What Does USPS Validation Really Mean?
Direct mail and marketing professionals talk about address validation constantly. Data quality is a necessary part of an effective mailing program. Address validation is a big term, and it means different things to different people. In the eyes of the United States Postal Service and the direct mail community, address validation comes at various levels.
First, the USPS wants streets spelled correctly, address elements like directionals and unit/suite numbers to be present, and the ZIP code must match the address. Additional processes ensure the USPS can deliver mail to a given address, and that the named recipient still lives at that location.
Today, we will review the different levels of address validation, postal, and third-party databases used to validate at each level. We’ll include an example illustrating the impact of validation efforts on deliverability, postage costs, and revenue.
LEVEL 1: Spelling Counts
If you were proofing a term paper, your first line of defense to assuring a good grade is checking your spelling and following a formatting protocol like the Chicago Manual of Style. In direct mail, addresses are the data items that require correct spelling, and USPS dictates the formatting rules in Publication 28, Postal Addressing Standards.
CASS certified software is used to verify that required elements of postal addresses are present, spelled correctly, and formatted according to postal specifications. The standardization process is more than spelling. Validation involves organizing every part of the address, such as the house number, street name, city, and ZIP code. Parsing is a process software uses to dismantle an address into pieces or lines of data. Each piece of data is then identified as distinct parts and labeled accordingly.
LEVEL 2: A Place for the Mail
Once software corrects the address elements, it compares the address to the Postal Services’ central repository of address information. The USPS deems addresses “validated” or verified when it confirms the address receives mail. There are many instances of legitimate addresses that do not receive mail. Cemeteries, baseball fields, and vacant lots come to mind.
LEVEL 3: Who Lives There?
Nearly 15% of all residents and businesses move every year.1 Business moves a little less often, and individuals move a little more. Either way, all that mobility represents plenty of potential errors if your organization has not updated the list. NCOA (National Change of Address) uses address change notifications submitted to the USPS by individuals, families, and businesses to replace old addresses with new ones. If you completed a move update card or an online move update form for a permanent or temporary move, your data is recorded in the Post Office’s database. Processing a mailing list against the Post Office’s NCOA database will update the data in your mailing list with any new moves reported to the USPS. NCOA services are typically offered as part of your mailing or address quality software suite.
Let’s say your mailing list contains 20,000 residential customers or prospects. If the list has not been “cleaned” (using an NCOA updating process) in one year, the chances are that 3,000 of those individuals, the people you think live at the addresses on file, do not. If you mail to the list as is, you could waste 3,000 units of postage, printing, and processing. The Postal Service does not forward Marketing Mail. They recycle it. Even more critical than the expense of wasted postage and production, is the lost opportunity to sell a product or service to 3,000 qualified prospects. Apply your own math here:
3,000 mail pieces delivered typically yield X responses.
X responses typically yields Y conversions or sales.
Y conversions or sales represent Z revenue.
Z revenue is lost because of mailing to a list that has not been updated in one year.
LEVEL 4: Movers Forget to Tell the Post Office
Most of us (60%) who move file a change of address with the Post Office. However, a significant number of movers do not.2 They may have forgotten to submit an address change or consciously decided not to do so to avoid creditors or cut unsolicited mail. Chances are these movers told someone about their new address. Consumers may notify magazines, catalogs, insurance companies, Amazon, or their cell phone service about their move. Multiple private sources that often receive change-of-address notifications not reported to the USPS compile a Proprietary Change of Address (PCOA) database. Software providers have their own PCOA product (hence, “proprietary”). PCOA updating is not regulated by the Postal Service. A good practice is to use NCOA first and then try a PCOA process to identify additional entities who have moved.
Firstlogic Solutions® is a provider of CASS-Certified, NCOA, and PCOA address updating and standardization software solutions. They are the leading SAP® Partner specializing in delivering Firstlogic Data Quality and SAP Data Services (DS) solutions to data-driven companies. Firstlogic Data Quality and SAP Data Quality software combine file preparation, data profiling, address quality, geocoding, data enhancement, matching, and consolidation. For over 35 years, customers have leveraged the power of Firstlogic’s data quality platform.
2 AEC and AEC II Handbook. (2018) United States Postal Service. p. 2.
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