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Database Management -- The Cleaner, the Better

March 2009 By Cheryl Adams
Managing Editor
EVEN THOUGH mailing and database management services have been around since the 1980s, a substantial number of printers expanded into this highly technical (and profitable) market as competition heated up with the new millennium. Today, more printers are continuing to invest in these capabilities in spite of—or, perhaps, because of—the bleak economy. After all, the weaker the financial outlook, the more important it is for service providers to ensure a bigger bang for their clients’ shrinking print dollars. 

And, in the world of mailing services, the more accurate and targeted the database, the higher the response rate. The higher the response, the better the marketer’s ROI. Ultimately, the key is list hygiene.

Baltimore-based Vertis Communications has been providing data management and list hygiene services for 25 years. Art Hall, vice president of integrated data solutions, reports that recent changes in USPS requirements have Vertis’ clients asking for more consultation on how to comply with the new regulations to increase their postal savings.

Certainly savings are important, but does that mean services like list hygiene become more important during tough economic times, when marketers are cutting back on printing spend? “The cleaner your addresses, the better chance for your message getting into the hands of your target audience. This also reduces the number of pieces to be printed, the number of undeliverable pieces and the postage required for those pieces,” Hall says.

“And the new postal regulations require more hygiene processes to be performed in order to obtain the best postal discounts available. Without the postal discounts, the postage incurred could cost more than the printing of the actual mailing.” In the past, Hall notes, a certain amount of non-deliverable pieces were not only tolerated, but often expected. However, companies are now coming to Vertis seeking solutions that can help them get to 100 percent deliverability. 

Prior to the economic downturn, there had already been a shift in the focus of list hygiene to a more strategic role in marketing strategy and campaign performance, he adds. “The change in importance in this role has resulted in these services becoming a separate profit center at Vertis and for many of our clients.”

Equally important, these service offerings further cement Vertis’ relationship with customers, “especially on the more difficult and complex processing,” according to Hall. “Clients gain confidence in our capabilities as a marketing partner and begin turning to us to resolve postal processing issues, even during the program development stage.”

Compliance = Discounts

Putting printed pieces into the mailstream at the lowest postage rates means that printers must be in compliance with U.S. Postal Service regulations. In 2009, the issues foremost in mailers’ minds will be reducing Undeliverable as Addressed (UAA) mail and meeting Move Update requirements.

One of the most prominent changes is the November 2008 change in USPS requirements for claiming presort rates on Move Update of address lists for First Class Mail, which were expanded to include Standard Mail. The USPS has also tightened the requirement by reducing the minimum frequency of Move Update processing from 185 days to 95 days before the mailing date.

To keep up with these changing requirements—and avoid losing postage discounts, as well as possibly being fined thousands of dollars for non- compliance—printers are turning to professionals in the industry, like Mary Ann Bennett, president and CEO of The Bennett Group. The Rochester, NY-based training firm is home to the Mailing Training Institute.

Bennett cautions that mailing services providers need to be knowledgeable about the many mailing software packages on the market designed specifically to ensure compliance. She recommends investing in the latest mail presort software packages that also have multiple database maintenance features, as well as specific capabilities for Move Update procedures.

Mailing services software not only helps keep providers in compliance but, equally important, it generates the documentation required to prove it. Bennett explains that mailers must be able to substantiate that their address lists have met USPS requirements to claim discounts. Proving compliance means the provider must have the supporting documentation to show that they’ve met the entire Move Update standard, and that all of the addresses in their databases are current and accurate, she says. And, if they claim discounts without being in compliance (because they are not actually eligible for the discounts), costly penalties and fines could ensue.

The technology is readily available for service providers to perform this work for their clients. To ensure compliance for those problem customers who will not allow their data to be accessed by an outside provider, Bennett suggests that printer-mailers provide these clients with the 99 Percent Accuracy Test developed by the USPS to ensure that lists are updated and accurate. The transaction testing occurs directly between the USPS and the client. The computer-based test performs USPS DPV/ZIP+4 coding and change of address processing using the provider’s file, and determines whether 1 percent (or less) of the addresses have a change of address on file, as well as identifies addresses that don’t have a DPV/ZIP+4 code.

Mailing services providers must abide by postal regulations in order to claim the largest postage discounts and avoid potential penalties. And, with a wide range of tools available—from software and postal service programs to mailing consultants like Bennett—being in compliance needn’t be so challenging.


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