In his book The Direct Mail Solution, direct marketing expert and entrepreneur Craig Simpson provides easy-to-follow solutions for creating direct mail campaigns that work! In this edited excerpt, the author describes the steps you can take to eliminate duplicate or bad addresses from your mailing list in order to improve results and reduce costs.

Even the best mail list may have duplicate names, old and undeliverable addresses, or some names that you may not want to mail to. By cleaning up the list, you can save a great deal of money.

Merge purge and data hygiene are the processes used to clean up your mail file. They'll help you limit the number of undeliverable records, take out duplicate records and suppress records you don't want to mail. The combination of merge purge and proper list hygiene will give you these three main benefits:

1. By reporting the undeliverable names you find, you can get deductions on your rented lists that will lower your list rental cost.

2. The post office doesn't want to deal with undeliverable or returned mailing pieces. That's why discounts on postage are available if you use the tools provided by the Postal Service to clean up and presort your list. It can save you thousands.

3. If you order 10 lists from different companies, each of which is based on the same criteria, there are bound to be some duplicates between the lists. By cleaning up your lists, you eliminate these duplicate records, which saves you money on printing and postage.

You have many options for how you'll run a merge purge. There's software you can buy, you can develop your own software, or you can pay a data processing company to run the merge purge for you.

I prefer to use the professional services of a data-processing company. A good data-processing company will have access to the Postal Service files you need to clean up your list and get postage discounts. It'll also help guide you on what parameters to use when running a merge purge, for example, whether you want it performed at a household level or an individual level, or at a home or business level.

For example, you can set the merge purge parameters to select the home address for all duplicate records. A duplicate name may have two different addresses--one may appear to be a business location, and the other may appear to be a home address. If your data processing company is able to distinguish the difference between the two, you'd have them keep the "At Home" address.

One of the main purposes of the merge purge is to find duplicates between the files. These duplicate records/names are also called multibuyers or multis.

Multibuyer names usually end up being very responsive. When you're selecting lists to rent for a targeted mailing, the lists usually have something in common with one another. If you're doing a mailing to promote a newsletter on naturopathic medicine, then the lists should all be related to wanting to improve health through natural approaches. This means there will likely be duplicate names across the lists because their interest level in this area is so high that they've bought or subscribed to more than one product or service. Therefore, they're more likely to purchase again.

Depending on the size of your mailing, these multibuyers are usually broken down into three groups:

1. 2X Multis: Duplicate names that are on two lists
2. 3X Multis: Duplicate names that are on three lists
3. 4X + Multis: Duplicate names that are on four or more lists

The merge purge will ensure you mail to the name only one time even though the name appears on more than one list. But these multis can be very useful to you. Because these names are on more than one list, you've paid for the name more than one time. And because you're just mailing the name one time in your current mailing, you can also mail the name at a later date. Obviously, you'll want to wait a few weeks before re-mailing—otherwise you defeat the purpose of removing the duplicates from the mail file.

The Postal Service offers some great tools and files to help you ensure you have the most up-to-date addresses. Here are a few:

  • National Change of Address (NCOA) File: A list of people who've moved within the past three years. Running the NCOA list against your mail file will help ensure you have the correct address for anyone on the mail file that's recently moved.
  • Locatable Address Conversion System (LACS): Will convert rural-style addresses (nonstandard) to city-style addresses (standard). This will help increase the deliverability of your mail.
  • Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS): Helps mailers improve the accuracy of delivery. This software will identify and correct bad addresses to the carrier route, five-digit zip, ZIP +4 and delivery point codes. In addition to improving your delivery, the CASS system will help you receive an automatic discount on your postage.

Make sure your data-processing company has access to these files because the Postal Service doesn't make them available to everyone.

Getting all the postage deductions available for your mail piece will save you thousands of dollars. You must plan in advance to make sure you run the address hygiene process correctly. Proper list hygiene will lower the number of "nixie" records—incorrect or undeliverable records.