The U.S. Postal Service and the mailing industry have long recognized ZIP+4 as the cornerstone of USPS automation discounts and address accuracy requirements. Prior to Classification Reform, the USPS was willing to accept 15% garbage addresses in a database. As long as the CASS certificate showed a ZIP+4 percentage that was 85% or higher, barcode discounts could be claimed on good and bad addresses alike. Today, the USPS requirement for ZIP+4 encoding is a rate of 100%. The USPS has enhanced the CASS process by adding mailing list maintenance tools like Delivery Point Validation (DPV) processing to its toolbox. The most simplistic description of DPV is a ZIP+4 refinement. Unfortunately, few in the mailing industry realize the results of the ZIP+4 encoding process are a tool to be used to their great advantage, and even fewer use DPV as the biggest weapon in their mailing list maintenance arsenal.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Mailing List Mindset
Far too many customers do not want to know the real condition of their mailing lists and far too many mailers do not provide their customers with their mailing list statistics for fear of economic repercussions. The rationale for this mindset runs the gambit from unsound economic reasoning; personal bias to the myths of wishful thinking. And, reasons easily become motives for many service providers and customers alike.
In the mid 1990s, when 85% ZIP+4 was the requirement, I met with the owner of a full-service lettershop and print facility during the time that he was processing a 1.3 million piece job for one of his clients. The Standard class self-mailers had been printed there; the database had been ZIP+4 encoded and the addressing of the mailpieces was in progress. I asked the lettershop owner what the encoding rate was for the 1.3 million addresses in the mailing list and he replied, "87%." Then I asked the dumbest question I have probably ever asked a business owner. "Did you tell your client that 13% of his mailpieces were unencodable and would most likely be disposed of by the USPS?" The owner never answered me; he simply gave me a look that spoke volumes. Left unsaid was, "I am not about to suggest to my client that there is any reason why my print bill nor my mail processing bill to his company should be reduced by 13%." For many owners of full-service print and lettershops, that viewpoint is a justifiable economic reason. In reality, those holding that viewpoint are being short-sighted because informed customers typically do more business with their service providers because they are happily experiencing reduced postage, print and processing costs and increased response rates by eliminating problem addresses from their mailing lists.
Another Point of View
The manager of a mailing department for a small college attended mailing training which included list maintenance procedures and label generation for a mailing list of about 4,800 records. Upon reviewing the labels printed, I found that the last 70 labels in the mailing had a printed address of "OUT OF THE COUNTRY." I asked the manager why she had not deleted those records from the list and the mailing. Where did she think those pieces were going to go? She replied, "You don't understand. That department head gave me a mailing list of 4,800 records and the only thing she wants to see back from me is a mailing statement showing that I put 4,800 pieces into the mail. She does not want to hear about the number of duplicates or anything about whether or not any address is ZIP+4 encodable or deliverable. The department will think we didn't do the job right if the numbers don't match." For far too many companies and institutions, the database rules. Bigger just has to be better. Print orders, mail processing charges, department budget allocations, even headcounts are based on the size of the database that must be supported. Therefore, any efforts to decrease the size of the database have far-reaching, negative economic ramifications.
Mailpieces Delivered to a Mailbox Not a Dumpster
The fact that the USPS is one of the most highly trusted institutions in the world also plays a significant role in this mailer mindset. The image of the letter carrier walking our neighborhoods and placing mail in our mailboxes will almost always appear in our minds with relative ease. It · is much more difficult, if not impossible, for most of us to conjure up the image of a USPS forklift filling a dumpster with mailpieces. What else is the post office supposed to do with a mailpiece that is undeliverable as addressed mailed at Standard rates? Here's what postal documentation states the USPS must do with unendorsed UAA Standard mail:
No amount of time, wishful thinking or lack of attention will turn a bad address into a deliverable one. Left uncorrected, a bad address will remain in your list and repeatedly cost you postage, processing, etc. You will continue to pay those charges again and again only to have the piece land in a recycle bin and not a mailbox. And, the USPS will continue to win national recycle awards. Industry intervention is required. If you are placing an address on a mailpiece, you must be planning on that mailpiece being ultimately delivered to the addressees' mailbox. Following that logic, you are not planning on a dumpster as the destination of that piece.
Take off the blinders and the rose-tinted glasses and uncover that blindspot that so many of us have about the realities of mail processing and delivery. No amount of wishful thinking or denial will turn a bad address into a deliverable one. We must be proactive in our approach and utilize the tools that we have readily available to us even though neither CASS ZIP+4 nor DPV are absolutely perfect, as a process or as a tool. They may not be perfect but they are very good and should be used to their fullest extent. Mailing lists that are passed through the CASS processes of ZIP+4 and DPV receive multiple return codes, markers or flags that can be invaluable in performing very basic mailing list maintenance.
Regardless of your particular perception; whether you use the CASS process for economic or aesthetic reasons, there are policies and procedures that you can incorporate that can give you the best of both worlds. If you regularly mail an advertising flyer to multiple neighborhoods, you may want to simply delete any records that cannot be ZIP+4 encoded from your mailing list and not even bother to have the mailing list DPV processed. The expense of identifying those addresses in the list that received a ZIP+4 but would not be deliverable because the actual address doesn't exist may not be worth the effort. However, if the mailing list consists of customers who have bought $30,000 cars from your dealership in the past five years, ZIP+4 and DPV are the tools for you!
Change your thinking from getting a mailpiece into the mail stream to getting a piece into the mailbox. Until that movement happens, these costs and charges and bad addresses and recycle awards will remain the status quo. Mailers and customers alike have the ability to reverse the momentum and begin the move in an opposite and more profitable direction for all parties involved. Every segment of the mailing industry from the Postal Service to the client to the printers to the lettershops to the software vendors can only profit from the expanded use of ZIP+4 and DPV encoding of mailing lists.
Mary Ann Bennett is the president and CEO of The Bennett Group, Inc. She is nationally recognized as an expert on USPS postal automation and is a frequent speaker at direct marketing conventions and communication forums. Contact Mary Ann Bennett by phone 585-820-5457, fax 585-533-9024 or e-mail Maryann@the-bennett-group.com.