Mailer despair: The unaccounted mover

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Every year companies conducting direct mail campaigns lose millions of dollars on what seems to be an uncontrollable problem. Nearly 20 percent of the American public moves to a new address each year and 10 percent to 20 percent of these movers do not notify the U.S. Postal Service of their new address.

Unaccounted-for movers - those that do not notify the postal service of their change of address - can result in large-scale losses for direct mail campaigns.

"The challenge is that most direct mailers will mail their best customers multiple times a year - sometimes more than once a month," said Sharon Neuenfeldt, vice president at database services company Decision Intelligence, Minnetonka, MN. "Without the current address, the mailing could go to the wrong address 2 to 3 percent of each list every month. And the list could continue to deteriorate with every passing month that the mover is not identified.

"Studies also show that new movers are great customers - they are in a 'buying mood,'"she said. "Catching them within six months of the move can reap big responses, especially for any home-related products."

Overall, the USPS reports 14.2 percent of the U.S. population moves each year. However, only 80 percent to 90 percent report their moves to the USPS within a month of the move.

Working from a mailing list of 1 million contacts, losses for unaccounted movers can total more than $365,000 for each round of mailings.

These unaccounted for movers cost companies the expense to print and mail the piece, as well as the loss in sales revenue from the potential buyer.

The mover rate can depend on your target audience, Ms. Neuenfeldt said.

Younger people, people in lower economic brackets and people who live in apartments move more often than average - up to 20 percent or more each year. Young adults and people in lower economic brackets are less likely to file their change of addresses with the USPS.

Studies show apartment inhabitants in general are good about filing changes, though they may be slower to file than single-family movers. Businesses move even more often than consumers, studies have shown a business list can deteriorate 5 percent to 6 percent a month.

"If your list consists of significant numbers of customers in these brackets, finding sources of move information in addition to traditional NCOA is vital," Ms. Neuenfeldt said.

Anyone who is not using NCOALink [National Change of Address Linkage System] matching at least quarterly is in trouble when it comes to having an updated mailing list, Ms. Neuenfeldt said.

"Because NCOALink matching is very strict, increasing the quality and completeness of the address you are sending to NCOA is very important," she said. "Using services such as apartment append, ZIP code and address element correction and LACSLink [Locatable Address Conversion System] will help to get better matches."

After NCOALink has been done, take near matches to an auxiliary change of address source or consider using a postal endorsement on the mail piece to positively identify whether or not the person has moved, Ms. Neuenfeldt said.

All other NCOA non-matches can be matched against a non-USPS mover source offered by a reputable service bureau or data vendor.

Movers that don't file with the USPS often will inform utility companies, creditors and subscriptions of their new address.

"Typically, you can expect about a 2 percent lift over NCOA rates from these services," Ms. Neuenfeldt said. "It's important to make sure you understand how matches are being made and use your own business rules to apply the moves you get from these sources so as not to damage your list with false-mover data."

Mailers should always train employees to verify the full address every time they talk to a customer.

"If you mail First Class or use postal endorsements, returned mail can give you a wealth of information, so don't ignore it," Ms. Neuenfeldt said. "Using standardization software behind all data entry systems helps to make sure the address is clean and complete and therefore a better match for move data."

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