Clean up your mailing list

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


Even the best mailing list can have duplicate names, old and undeliverable addresses, or names you might not want to mail to. By cleaning up the list, you can save a lot of money.

Merge purging and data hygiene are the processes used to clean up your mail file. They will help you limit the number of undeliverable records, remove duplicate records, and remove records you don’t want to send. The combination of a fusion purge and proper list hygiene will give you these three main benefits:

1. By reporting undeliverable names that you find, you can get deductions on your rented listings that will reduce the cost of renting your listing.

2. The post office does not want to process undeliverable or returned mail. This is why postage discounts are available if you use the tools provided by the Postal Service to clean and sort your list. It can save you thousands.

3. If you order 10 listings from different companies, each based on the same criteria, there are bound to be duplicates between the listings. By cleaning up your lists, you eliminate those duplicate records, saving you money on printing and postage.

You have many options for performing a merge purge. There is software that you can buy, you can develop your own software, or you can pay a data processing company to run the merge purge for you.

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I prefer to use the professional services of an IT company. A good IT company will have access to the postal service files you need to clean up your list and receive postage discounts. It will also help you determine what parameters to use when performing a merge purge, for example, whether you want it to be performed at the household or individual level, or at the house level or of the company.

For example, you can set the merge purge settings to select the home address for all duplicate records. A duplicate name can have two different addresses: one can appear to be a business location, and the other can appear to be a home address. If your data processor can tell the difference between the two, you would keep the “At Home” address.

One of the main purposes of merge purge is to find duplicates between files. These duplicate records / names are also referred to as multi-buyers or multi-buyers.

Names of multiple buyers usually end up being very responsive. When you select lists to rent for targeted mailing, the lists usually have something in common with each other. If you are doing a direct mail promoting a naturopathic medicine newsletter, then the lists should all be related to the desire to improve health through natural approaches. This means that there will likely be duplicate names in the listings because their level of interest in this area is so high that they have purchased or subscribed to more than one product or service. Therefore, they are more likely to buy again.

Depending on the size of your shipment, these multi-buyers are generally divided into three groups:

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

The merge purge will ensure that you send the name only once, even if the name appears on more than one list. But these multis can be very useful to you. Since these names appear on more than one list, you paid for the name more than once. And because you only send the name once in your current shipment, you can also send the name at a later date. Obviously, you will have to wait a few weeks before resending the mail, otherwise you will not be able to remove the duplicates from the mail file.

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

  • National change of address file (NCOA): A list of people who have moved in the past three years. Running the NCOA list against your mail file will help ensure that you have the correct address for anyone on the recently moved mail file.
  • Localizable Address Conversion System (LACS): Will convert rural-style (non-standard) addresses to city-style (standard) addresses. This will help increase the deliverability of your mail.
  • Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS): Help shippers improve delivery accuracy. This software will identify and correct the wrong addresses on the carrier’s route, five-digit postcode, postcode +4 and delivery point codes. In addition to improving your delivery, the CASS system will allow you to benefit from an automatic discount on your shipping costs.

Make sure that your IT company has access to these files because Swiss Post does not make them available to everyone.

Obtaining all the postage deductions available for your mail will save you thousands of dollars. You need to plan ahead to make sure you are performing the address hygiene process properly. Good list hygiene will reduce the number of “nixie” records — incorrect or undeliverable records.

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