Skip ZIPs with Geocoding
IT USUALLY can go without saying that getting the address right is fundamental to direct mail success. The topic has been receiving more attention of late, though, in part because of the U.S. Postal Service’s new Delivery Point Validation requirements for getting the maximum postage discount. Mailing lists must now be scrutinized to an even finer degree to ensure address accuracy.
In addition, technology is providing new options for targeting communications to an audience. One example is “geocoding” (geographic coordinates), which enables residences and businesses in a set area to be identified with much greater precision than via ZIP codes.
[ The Proposition ]
Howard Hanna Real Estate Services is the fifth largest full-service real estate company in the United States. It offers real estate and financial services through more than 3,500 independent realtors and its own staff.
Management credits the company’s success, in part, to recognizing
people like to know what is going on in their neighborhood and addressing that curiosity in its marketing program. The realty firm had a long-standing policy of sending postcards to surrounding residences whenever one of its independent agents sold or listed a house in an area.
The problem was, its previous system used manual processes for gathering mailing information and addressing the postcards. As a result, it could take weeks to get cards into the mail.
Also, Howard Hanna wanted to switch to using GPS information (geocoding) rather than ZIP codes to select houses near listings. ZIP codes were designed to make mail delivery more efficient, not for locating homes nearest each other. The company found its results using ZIP codes, even ZIP+4, had been disappointing and expensive.
[ The Solution]
The real estate firm worked with three specialized companies to customize a solution: Scope 1 Marketing Technologies, an application service provider that develops one-to-one marketing programs; Dickman Directories, which provides mailing services and directory information, including geocoding data; and Dispatch Digital Printing Services, a variable data and digital printing services provider, based in Erie, PA.
Twice a week, records from Howard Hanna’s own database of new and sold listings is submitted for processing. The system automatically generates a 25-card mailing to the nearest residences for each listing.
All of the company’s agents use the system, but it obviously helps that the cost is underwritten 100 percent by Howard Hanna. Management believes the ability to locate addresses automatically is a key part of making the system easy to use.
[ Producing the Job ]
When a file is uploaded to the system, the listing’s address information is forwarded to Dickman Directories. There, address information for the 25 nearest residences is added for each listing. The file is then resubmitted to the system for address correction processing before the final data are sent to the printer for output.
Dispatch Digital Printing Services based its part of the solution on a Xerox iGen3 digital color press with Kodak Creo Spire RIP and Pageflex (Bitstream) Mpower variable data software. It soon saw volumes approach 15,000 full-color postcards a week.
Along with the postcards, the system gives agents the option to create more elaborate, customized sales collateral for their properties. About 15 percent of the agents—typically those among the company’s top performers—use the system to create different types of handouts, such as listing sheets or color brochures. Agents can upload different images and add custom text for these pieces. Howard Hanna is able to maintain control of its brand by making sure all materials available through the system are in compliance with its corporate standards.
Using an online system (and templates) to create these additional sales materials has eliminated a significant production bottleneck. Previously, Howard Hanna’s in-house design staff struggled to gather the required materials in a timely manner. It could take weeks just for agents to get a proof of a brochure or sale sheet, and even longer to receive the printed materials. Now, the entire process takes less than one week, and often less than 24 hours.
Another option that agents have been given to expand their marketing efforts is extending a mailing beyond the 25 closest homes.
[ The Results ]
Howard Hanna management believes having such a sophisticated Web-based system is integral to attracting and keeping good agents. It notes that there are at least 100 online services that independent agents can use to order postcards with images of houses, but these systems don’t offer the same automation. Also, the real estate company’s new solution gets the postcards in the mail within a week, instead of production taking several weeks.
The more direct financial payoff comes from a couple types of agent referrals that result from the mailings:
• Recipients who decide to sell their own homes.
• Recipients who show the postcard to a relative or friend who may be interested in buying the property featured. PI
This case study was derived from PODi’s Best Practices in Digital Print collection. With more than 300 case studies, it is the largest collection ever assembled of successful digital printing projects. PODi is an industry initiative with hundreds of member companies, including executive board members EFI, HP, Pitney Bowes, Quark and Xerox. PODi members receive free access to the case studies, as well as other resources including presentations, reports and online seminars. Membership in PODi is open to companies and organizations involved in digital printing. For more information on joining PODi or submitting your own case study, visit www.podi.org.