In the catalog business, postal hygiene is typically the last thing anyone wants to talk about. After all, there are sexier things. Is the cover appealing? Are the new products easy to find? Are cross-sell items smartly paired on the page?
All of those things are important. But maybe the real question should be, “Is it deliverable?” If the catalog ends up in a postal trash bin rather than in your customers’ mailboxes, none of the other things matter.
Faced with rising postal rates, it has become even more important for catalogers to have the tools in place to weed out bad addresses or undeliverable catalogs that end up in the trash. Many companies offer improved technology and services to assist catalogers in avoiding these disasters. But none of these gains in deliverability can happen if catalogers keep using the old seven-step process of postal hygiene.
The old way. Until recently, nearly all catalog mailers used the old multistep postal hygiene system, requiring them to go through the same process for each mailing file.
You start each time you have something to mail by parsing your files to identify all the fields (this is a street, this is a ZIP code, etc.) Next is address standardization (is it “street” or “St.?”) and application of postal codes, because you get a better postal discount by using more ZIP-plus-four and delivery-point barcodes. Then you might apply the delivery sequence file, which helps sort the mail into the carrier’s actual walking sequence.
Next, another code is applied for the carrier’s actual line of travel through the neighborhood on any particular day, given who is receiving mail that day and who is not. Then you use the National Change of Address system and other change-of-address processes to identify the most recent address for each customer on your list. The Locatable Address Conversion System creates standardized, mailable addresses for anyone who lives on a rural route, so you need to apply that, too.
And we are still not done yet.
The last two steps are to run a deduping process ensuring that you do not get the same catalog sent three times to the same house; and finish by presorting the catalogs for optimal postal discounts.
Using the old way, if your competitor put out a special mailing with an offer targeted at your customers, you had little opportunity to respond. By the time you created your mailing, ran the address hygiene and got the mail pieces into the boxes of your target audience, the customers had already done their shopping.
Catalog mailers frustrated by the mailing delays of the old process usually cut out steps, sacrificing deliverability for speed.
The new way. Not long ago, someone had a bright idea that changed postal hygiene. Instead of running this process against individual catalog files every time you do a mailing, this person thought, “Why not create one huge, comprehensive, multisourced database with all the addresses in the country?”
Next, you apply a linking software to that database that identifies all the various spellings and variations of a given address. From that, you build a useful new data product that can say, “Hey, all these are incorrect versions of this correct address right here.”
It cannot be overstressed how important this linking step was in developing “the new way.” To illustrate this point, say you live on Maple Street. Occasionally, one mailer sends you a catalog to “Smaple Street.” With the old way, the system simply said, “There’s no Smaple Street in that town! We can’t deliver that.” But the linking software helps you say, “Oh yeah. We noticed that Smaple Street thing. That’s just one of many variations on that guy’s true address. And here’s the correct version of that address.”
When the linking software is through correlating all those versions of the same address, it does the same thing with consumer names, then cross-references them to create matched names and addresses.
So now, back to the story of how this new process was developed. After applying the “links” to the giant database of addresses, you clean up that database all at once with the old hygiene steps and share the economies of scale for all customers. You keep the master database updated with all the freshest information, and instead of undergoing a set of discrete processes, you get a convenient, easy-to-use data product that has already done all the heavy lifting of postal hygiene. No more running the laborious, old seven-step process on every catalog mailing file. Now you can have “deliverability in a box.”
Mailing costs are reduced proportionately and revenue is improved. You find the most recent address more often than with the old methods.