Mailers agonize over so many details creating mailpieces to ensure a response. Offers are tested, the paper is perfect and the reply mechanisms are in place. But what happens if the piece never gets delivered? Such is the case when the quality of the data that drives the mail is ignored. Simply put, the importance of data quality is perhaps most crucial when it applies to creating a mailing. If the address is incorrect, what the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deems "undeliverable as addressed" (UAA), the mailpiece will likely not arrive at its intended destination on time. In some cases, depending on the class of mail, it may even be thrown away.
According to USPS' internal studies, 23.5% of the mail presented to the USPS for delivery is considered UAA. The reasons for this are many, including people moving (2.8%); missing apartment numbers (4.9%); missing directional suffixes such as a north, south, east or west (seven percent); and other missing or incorrect elements such as the street name or number (6.9 %), city/state/ZIP Code (3.1%) and incorrect ZIP + 4 Code (2.6%).
Fortunately, astute mailers know that there are powerful tools out there to help correct these problems and ensure companys' carefully-crafted, highly-targeted mailpieces will indeed arrive at their intended destination. These tools are not only essential for data quality, some of them are required in order to qualify for automation discounts for First-Class Mail bulk rates.
Coding Accuracy Support System is the Beginning
The foundation of address correction and cleansing is the use of CASS-certified software. Software that is CASS- certified and available from commercial software vendors is tested annually by the USPS to verify if the software correctly "codes" an address. This testing also determines if it could "potentially" exist in a range of valid addresses, which the USPS provides monthly or bi-monthly within a database containing all deliverable addresses in the US and its territories. It does not, however, guarantee that the address is truly deliverable or that it isn't part of the previously noted UAA categories. In order to improve address quality beyond CASS, additional tools must be leveraged.
Since early 2004, the USPS has begun to roll out a series of what they are calling their "link" solutions. The first of these is the NCOALink product. With NCOALink, mailers are able to leverage 48 months' or 18 months' worth of national change-of-address data. With an annual move rate of roughly 17% in this country, it makes sense for mailers to either explore leveraging this technology through a service provider or bring the technology in-house.
In order to make NCOALink as accessible as possible, the USPS is offering three different levels of licensing so more mailers can take advantage of its benefits. For mailers looking to keep their own data up-to-date, an End User Mailer level is available at $7,500 annually. This provides 18 months' worth of change-of-address data, updated every month.
If mailers would like to keep their lists up-to-date as well as provide change-of-address processing as a service to their customers, a Limited Service Provider level is available at $15,000 annually. This also provides 18 months of change-of-address data that is updated weekly.
Finally, for those service providers looking to truly expand their service offerings, a Full Service Provider level is available at $175,000 annually, providing the full 48 months' worth of change-of-address data. This level is the same as the traditional exclusive NCOA vendor level, but due to the highly encrypted and protected nature of the "link" technology, the USPS is allowing any company to apply at this level.
These costs reflect only the USPS licensing fees for usage of the data. An interface must still be written and certified or licensed from a certified NCOALink distributor to leverage the data. Fortunately, there are numerous companies now offering NCOALink interfaces, and many of them offer the solution for all three levels of use on a multitude of operating systems.
On the heels of the NCOALink is the next "link" solution. This new service will be known as LACSLink, with LACS standing for the Locatable Address Conversion System. Every year, 300,000 to 400,000 addresses are changed based on municipality implementation of 911 emergency systems, or street name changes or other reasons such as renumbering a set of PO boxes.
Like the former service NCOA, LACS processing existed prior to the announcement of LACSLink as a service available only through a select group of licensed vendors. However, like NCOALink, the U.S. Postal Service is now making the data more accessible. The USPS is providing the opportunity for mailers to leverage this data cleansing technology as part of its overall data quality solution. This means that mailers can now choose to integrate LACSLink as part of a single-pass data-cleansing tool, along with CASS and NCOALink.
These two link solutions are just the beginning. During 2005, the USPS plans on unveiling more "link" based solutions.
As the industry continues to look for ways to reduce costs, improve delivery and leverage postage discounts, these assorted link tools should be considered necessary components to complete data quality solutions. Based on the emerging UAA mail statistics, leveraging these tools may be the only way your mailpiece can avoid becoming the true definition of "junk" mail.
Firstlogic is a non-exclusive Interface Distributor Licensee of the U.S. Postal Service. The following trademarks are owned by the U.S. Postal Service: NCOALink, LACSLink, USPS, ZIP Code, ZIP + 4, CASS, CASS-Certified, First Class Mail, and U.S. Postal Service. Firstlogic is a registered trademark of Firstlogic, Inc.
Christopher Lien is the commercial mail market director at Firstlogic, Inc. Visit the Web site, www.firstlogic.com.