In this age of the email, it is easy to forget direct mail is still a valuable tool for any small business.
Jim Federico, Vice President of Sales at Offset Impressions, Inc., suggests postcards, special offers, brochures and newsletters can be very effective in acquiring and maintaining customers.
As Federico points out, the goal for using direct mail is usually one of the following:
- Advertise new business or service offering
- Communicate special offers or sales to customers and potential customers
- Test the marketplace for responses to other media - website registration, phone call for appointments, or inquiries
- Brand building and awareness
But a constant consideration for any small business is cost.
Here, Federico suggests a very cost efficient methodology—use a bulk mail approach.
By being careful in the selection and processing the target mailing lists, small businesses can save money using a bulk mail approach.
Here is a step-by-step listing of what a small business marketing leader should know about in general as well as for a bulk direct mail approach.
The list can come from three sources:
- A list broker
- An on-line mail list provider
- An internal list compiled from a particular business’ collection method – store or on-line registrations, insider or outside sales lists, conference or trade show registrations
Next, there is the consideration of quantity.
Federico says the following minimum mail piece quantities must be met in a bulk mail effort:
- 500 pieces for first class mail
- 200 pieces or 50 pounds of mail for standard mail
The third step is insuring the list is presented in a fashion the post office can utilize and apply the bulk rate.
Therefore, lists for bulk business mail need to be processed for accuracy and put into presort order for automation.
This also a good idea even if a list is being sent out regular first class.
For bulk business mail a list needs to be processed and certified.
“This hygiene approach should be used with any mailing,” Federico says.
Whether an internal list or one purchased, several factors to consider when reviewing a mail list are:
- The United States Postal Service requires mail lists to be CASS certified (Coding Accuracy Support System) and DPV certified (Delivery Point Validation) as well as NCOA updates. (National Change of Address). These are the baseline requirements for USPS for permit mailings.
- For a mail list to receive CASS certification, the list must be checked against the USPS Address Matching System. Each address must have a correct matching zip code. Addresses with accurate zip code and barcode are eligible for automation bulk mailing rates.
- DPV, or delivery point validation, identifies and eliminates incorrect addresses.
- NCOA will update submitted mail lists for residents and businesses that have moved and registered with the post office. The service will cover the previous 18 months. Lists that are guaranteed to be NCOA certified, unless otherwise specified will only cover that 18-month period.
The USPS requires mail lists to have verifiable addresses and confirmation from the National Change of Address database.
Another consideration is if a business does not have a mail list or does need to have addressee names, the USPS has services available in which mail can be addressed as “current resident”.
A mail house or printing company offering mail services can process business mail lists.
Many list providers guarantee lists for a percentage of accuracy (e.g. 95% deliverable) and businesses may be able to receive a refund if the purchased list is used within a short period of time and a business gets more returned mail than the guaranteed amount.
However, businesses need to be aware that only first class mail is returned to the sender. The post office discards all standard mail that is returned. This is worth repeating - if a business mails pieces via the least expensive method, standard mail, all pieces that are undeliverable as addressed are discarded by the post office. Businesses will not be reimbursed for these postage and printing costs, not to mention lost potential revenue.
Many business owners ask, “why are mail pieces undeliverable as addressed I purchase a list or my mail house will NCOA my data file?”
According to the US Census Bureau for the last measurable year, 2010, 14.5% of the population has moved. Some of these addressees will be updated in the required list processing but many may not.
The USPS requires mail lists to have NCOA updates every 90 days. So if a mail list is bought with data that is 89 days old, 4.5% of the file could have moved. Also, it is important to note that not everyone registers with the post office when they move.
Additional levels of list hygiene that full service mailers can provide are:
- DMA suppression list (Do Not Mail lists)
- Address correction services
- Deceased files
- Apartment append file
- Duplication elimination
- 48 month NCOA
If a business decides to use a full service mail house for bulk mailings, inquiring about advanced levels of address hygiene should be considered.
Remember, it is about having the piece of mail reach the intended recipient.
A list may have the correct address but if the apartment number is missing, the mail piece will not be delivered- this is a frequent occurrence in high-rise buildings.
Businesses need to determine how mailings are to be used and who will be in charge of the data. If the mail list is used on a repeated basis then it is imperative to have reports and corrected data files after the mail has been dropped.
Businesses should ask their mailer for a report when the file has been processed. After reviewing the report, make the necessary corrections to the list for future use.
If a list is purchased for one time usage, ask for NCOA lists more frequently than every 90 days and inquire about the accuracy of the lists and if there are any guarantees on deliverable mail. Some list providers will periodically check their lists with first class mailings.
Federico urges small businesses to realize that “significant revenue can be lost from bad mail lists.” In fact, 6.3% of all standard mail is undeliverable as addressed.
That 6.3% could be replaced with other potential customers to maximize printing and postage budgets. There is no such thing as a clean mail list, but more knowledge and attention to this part of a business’ marketing effort can be valuable to the bottom line.