How Direct Mailers get the most from NCOALink®

Today, most marketers think of NCOALink – change of address data from the USPS® – as a commodity. It has been available for primarily changing addresses in one form or another since 1987 (originally as NCOA and then in 2005 as NCOALink).  NCOALink can have significant positive results on a company’s bottom line depending on how it’s used.  

There are two types of NCOALink processing available – Full Service Providers with 48 months of change of address (COA) data and Limited Service Providers/End User Mailers with 18 months of COA data. Unfortunately, some who use NCOALink regularly (monthly or bi-monthly) don’t understand the differences between the 18 and 48 month databases or the benefits they provide.

In four recent tests, each of the mailers used a Limited Service Provider for the previous year for their processing.  When these files were matched to the Full Service NCOALink database, the overall average match rate was 1.66%.  Of these matches, just over one half of one percent (or 34 percent of the total matches) had a Move Effective Date that was over 18 months old, which means they would not be picked up by a Limited Service Provider.

Coding additional records with ZIP+4 codes and correcting some of the records with missing/invalid information by using proprietary processes beyond CASS™ also means a significant number of additional valid NCOALink matches will be identified. In four tests against four other Full Service Providers who did not have these proprietary processes, there was an average of 7.5% additional valid NCOALink matches that they did not get.  One word of warning about these proprietary services – there are some companies offering these today where the quality is not good, so you need to be careful of which service provider you use to do this.

The sequence of processing that includes NCOALink can also provide significant benefits if done correctly. Running NCOALink before identifying duplicates will identify additional movers. In a recent test for a large mailer, my company moved 3.86% of the records via NCOALink.   Of these moves, 19.6% of them became duplicates.  This increased the number of duplicates identified by 2.42% or by .75% of the input records.

But there is also value in running NCOALink again just before the file goes to the printer.  This is primarily due to the move dynamics in the U.S.  Since NCOALink is updated weekly and 15 percent of the population moves each year, typically for every week since NCOALink was last run, about one quarter of one percent of the records being processed will have moved. It is cost effective to run Last Effort COA for almost all of our clients where it has been two weeks or more since NCOALink was last run.

Using all or some of the recommendations below when using NCOALink® will provide significant benefits to your company :

Use a full service provider for NCOALink processing. For those companies with an end-user license or those who are currently using a Limited Service Provider, at least semi-annually and possibly even quarterly, records should be processed by a Full Service Provider to pick up older moves that would otherwise be missed. 

  • Use a service provider that has proprietary processes to accurately apply ZIP+4TM codes to additional records and correct records with missing/invalid apartment numbers.  If your current provider does not have these capabilities, at least twice a year have your database cleaned by a company that does have these capabilities and that accurately makes the adjustments to the address.
  • Run NCOALink® before deduping to identify additional valid duplicates.
  • Consider running Last Effort COA if it has been two weeks or more since NCOALink was last run on the records

Applying these recommendations could provide a benefit of about $20 per thousand records mailed in terms of increased response and reduced wasted advertising.

In addition, companies who apply these steps will improve mailing results while having a more accurate and complete view of customers.