Making the Most From NCOA

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The National Change of Address program has been embraced by a majority of direct marketing companies.


The main benefit - providing a new address before mailing - is readily understood by all, and the return on investment is significant and easily quantified. But there are other, less obvious benefits that NCOA can offer mailers willing to take a closer look.


Vendor participation. Your NCOA vendor wants you to have a successful experience with NCOA, so don't hesitate to take advantage of its expertise. The vendor should provide you with detailed guidelines that fully explain the data you will receive from NCOA and, more importantly, how your technical staff should apply the results to your database. It also can assist in understanding and interpreting the NCOA reports. If a face-to-face meeting with the vendor isn't practical, at least establish contacts for technical issues so your staff members can get their questions answered.


File preparation. The success of the NCOA process depends heavily on the completeness, accuracy and format of the input name and address data. Be sure to provide an accurate file layout. A quality file with accurate and complete name and address information will yield the greatest number of NCOA hits.


Always include salutation, first, middle and last names as well as generation titles (Jr., Sr.). The first name always should be fully spelled out. Mailers that try to save space on their databases by using a first initial will miss all individual moves.


Company name should be presented in a specific field that is left blank for nonbusiness records. Company changes tell you that the company has moved, but it is possible that the individual contact person on your file did not make the move with the company. You may want to consider the distance of the move and the title of the individual on your database.


Be certain to provide all address components to your vendor, and make sure they are clearly identified on your file layout. Missing address data will negatively affect the NCOA matching process. Eliminate foreign addresses from your file before submitting it for NCOA processing.


Ancillary service endorsements. A common misunderstanding is that NCOA will identify and correct all changes of address in your database. Not true. NCOA will typically correct 60 percent of the address changes in your file. Files that have complete and accurate name and address data will have a higher rate. The remaining 40 percent can be obtained directly from the U.S. Postal Service by using one of the ancillary endorsements - such as "change service requested" - formerly known as address correction requested, or ACR.


Different endorsement options are available to First-Class and Standard-A mailers, affecting mostly the disposition of the original mail piece that can be forwarded, returned or discarded. A Standard-A mailer using the change service requested endorsement is simply asking the USPS to provide notification of the new address or the reason for nondelivery.


Each endorsement option has a fee structure. Be sure to understand the fee structure thoroughly, as some of the options impose the weighted fee, which is 2.472 times the appropriate per-piece rate for Standard-A mail. Using change service requested, the fee for the new address is 50 cents each.


You can reduce that cost considerably by taking advantage of address change service, or ACS. New addresses provided through ACS are charged at a rate of 20 cents each, and 80 percent of these come to you on magnetic media or magnetic tape. ACS is an electronic enhancement to manual methods of providing change-of-address information to mailers. In addition to the reduced USPS fee, you also will eliminate the data entry costs for changes received on tape, although you still will receive about 20 percent of the changes on hard copy.


Individual moves. Individual moves mean that one individual in the household has moved, and the other people in the household still reside at the former address. It might be a child moving out on her own, or it could be the result of a divorce or separation. These can be life-changing events for all concerned and can significantly affect spending habits. You might consider an analysis of response rates after an individual move occurs.


Consider continued promotions to the old address, but change the way the mail piece is addressed (e.g., "The Smith Family").


The following are other opportunities and cautions:


• Don't pay twice for ZIP-plus-4 and carrier route coding. NCOA assigns these codes already, so make sure your vendor carries the data through to your mail files.


• For merge/purge projects, ask for a report by list key highlighting ZIP corrections, ZIP-plus-4 codes appended and NCOA hits. This will give you a quick snapshot of the quality of the lists you have rented and could uncover a problem list before mailing.


• Create a merge/purge suppression file from the old addresses on your file, but consider carefully whether to include individual moves on such a file.


• A flag for the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service has been added to the NCOA output record. You should be aware, though, that this will identify only those people on the DMA/MPS file who have been involved in a change of address.


• Make sure to identify NCOA undeliverables, such as records flagged "Moved No Forwarding Address," "P.O. Box Closed," and "Foreign Moves," and take appropriate action, such as dropping them from a prospect mailing or flagging or deleting them on a customer file.
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