Monday, February 11, 2013

The Continuing Divide Between "Official" Addressing and the Addresses Residents Use

tags: address formats, correct addressing, address standards, international addresses, Univeral Postal Union (UPU)

I recently had some inquiries about addresses in specific countries from WorldVu's customers and was checking the UPU's most recent changes to their Postal addressing systems in member countries.  The UPU's information is received directly from or verified by postal or government authorities in the specific country.  I use those sources, too.  I also use private businesses, embassies, and individuals around the world. 

I would very much like to report that everyone in particular countries agrees on how to write postal address there; I cannot do so.  Ask someone – anyone – from Germany or Japan, the U.S. or the U.K., South Korea or Sweden, Canada or China how to write an address and they can tell you the format.  (In Japan they might well give you 2 or 3 variations that are all equally correct.)  These and 50 or so other countries have postal addressing standards that are very specific. 

Then there is the rest of the world, which also happens to be the majority of the world both in the number of countries and in population, although not in volume of mail.  In the rest of the world, the "correct" address format may depend on who one asks.  The postal code may officially exist but it may be used rarely.  When it is used, its format may not be standard – does it have an internal space or not, a hyphen or not?  The same goes for whether a province or province abbreviation is used – and what the abbreviations are.  There are no official addresses or no official addresses outside of main business and residential districts in cities and larger towns in many countries.   

The problem for those of us who mail internationally is that the "official" address standard where they are defined is not used, is not widely known, is ignored in many countries.  In reality, the address standard from the government or the postal authorities does not describe the addresses that are in day-to-day use.  By WorldVu's count, the province or postal code is often used in addresses in about 35% of the countries that officially use a province or a postal code. 

Where address standards exist and are used by residents, using addresses that meet national standards will insure that your mail or shipment is delivered and delivered more quickly.  The item will create a better impression on the recipient, looking correct and professional.  Where address standards are not used by residents or don't exist, use the address the resident provides.  International mail that does not meet national (domestic) requirements is usually delivered but the delivery may be slow – sometimes very slow.  If you are mailing or shipping merchandise, try to get confirmation of delivery or check with the recipient after a suitable time if possible. 

How do you know what countries have standards and which ones don't?  Experience and research or by subscribing to WorldVu's Guide to Worldwide Postal-Code and Address Formats.



Monday, February 4, 2013

Big Data: Big Deal or Big Detriment

 tags: Big Data, direct marketing, data analysis

Perhaps I am by nature a skeptic or maybe it's the statistics courses and the years of direct marketing that make me onebut I am not yet convinced that big data will provide the benefit for direct marketing needed to justify its costs.  As a former database manager and data analyst, I enjoy the discussions of big data – how to store it, how to handle it, how to sort and analyze it more quickly and efficiently.  As a marketer, I am intrigued by the possibility of new analytics and more precise targeting.  

Big data refers to large amounts of structured and unstructured data combined into a final set that requires computer systems to be analyzed it.  What distinguishes Big Data from ordinary data is the extremely large amount of information in a variety of types and the speed at which it can (or cannot) be created, collected, and collated and analyzed.  (There is a cost for computer storage that is not discussed here.  Although this is very low for small amounts of data, it can become significant when discussing big data.) 

Every item of data has associated costs for collection, storage and updating.  Each item of data that is added increases the overall cost.  The acquisition cost might be low and updating minimal.  (A customer's gender might be obvious from the given name and gender changes are rare.)  Or the acquisition cost might be low but updating more costly, such as a customer's initial address and any subsequent address changes.  Or the acquisition cost might be high but the cost of updating low and so on through all the permutations.  Data needs to be updated or it becomes useless or even misleading.  People move, grow older, their tastes and interests change.  Obviously, this is particularly important if you are using the data to market and predict likely buyers of various products or services.

Each item of data should add relevant information.  For marketers, there is little or no point in collecting data that will not allow better marketing or customer service efforts.  The question then is how to determine what is relevant to better predicting buying behavior or to delivering the product or service.  The prediction of buying behavior can be done through analysis and testing.  Each additional data item can be ranked by what it contributes analytically.  As one moves from the items that provide the best indications to the items that are less predictive, each item contributes any increasing small marginal value.  Thus, an item low on the scale that adds little to the selection of likely buyers of a product can be relatively expensive in what it adds to the analysis even if its cost is low.  Obviously with big data, there might be a great many such items, each adding cost. 

Of course, there might be something out there that predicts buying behavior very well or affects it strongly but remains unidentified.  In assembling and analyzing big date, we might find that better predictor than the ones we now use or improves our selections in ways that justify the increased costs. 

One of the things that separates direct marketing from advertising and other forms of marketing is that it is results-driven, not just data-driven.   In relation to customer or prospect data, it's how you use what you have to produce better results.  More data may mean better selections or it might mean more costs with no added benefit.  Some data-driven disciplines have found that too much data does not improve, and can even decrease, the accuracy of predictions.  I think the results aren't in yet for direct marketing and big data.



Thursday, January 10, 2013

My 2013 Predictions for Marketers

Original published in G-Z NewsGlobal-Z's international quarterly enewsletter.

tags: 2013 predictions, direct marketing, international

No crystal ball or tea leaves here, just a lot of reading and my continuing interest in what has happened in the past years – and what that might mean for the future. With no further introduction, here are my picks for what 2013 will bring for marketers.

1. International marketing will increase. More companies will realize their Internet marketing has reached a global scale and global marketing is profitable. The last quarter of 2012 brought a slight increase in inquires for my informal survery of companies providing services to international marketers.

2. Big data will remain a hot topic and new solutions for storing and analyzing larger sets of data will emerge. Data-driven marketing has become the norm and the trend is to collect and collate more data. As this trend continues and grows, software providers will respond with new solutions for everyday use.

3. Testing of marketing offers will increase as marketers work to leverage tight budgets and justify their marketing plans. With more channels available, marketers need to know what works and what doesn't. Testing will prove what produces the best results. In an era of tight budgets, testing before a full-blown campaign saves money and proves the value of the marketing campaign's cost.

4. Marketing budgets will continue to be tight. The double-dip recession in Europe and the fiscal uncertainty in the U.S. add to the general feeling of economic insecurity and encourage companies to be conservative in their spending.

5. Integrated marketing will remains a focus. As the number of marketing channels grew during the last 20 years, offers started to vary between channels – and customers noticed. With more data analysis, more testing, and tight budgets, integrated marketing makes sense.

6. Digital marketing will continue to grow, along with services to digital marketers. We will be seeing more QR codes, too. More targeting options will make these marketing channels more effective as they mature. At the same time, better data on, and more analysis of, response and cost-effectiveness will lead to a more objective understanding of how they fit into the marketing mix.

7. Direct mail will continue its comeback. It's proven, it's cost-effective, it's targeted, and it reaches people that digital marketing doesn't. What more needs to be said?

8. Address and postal code formats will change in more countries. Many countries are looking to establish or improve postal codes, provide more standardized and accurate street addressing, and improve mail processing. With the encouragement of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), new address systems will be introduced in more countries than over the last few years.

9. Other contact information will change format more often, too. The expansion of telephone services and new uses for it frequently require countries to add digits to their telephone numbers. Internet address top-level domains (what comes after the last "dot") have expanded, which will lead to changes in email addresses.

10. Shipping options will expand. As the European Union (EU) continues down the road of liberalized postal markets, the postal operators are forming new alliances and new companies are entering the market. The postal operators, now both allowed and required to compete, are looking for more lucrative markets and product lines. For postal operators, that means packages and private carriers will respond with new options to keep customers. Some postal operators have already entered other countries, including those outside the EU, and more are likely to do so.

11. Shipping costs will not drop. Usually more competition means lower costs as the service providers fight for market share. However, with high energy prices, more security protocols, and less government subsidies, there is little room to drop prices. Some postal operators and private shippers in the U.S., Canada and the EU have announced price increases. More will do so.

12. Security will remain a major concern for carriers, creating more paperwork requirements for mailers. With the continuing threat of terrorist actions, all carriers have reason to be concerned with security to insure the safety of their employees, their customers, and the general public. It is the socially-responsible position to take. Related to this, documentation requirements will increase and change. We are seeing the first of these with the requirements for electronic customs forms and related documentation. Expect more of them and be prepared for more time-intensive shipping preparations.

13. Shippers and postal operators will increase their support for international package delivery. If these companies can't compete on price, they will try to distinguish themselves with their services. More of them will offer assistance with documentation, customs clearances, and determining customs costs to the package recipient.

14. There will be no particular problems or major developments in privacy protections or other government regulations. Some new government-mandated security restrictions may apply to data in a few more countries but these will be managed by the service bureaus used by marketers.

15. And the USPS will still be in business this time next year.