Wednesday, October 5, 2011

International Address Hygiene

Tags:  data hygiene, data quality, international addresses, NCOA, merge/purge, address verification

Last week I wrote about the importance of sufficient database storage for international addresses as the first step in good data quality practices that will decrease undeliverable mail.  But good structures are not enough.  Addresses change over time as people or companies move, countries change their address formats, and postal codes are updated.  As part of their data quality practices, companies must take steps to update the addresses in their databases to keep up with the changes. 

Regular address data hygiene can be an important tool to do this.  There are numerous service providers for this service.  Some specialize in international address files and can update addresses from around the world, others specialize in selected countries or in domestic addresses.

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 (NCOA)
  suppression of deceased, gone away (moved) and "Do Not Mail" addresses

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.  In particular, ask about what to expect back after the processing, so you can be prepared to accommodate the changes.

Each of these operations takes place country by country with some services available in some countries but not in others.  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 or governmental address authorities.  Not all countries provide the information needed for all the hygiene services.  Additionally, some countries may require that the addressee agree to provide the information to others (i.e., opt-in).

Some countries provide files of individuals or businesses that have moved or "gone away" or are deceased.  These are provided in addition to NCOA files by some countries; others provide "gone away" files but do not provide NCOA files.  The "gone away" files effectively remove 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.

The postal operators or governmental authorities typically 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 to be mailed is small.

Services, such as gender identification and geolocational identification, can increase the information available for business planning and allow for better targeting of marketing campaigns.  These may depend on proprietary information gathered over time by the service vendor and can vary from one provider to another.