual or business resides, while a mailing address is where the postal service delivers correspondence. While these addresses are often one and the same, there are instances where they differ.

An individual may live or work at a location that is not able to receive mail. But to the naked eye, these physical addresses look valid and deliverable. Often, those individuals or businesses have a separate PO Box address or a separate mailing location that is different from their physical address. Unfortunately, when a physical address is the only address on file for a contact, it is nearly impossible to reach that individual by mail, hurting response rates and driving up costs.

Census workers in West Virginia recently noticed that physical addresses have plagued their database and hurt data collection. After the September 11 attacks, the state implemented an addressing and mapping project that assigned a physical street address to every home in the state. This effort was designed to provide better security and emergency response to residents. Unfortunately, those new addresses were used to mail out Census forms. The address issue likely contributed to West Virginia showing a 63 percent participation rate for mailing back forms as of April 22, against a national average of 71 percent. This means that the state will have to invest more resources in hiring workers to go door-to-door to gather the uncollected Census responses.

So how can marketers ensure that they are collecting a mailing address rather than a physical address? For addresses in the US, the USPS has a Delivery Point Validation (DPV) file available for use via third parties that works in conjunction with a standard USPS data file. This data confirms the existence and deliverability of a specific address.

When pulling data from an internal customer database, companies can place an address verification tool at data entry points that will use USPS DPV data to interact with company representatives. If the address is not a valid mailing address, the representative will be alerted and can ask the customer for additional information.

When data is acquired by purchased lists, back-end batch type cleansing can also utilize USPS DPV data to indicate if an address is DPV valid. While it does not provide a valid mailing address for that name, it prevents an individual with an invalid address from being placed on a mailing list, preventing unnecessary printing and postage costs. 

A physical address and a mailing address are very easy to confuse, but it can be simple to fix. Verification tools are available for businesses to prevent physical addresses from entering direct mail campaigns. By preventing this mistake, marketers can ensure that their campaigns will reach as many intended recipients as possible.

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