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The Poor Quality Of Many International Address Files Wastes The Resources Of Mailers

(Publisher's Multinational Direct, November 1998)

An average of 50 percent of international, in-house address lists, and 60 percent of the addresses in outside lists, require correction, according to Jerry Messer, president, Data Services, an international computer bureau. Current computer technology can solve many of the address problems encountered by international mailers. But the degree of success is highly dependent on the condition of the files given to the merge-purge bureau.

Why are so many lists in poor shape, considering the growth of global direct marketing?

Messer cites two reasons:

  1. In recent years, many international mailers have achieved good responses despite problems in international addresses. There was little incentive to keep international lists clean. That is changing now. The global financial turmoil is having a negative impact on response.
  2. The address files of most direct marketers are domestic. The foreign portions are "add-ons." Squeezing complicated foreign addresses into a typical US format leads to inconsistencies in address fields and the loss of critical information required for deliverability.

And there is another problem as well. Many data-entry personnel are accustomed to inputting large quantities of domestic addresses. They have not yet achieved a high level of skill in processing foreign addresses. Because they lack basic understanding of the world, mistakes can easily happen. "Australia" can be input instead of "Austria" for example--simply because the data-entry person doesn't know they are two different countries.

Marian Nelson's Guide to Worldwide Postal-Code and Address Formats, now in a new edition, has helped develop awareness of the differences between domestic and international data records. Nelson agrees with Messer that the amount of space in the address layout is critical. She also believes that mailers should allow for the differences in address formats among countries. Some countries have addresses with many lines of information, but each line is short in length. Other countries have addresses with fewer lines, but each line is long and requires more space.

Common Errors During Data-Entry

According to Messer, these errors crop up most frequently.

  • Street name misspelled
  • City name misspelled
  • Postal code missing or incorrect

In the USA, address files are maintained in a standard format. This is not true with international files. When international files arrive at a service bureau, before they can undergo the merge-purge, deduplication, or correction process, they must first be standardized. All the fields must be separated and the address elements isolated. In most cases the files will have been maintained in several different countries, in several languages.

In order to perform address standardization on international files, a service bureau must first acquire addressing data from each country's postal service. Data Services has addressing information from more than 19O countries, which allows the system to make address corrections according to local requirements.

The service bureau must be able to handle specialized sorts, as well. The output of the deducing process might require an International Surface Airlift (ISAL) or International Priority Airmail (IPA) sort. Or perhaps the mail is being entered directly into another country's postal stream. To qualify for any postal discounts, the mail then has to be sorted according to that country's sortation scheme. Countries where pre-sort discounts can be achieved include the UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, and Mexico.

Tips for Improving the Quality When Maintaining International Addresses

Dimitri Garder, vice president of Global-Z, another service bureau providing international merge-purge and address standardization, suggests that you provide space directly above the address area on your order cards. This will allow the customer to re-write the address, if necessary, says Garder. If the customer tries to over-write the existing address, errors can easily occur.

Also, watch addresses provided by visitors to your Web site. The tight formats provided in typical Web registration forms can lead to additional errors. In the state field, for example, a foreign visitor may put in a state which is not used in the address for that country. Garder suggests that you have an additional form for international Web registrations, consisting of one line each for the name, the title (if desired), and the company; four lines for the address; and one line each for the city and country.

Watch for geographical entities that aren't countries. For example, Puerto Rico and Guam are both part of the US address system.

Keep Abreast of Changes

Japan is the only major country that has recently undergone a full-scale revision of its postcode system. The Japanese post office continues to deliver mail with the old code. And a combination of the new and old codes should not be a significant problem in a merge-purge or deduplication process, says Garder. Eventually, of course, you should have your entire file updated.

Changes in postal systems take place on a regular basis. In fact, there are about 20 countries that have made changes recently, according to Nelson's Guide to Worldwide Postal-Code and Address Formats. Most of the recent changes have taken place in smaller countries that probably don't represent a large portion of your address files, says Nelson. And if you are not up on these changes, your mail will probably be delivered. But even small numbers in 20-plus countries eventually become significant.

Pay Attention to How Your Addresses Are Printed

Many US lettershops don't have extensive experience with international mailings. Because many international addresses are larger than the US format, make sure that your lettershop can handle nonstandard label sizes. It is possible that lettershops will inadvertently cut off portions of an address, says Garder. So a final check is required at the lettershop stage. In one case, PMD noted that a lettershop cut off the postal codes. In another case, country lines were eliminated.

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