Getting Ready to Mail: The Data

Over the years it’s become more prevalent for one person to be responsible for multiple facets of a business’s processes. To assist those people, tools have been developed to make processes easier and automated.

When it comes to mailing in bulk, the first tools people look to are Microsoft Word and Excel. For normal letters, these tools are perfect and are easy to use. However, when you move into the world of commercial mailing, for a more efficient and cost-saving process, we recommend moving beyond Microsoft Word and Excel mail merge. If you decide to move in this direction, your project will see the maximum reach via the USPS by prepping your data correctly before sending it to us.

Some common issues we’ve noticed have been are:

  • Merged columns where the city, state and zipcode are all in the same column
  • Missing pieces of info such as the city, first or last name of the recipient, the entire street address, etc.
  • Misspelled names, cities, street names, states, etc.
  • Columns where everything is merged into one field

The above are just the tip of the iceberg unfortunately. While it is true that CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System) and NCOA (National Change of Address) software will often catch mistakes such as misspellings, improperly formatted data needs to be standardized before it can even get to that point. If it isn’t, the software could correct the address based on one of multiple occurrences of an street name (road, street, avenue, etc.) that could result in a mailpiece being undeliverable.

Fixing this can be done but it takes time, and money.

In our experience, just cleaning the data for 250-500 records can take anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour of time, and that is on the low end of the spectrum. We’ve had address files supplied to us that had well over 100,000 records. Those large address files have taken 5-6 hours to clean depending on what issues needed to be addressed.

That’s valuable time you’ll be paying someone to go through and split those columns, check for obvious misspellings, look for invalid characters such as carriage returns, and other issues before sending it back for approval of the changes. In a marketing campaign where time is of the essence, you need to avoid this processing time as much as possible.


Domestic US Addresses

I’ll break this into two sections, as there is critical information about both domestic and foreign address records that need to be addressed separately.

The best way to avoid the time I mentioned previously, is to ensure that the data sent is already prepped and ready to go. A good habit is to set your column headers in Excel, Google Sheets, Numbers or whatever spreadsheet application you’re using as follows.

First Name
Last Name
Address 1
Address 2
Country (for international addresses)


Foreign (Non-US) Addresses

If you are planning to send mail outside the US, keep in mind that CASS and NCOA software will ignore any and all foreign records. That’s right, the software will flag them as undeliverable. CASS and NCOA are for US records only, so it’s even more critical to get those records right the first time.

We’ve also found over the years that foreign records are also where the bulk of cleaning can occur if we are asked to do that for our customers. Always check the spelling of your contact’s name, their company name, street addresses and the country name.

Canada, Australia and the UK all share similar address formatting, where the province is often abbreviated in the place of the US state. Additionally, the postal code is formatted with three characters, a space and then three more characters. For example if you wanted to mail a letter to a person in Toronto Canada the address would appear as:

123 Main St.
Toronto, ON M5V 1R9

This is just one example of how it is critical that your information is formatted correctly for the country you are sending it to.
For All Mailings
Any additional information should be in it’s own field(s) (i.e. dates, phone numbers, etc.). In most cases, this additional information can be used in variable mail-pieces (which you should seriously consider doing to keep your recipient’s eyes on that well-designed piece).

Also, make sure to do a find and replace on your entire sheet, looking for double-spaces, carriage returns, and commas. When plugging the data into CASS, NCOA or variable printing applications, those characters can break them. If you need any assistance with this, don’t hesitate to ask us by giving us a call.


In Conclusion

Mail that has addresses that are not formatted correctly run the risk of taking longer to reach their destination, being misdelivered or being returned undeliverable. As mentioned before, time is of the essence for a marketing campaign to be successful and every undelivered piece is potentially a lost customer or client.

If you have further questions or want to work with us on getting you data prepped to maximize your savings and reach your intended audience, give us a call or email and we’d be glad to assist you.

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