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Finding Relevance in the Mailbox

Standard Mail is the dominant class of mail by volume  for deliv­ery by the  United  States  Postal Service. According  to the 2010 Household Diary  Survey, 22% of mail received by households was Standard  Mail  in  envelopes. The  next  highest  was  17% consisting of fliers  and circulars, followed by what  used  to be the largest group: bills and invoices at 13%. Today's mailbox  has become a cacophony  of advertisements and offers. The line of distinction between what some  recipients call “junk  mail” and others  call timely offers  comes  down  to relevancy  in the mes­ sage, or what I consider to be truly intelligent mail.

Software is an essential tool in crafting a truly intelligent mailpiece and it all begins with data. More precisely, it begins with clean data. Address data that is complete, correct. and current is only the begin­ning. Marketers must also consider additional data elements such as demographic information,geographic location,and household infor­mation. That last element, household data, is particularly important for today's data matching and consolidating software tools.

The traditional phrase of  “merge/purge”  was  often  relegated to removing duplicate records and purging unwanted or outdated information. While still an essential step to reduce costs and avoid the proliferation of unwanted (“junk”) mail, today's direct marketer needs to dive deeper into their data in order to uncover essential attributes of a targeted recipient if they want to find relevance in the mailbox.

Householding, a term  used to describe the consolidation  of mul­tiple records that often have the same base address,is  one way in which astute mailers look to improve message relevance in the mailbox. A “household”  for data is two  or more records grouped together  based on an established  match criterion. For example. match criteria may be set such that address A and address B are in the same “household” because they both have the same exact primary and secondary address .city, state, and ZIP Code. This is often the most  common example of “householding”. However, a “household” can also be the same apartment complex or perhaps the same business with various subsidiaries.

Geocoding is another tool leveraged to find relevancy in the mail­ box. Where  a recipient actually  lives  is not  necessarily where they receive their mail. It is not uncommon to have the city asso­ciated with  a USPS ZIP Code be completely different from  the city in which the recipient lives and pays property taxes. Know­ing the  actual latitude  and longitude  of the physical addresses versus the mailing address can be essential to properly  messag­ing the recipient. For example, offering a free cup of coffee to all addresses  within one mile of a newly opened coffee shop might sound  like a good idea at first, until  you find out  that  some  of the recipients will have to drive several miles out of their way to cross a river that separates the town.

Finding relevance in the mailbox is also about messaging  innova­tion. Variable messaging  is not a new concept,but the software and  data  available to  become   increasingly  innovative  are. For example, social media  is booming, and with  it comes  a deluge of data that was once difficult,if not impossible,for marketers to

obtain without direct participation from customers  and prospects via the use of surveys and conversations with telemarketers. Couple this with software that can work personalized messages into any type of mailing,and you have a mailpiece that has the potential to deliver powerful results.

Direct marketers arguably have more data available to them today than ever before,and there doesn't seem to be any signs that this will  diminish. They also have access to increasingly sophisticated software capable of matching and consolidating data using custom business rules. When  leveraged correctly, this array of  data and sophisticated software can improve targeted messaging, create intel­ligent mail, and enable mail to become more personal and relevant.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2012 edition of Mailing Systems Technology.