One of the most significant challenges facing the Postal Service and the mailing industry today is accurate addressing. Reducing the amount of forwarded mail has been a major goal since 1997, and those efforts will be expanded considerably in the coming years. Now, Intelligent Mail through the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) is making it easier.
In October 2007, OneCode ACS using the IMB became available for all classes of mail. That means that mailers can have better address quality, electronic updates on addresses and can begin relaying address information in a barcode instead of the old endorsement lines. In November 2008, the Postal Service will extend move update requirements in place now for discounted First-Class Mail to virtually all classes of mail so mailers will also have statutory reasons to get their addresses in shape.
Intelligent Address Services Available from USPS
After taking care of the basics in address quality CASS and maybe NCOALink using the IMB adds a number of additional address enhancements. IMB Confirm will identify many instances of forwarded and returned mail that you can use to update your list, and OneCode ACS gives you the latest move information based on your live mail at a reasonable cost paid only on nondeliverable mail. OneCode ACS will catch any changes that may have been made since the last NCOALink update.
Prior to the introduction of OneCode ACS, ACS subscribers used alphanumeric key lines that identified the subscriber and the specific record for the address. Today, OneCode ACS subscribers can use the new barcode, the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB), to identify the subscriber and receive electronic address corrections only no manual corrections. The electronic corrections are very inexpensive the postal fee is only two cents per correction on Standard Mail, and free on First-Class. (There may be higher fees if a mailer continues to use the old address.)
Two Styles of Corrections
OneCode ACS allows for two kinds of address correction services: Address Service and Change Service. Fundamentally, Address Service provides for the forwarding of the mailpiece while sending ACS data to the subscriber, while with Change Service, the mailpiece is discarded, again, with ACS data being sent.
Address Service has traditionally been associated with the ancillary endorsement "Address Service Requested." With Address Service, the mail will generally be forwarded or returned, and change of address (COA) information or reason for nondelivery will be sent electronically. For First-Class Mail, this is all usually done at no charge, so it often makes sense, as long as you want the piece forwarded. For Standard Mail, the piece may be forwarded for no charge when Address Service is requested, but if the piece is returned, there is a risk you will pay a substantial fee for the returned mail. We do not generally recommend Address Service for Standard Mail unless you have a high confidence of delivery or there is high value to getting a piece back.
Change Service has traditionally been associated with the ancillary endorsement "Change
Service Requested." With Change Service, the mailpiece will generally be destroyed, but the change of address information or reason for nondelivery will be sent electronically. The only cost incurred will be the address correction fee, generally free for First-Class Mail and two cents for Standard.
A Fancy New Barcode
The Intelligent Mail Barcode is the new mailing barcode available today and scheduled to replace the POSTNET and PLANET barcodes in 2009. The barcode consists of 65 bars of four different lengths or positions that allows for coding of up to 31 digits using a USPS encoder. The first 20 digits are the tracking number, and the last 0-11 are for routing information ZIP+4 and delivery point, or whatever ZIP information is available. More details on this barcode are available at www.trackmymail.com.
The Service Type ID is at the heart of the IMB. These digits tell the postal sorting equipment what service the mailer is requesting from the barcode. Mailers may ask for tracking information, address correction information, or no services just mail routing. This ability to request services is the key to "Intelligent" Mail.
Expressing Your Interest to the USPS
Ancillary endorsements, such as "Address Service Requested" are part of how mailers have traditionally communicated with USPS as to how to handle their mail. Ancillary endorsements are considerably different for OneCode ACS:
- First-Class Mail with OneCode ACS does NOT require an ancillary endorsement.
- Standard Mail with OneCode ACS requires the endorsement "Electronic Service Requested."
In addition to the ancillary endorsement, the mailer ID for each mailing may be set to provide different kinds of services. This combination or service type ID, mailer ID and ancillary endorsement (of lack thereof) drive how the mail and address data are handled.
As mail is identified as undeliverable as addressed (UAA), address change data is sent to the MID holder through the USPS RIBBS system. The subscriber can specify how often they wish to get data daily, semi-weekly, weekly, semi-monthly or monthly. If a change of address is on file within the appropriate timeframe, the file will contain the old address and the new address, along with the date the move became effective, the move type (family, individual or business) and the unique sequence number that was in the IMB. Using this data, mailers can match the move back to the original record and update it. If the mail is not deliverable and not forwardable, the record will also indicate why it wasn't delivered. Mailers can use this data to decide how to handle this address in future mailings.
In addition to OneCode ACS, the IMB allows mailers to identify when mail has been forwarded or returned, even without requesting ACS data. With the IMB, each piece can have its own unique sequence number that can identify to the mailer exactly which piece it is. If the mail is forwarded or returned, that sequence number will remain the same, while the delivery ZIP information will change. Mailers can use this change to identify when mail has been redirected. Of course, if the mail is discarded, there will be no tracking of its fate, and while the system will return a new ZIP or even a ZIP+4, you cannot determine the new address from this. This redirected mail information can be a powerful tool for identifying problem records in your mailing list. Combined with OneCode ACS, the Intelligent Mail Barcode is a useful address quality solution.
Complex but Powerful Tools
Using the Intelligent Mail Barcode for OneCode ACS is not always simple, but there are many tools that can help. Trackmymail has a solution that works with the OneCode ACS program to help you have high address quality lists AND track your mailings en route. The Postal Service also has some tools to help you use OneCode ACS at ribs.usps.gov/onecodesolution and pe.usps.gov. They make it easy to update your address lists with NCOALink, ancillary endorsements and ACS.
With the Intelligent Mail Barcode required for automation discounts in 2009, there is no reason not to start using OneCode ACS, individual mailpiece tracking and other tools that the barcode offers. We highly recommend that you start using the Intelligent Mail Barcode today and reap the benefits of updated address lists, automatic electronic updates, new endorsements, tracking and ACS for yourself.
Dave Lewis is the co-founder of trackmymail.com, a Pitney Bowes Company, and is currently responsible for providing leadership and vision for the trackmymail.com team. Lewis is a well-known speaker and writer for the industry and currently resides in the D.C. area with his wife and two children. Contact: www.trackmymail.com, 301-924-4545 (phone) and 301-924-2373 (fax).