January 4, 2012
~ by Merry Law, President of WorldVu LLC
International address hygiene has different meanings depending on who you ask. Basically, address hygiene is a series of related services that improve the quality, usefulness, and deliverability of the addresses. These may include:
- contact name parsing, standardization, and gender identification
- duplicate identification and merge/purge
- address verification and correction
- postal presorting
- geolocational identification (latitude/longitude)
- national change of address
- suppression of deceased, gone away (moved) and “Do Not Mail” addresses
Some of these services require computer processing that is dependent on another operation. For example, postal presorting can require address verification in some countries. Discussing the details of what you want to accomplish and your plans will help you and a service provider determine the best combination of services for your needs. Additional charges can sometimes be avoided if the various steps are all known at the beginning of the project.
Country-Specific Address Hygiene
Each of these operations takes place country by country with some services available in some countries but not in others. Latitude and longitude, for example, may be available for addresses in some countries but not others. Not all countries have national change-of-address systems and some are limited to consumer addresses. Countries that do maintain change-of-address files may require that the addressee agree to provide the information to others, i.e., opt-in.
Services such as address verification and correction, postal presorting, change of address and suppression of deceased and moved or gone away addresses are dependent on files from postal operators. The postal operators charge fees for the use of their files, with considerable variation in the amounts charged from country to country. The way in which the charges are structured varies among the countries with processing fees, a fee per record, and licensing fees among the types of charges. Because of this variation, it is not possible to generalize about the costs of processing. Generally, however, it may not be cost effective to use postal operator files for a country if the number of addresses is small.
Discuss your needs with your service provider. In particular, ask about what to expect back after the processing. Addresses may well have more or longer lines than they did before and you need to be prepared to accommodate the changes.
International Data Hygiene: How It’s Done
Much of the processing is dependent on matching one individual entry, either a name and address record or an address record, with another. The first step in the processing is standardization of all addresses within each country to place the same items of information consistently in the same place in each record. In the following simple example, addresses would need to be standardized for further computer processing.
|Edificio Italia50 Av. Sao Luis, 13º a.Sao Paulo 01046-926
|50 Av. Sao Luis, 13 andarSao Paulo01046-926
|Edificio Italia – 13 andar50 Av. Sao Luis01046-926 Sao Paulo
The addresses are separated into their elements in stages.
|Edificio Italia||50 Av. Sao Luis, 13º a.||Sao Paulo||01046-926||Brazil|
|50 Av. Sao Luis, 13 andar||Sao Paulo||01046-926||Brazil|
|Edificio Italia – 13 andar||50 Av. Sao Luis||01046-926||Sao Paulo||Brazil|
As the process continues, the elements are placed in separate fields.
|Edificio Italia||50||Av. Sao Luis||13º a.||Sao Paulo||01046-926||Brazil|
|50||Av. Sao Luis||13 andar||Sao Paulo||01046-926||Brazil|
|Edificio Italia||50||Av. Sao Luis||13 andar||Sao Paulo||01046-926||Brazil|
The correct placement of the elements for delivery is not determined during this process but during address verification and correction. For this particular address, the final formatted address would be
Av. Sao Luis 50, 13º andar
The criteria for determining a match or duplicate address varies, with fewer records identified as duplicates as the criteria becomes more stringent (i.e., more items must match for the entry to be considered a duplicate). How stringent or loose the criteria should be for automatic merging or purging (removal) of address records will depend on the lists being matched and the purpose of processing.
Whether the records are in-house files or rental lists, whether the records include marketing prospects or purchasers of products, and how recently each record was updated, as well as other criteria, might need to be considered. If the results from a deduplication will be used for a mass marketing mailing, you might choose to retain the potential duplicates. If the purpose is a thorough cleaning of duplications from a database, you might remove the more obvious likely duplicates such as nicknames and likely typographical errors. If names are of high value, such as people at a major purchaser, you might decide to call the company directly to determine or confirm correct recipient names.
Obviously, some of these steps can be expensive and time-consuming. The best way to reduce the costs is to follow good data quality practices with correct and valid addresses at the point of first collection or entry. As new entries are added a check for an existing entry with the same name, or same title for business addresses, will prevent some duplication.
Correct Contact Data Is a Good Investment
Address verification and correction can increase the number of pieces that will reach their destination. Given the high cost of international mail (processing, printing and postage), reducing the number of pieces that do not reach their destination is smart business. This process compares the address in the file against information files on valid addresses and postal codes within a country.
Since errors and address changes will occur over time, regular hygiene will reduce the undeliverable and incorrect addresses. Some countries change postal codes regularly, particularly in urban and fast-growing areas. Streets may be renamed to honor particular people or events, new building numbers may be instituted, or provinces added to the preferred postal address format.
Because of the wide range of changes that occur, address verification and correction can be useful both in reducing undeliverable addresses for all files and in improving delivery times. Addresses with all elements present and in correct position can be delivered more quickly.
National change of address (NCOA) processing helps improve delivery rates in countries where it is available. How comprehensive NCOA is depends on the country and most countries do not have a national database of this kind, particularly for businesses that move. Where files exist, a fee may be charged for registering a new address or for mail forwarding. As mentioned earlier, NCOA files may require the addressee to agree that the information can be provided to companies other than the postal operator.
Some countries provide files of individuals or businesses that have moved or “gone away” or are deceased in addition to change of address files. This effectively removes addresses where delivery is not possible to a particular addressee. In addition to “gone away” files, “do not mail” files, sometimes called “Robinson lists”, with the addresses of individual who do not want to receive marketing mail are available in a number of countries, either from the postal operator or from a private organization.
Some of the additional services listed above, such as gender identification and geolocational identification, can increase the information available for business planning and allow for better targeting of marketing campaigns. Taken all together, the various processes in address hygiene can reduce the cost of postage and printing, while retaining the effective addresses in a file. The amount saved is often greater than the expense incurred in the processing.
Where the items will be mailed must also be considered. Using a remailing service that posts the mail in a number of different countries requires that the mail pieces meet the many different local addressing standards and postal sortation requirements. And, of course, other local requirements must also be met, such as weight of pieces and envelope sizes.