NCOALink and CASS Processing: Get Your Data Back After Each Direct Mailing

Man receiving mail

Direct mail marketing works. It is a powerful driver of sales and success for businesses large and small. Yet because postal rules are confusing and the procedures are time consuming to follow, we normally pay a professional – often our printer – to handle all those mail headaches. What we overlook is the very important step of getting our “corrected” mail list back from the service provider! Your data, in order to qualify for bulk mail discounts, has been “corrected” – improved, standardized, updated – complete with additional reports on the remaining faulty addresses. After each mailing, you will want to reintegrate this corrected data into your database – otherwise you continue to pay for postage and printing that never reaches your target.

Some Eye-Opening Stats on UAA Mail

UAA: Undeliverable As Addressed – for mailers, this equates to throwing money down the drain. Mail lists generally contain many errors and misinformation that make an address undeliverable – typos, nonstandard abbreviations, redundant and incomplete address information, data entered into the wrong fields, even just plain incorrect delivery addresses. Also, people and businesses frequently move, leaving mailers with out of date contact info. Consider the following stats:

  • As much as 25% of your database will deteriorate after one year, according to HubSpot. People move, change email addresses, change jobs….and if you are still trying to reach them with the old contact information in your database, you are wasting money.
  • In 2013, 6.8 billion mailpieces (or 4.3% of those processed by the USPS) were deemed UAA. (source: Mailing Systems Techonology)
  • UAA mail costs direct mail marketers over $6 billion each year. (source: Mailing Systems Techonology)

The Easy Fix… and You’ve Already Paid For It!

When you pay your service provider to mail your marketing pieces, you are paying them to check and correct your data against the National Change of Address (NCOA) database, and – as far as is possible – to standardize and “fix” any errors in the addresses. In order to receive discounted bulk mail rates, this must be done and certified within 180 days of the mail date (90 days for Carrier Route discounts). The USPS doesn’t want undeliverable mail in their system any more than you want to pay for postage that yields no return.

Sample of Corrected AddressIf you do not receive your “corrected” data back from your service provider after all this work, your database retains all the original errors and the process gets repeated on your next mailing – only now the addresses are older and more likely to have already been dropped from the NCOA resource. With each repetition, more addresses “deteriorate” and become UAA, costing you more money and a decreased response rate. Why pay for this mail list “cleaning” and they toss it away after one use?

NCOAlink and CASS processing will standardize all abbreviations, misspellings and update any registered Change of Address moves on file with the USPS. For the addresses still identified as UAA, NCOA processing will provide reports detailing the reason each address was rejected, as well as a listing of all changes that were made. You can use this information to research and correct your UAA entries, or just delete them entirely. The key is to reintegrate the newly corrected data back into your system.


What happens to the database you hand your mailer?

Below is some more general information about the details of NCOA processing. This is the part most of us are glad to pay someone else to handle.

Your data, when creating a VDP or variable data printed mailing, may include many fields of information in addition to those necessary for mailing: age, email, income brackets, customer numbers, amounts due, subscription information, and on and on. That data – necessary for the VDP mailpiece – travels along untouched with your mail list during NCOALink certification. In order to receive discounted bulk mail rates, your mailer processes your data through NCOALink (which includes CASS, DPV, LACSLink, and SuiteLink).

National Change of Address (NCOALink) is the database of everyone in the US who has filed a Change of Address with the US postal service. Access to it is licensed to service providers and made available to mailers so they can keep up with individuals and companies at their permanent addresses. If your best customer moved from New York to Los Angeles, this is how you stay in touch with them without interruption. The NCOALink process also includes:

USPS CASS Report Form 3553CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System) processing will correct and standardize addresses. It will also add missing address information, such as ZIP codes, cities, and states to ensure the address is complete. Starting with 2007 Cycle L, CASS software will also perform delivery point validation to verify whether or not an address is a deliverable address and check against the USPS Locatable Address Conversion System to update addresses that have been renamed or renumbered. Also, Error codes are offered to help you understand what might be missing or incorrect with your addresses that do not + 4 code.

DSF2 processing relays delivery point information received from mail carriers. It includes DPV® (Delivery Point Validation), LACSLink® (Locatable Address Conversion System), and SuiteLink® processing.  Together, these identify vacant, residential, business or seasonal address information, increasing the deliverability of your mailpieces and allowing mailers to more accurately target who receives a mailpiece.

Your service provider will be happy to return your NCOALink and CASS certified mail list to you as either a DBF or Excel compatible text file for reintegration into your database. Many of the newly created fields in your data are necessary for USPS processing and Intelligent Mail Barcode creation – these can be deleted by you without any problem, or you can request that your service provider return to you a file with only the fields you originally exported in your mail list.



Call us at 828.684.4512 for any marketing needs. As a printer, we understand communication and design. Your printer should be able to provide you with the latest information, inspiration, technical advice, and innovative ideas for communicating your message through print, design and typography, signage, apparel, variable data printing and direct mail, integrated marketing and environmentally responsible printing. If they can’t, you have the wrong printer! The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!

ImageSmith is now partnered with Extreme Awards & Engraving – our in-house partner providing custom engraved trophies and awards for employee recognition programs, sporting events, and promotional needs. With our new sister company, we will be sharing space, resources and expertise in a collaboration designed to further provide you with one place to meet all of your marketing needs… Under One Roof! Visit them online at or call direct at 828.684.4538.



Call us at 828.684.4512. ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your print and marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

EDDM – Is Every Door Direct Mail Right For You?

EVery Door Direct Mail Simplified

The USPS direct mail program called Every Door Direct Mail, begun in 2011, makes saturation mailing affordable for small businesses. Offer coupons, publicize events, send thanks, announce sales or online promotions, and discover new customers from areas you target – all at the lowest price ever.  However, as with all things postal, you may also encounter a few potentially confusing rules and paperwork. Read on for a little clarification…

What is Every Door Direct Mail?

EDDM is a USPS program that seeks to make direct mail easier and less costly for small businesses. Using EDDM Retail, you send your mailpiece without a list of addresses or a permit to every address in targeted areas (carrier routes) which you select. Each printed mailpiece will be exactly the same (i.e., no cost for variable data addressing, no individualized addresses). Customers go online and use the USPS EDDM Retail program to select carrier routes and generate necessary paperwork. Of course this saturation mailing has some limitations: you can only mail 5,000 pieces per mailer per day, your piece must meet the specs for a standard machinable flat, your piece must be printed with the correct EDDM indicia, and you must bring the mail physically to the Post Office that services the carrier routes you chose. Also you must fill out the requisite postal forms and labeling, as well as follow bundling and packaging requirements. You can read more online at

What is the Difference between EDDM Retail and EDDM BMEU?

BMEU stands for Business Mail Entry Unit. EDDM BMEU allows larger businesses who already maintain a mailer’s permit for payment and tracking of their direct mail to use their permit and to drop off their EDDM to the Business Mail Entry Unit. With this method, mailers are not limited to 5000 pieces per day and the rules for what type of mailpiece qualify are more flexible.

While you can go it alone with the Post Office online, EDDM may be a daunting task for anyone new to bulk mail. (You can check out details of the USPS program online here.) The USPS has posted an in-depth video presentation on the EDDM service. We have broken the video into two parts and you can watch them by clicking the video links:

Every Day Direct Mail Video 1
Watch the EDDM video part one

Every Day Direct Mail Video 2
Watch the EDDM video part two

What are the Benefits of Every Door Direct Mail?

Every Door Direct Mail service lets your business send advertising without the need of an address list or the cost of addressing. The USPS rate for EDDM averages $0.175 per piece! A letter carrier delivers your piece along with the day’s mail to every address on the routes you choose. EDDM allow you to:

  • TARGET every address
  • REDUCE production costs
  • SIMPLIFY the mailing process

Discover the Possibilities…

  • Invite customers to a Grand Opening or Open House
  • Offer timely coupons or promotions
  • Announce events & sales
  • Publicize your participation in community events
  • Highlight your hours of operation, new services,
  • menu, mission statement or products
  • Emphasize your location and enhance your brand
  • Thank customers for their patronage

EDDM helps retailers and service-based businesses reach their local target customers – a good fit for the following:

auto dealers and repair shops  •  restaurants  •  pharmacies
clothing stores  •  furniture dealers  •  flower shops
coffee shops  •  bakeries  •  attorneys  •  schools  •  real estate firms
health-care professionals & practices  •  dry cleaners  •  home-improvement companies


EDDM paperwork
There’s always paperwork involved!

Perfect for some businesses and some direct mail objectives, EDDM is not always the smartest option for everyone. Why? In general, targeted direct mailings – where you “edit” your mailing list for various factors such as age, income, and lifestyle of the folks you want to reach – produce greater results and therefore greater profits. Consider these situations: if you are a restaurant and want to get coupons out into the hands of locals who pass by your place daily and are the most likely to stop in, EDDM saturation mailing could be your smartest approach. But if you are a business selling products specifically for the elderly or homebound, sending mailpieces to every address in a neighborhood could be a waste of your investment. A targeted mailing to only elderly or disabled residents in a wider area would yield more positive results.

Best advice?

Talk to your printer about which mailing strategies will work best with your budget and your direct mail goals. Rely on their experience with the USPS and with integrated marketing to make your life a little easier… and more affordable.

Contact us at ImageSmith to get started with Every Door Direct Mail today. You choose, through the USPS site, exactly the areas you wish to saturate with your mailing and we’ll handle all the paperwork, packaging and regulations. No mail list, no hassle, and – if you decide to take advantage of EDDM BMEU – no need to apply for a postage permit, you can use ours at no added cost.


Multichannel Marketing Powers Print and Digital Success


In a time of increasingly digital interaction, never underestimate the value of good, old fashioned tangible, physical marketing:  print, direct mail, promotional products, signage, embroidery/screenprinting. Perhaps because of the hype and excitement over the digital revolution in progress around us daily, we jump to a conclusion that print or more traditional communications are no longer effective. That is a marketing mistake.

Multichannel and/or cross channel marketing is truly a no-brainer. Why not utilize multiple channels in various strategies to reap the most benefits from your marketing budget? Along with your website, mobile apps and social media, configure a direct mail campaign and promotional product giveaway to drive home your message. Join virtual with the actual. Digital and Tangible.

Pig promotional product and direct mail campaign
In sponsoring a local River Race event, Carolina Mountains Credit Union branded their promotional product mascot and utilized a matching direct mail postcard to support their online marketing efforts.

Here are a few convincing facts on integrated marketing:

  • 45% of consumers over the age of 65 have no internet access in their homes. If seniors are in your target market, you must look beyond online contact.
  • 92% of millennials say direct mail – not email or online marketing – has the most influence when making store choices
  • the physicality of print, signage or promotional items impacts consumers in a way digital communication cannot replicate.
  • the response rate of direct mail is 10–30x that of email.
  • promotional products are often perceived as gifts, which they are, and tend to be held onto longer. The more useful or unique, the more they are valued and continue to represent your brand. Also as the world becomes more digital, the more a physical promotion stands out from the crowd.


ImageSmith is proud to be a printer in an exciting era of digital communication. Your printer should be able to provide you with the latest information, inspiration, technical advice, and innovative ideas for communicating your message through print, design and typography, signage, apparel, variable data printing and direct mail, integrated marketing and environmental responsible printing. They should also be able to work with you to solve any difficult prepress issues with your files. If they can’t, you have the wrong printer! The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!
Call us at 828.684.4512. ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your print and marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.


Myth Busting: Surprising Stats on Paper and the Environment

Busting Myths about Print and Paper

Paper is a sustainable, green, renewable resource – but the paper and printing industry still have to work hard to increase the realization of this in consumers’ minds. Somehow, a lingering, hazy misconception persists that “PRINT/PAPER BAD, DIGITAL GOOD” when it comes to the environment – simply not true. Perhaps a lot of this false information was perpetuated by the “help the environnment, don’t print out this email” tagline so many folks attach to their digital messages. (This myth is also debunked here.) Its is eye-opening to consider just a couple of facts about the environmental integrity of the print industry. Think about this:

The U.S. forest products industry plants more than 4 million trees… EVERY DAY!

Every day. That adds up to 1.5 billion a year. The result: the US has roughly the same number of forest acreage as we had 100 years ago, before industrialization began! Forest growth exceeds tree removal by 36% each year. (source)

Now on the other side of this equation lies the common misconception that desktop and mobile information consumption is greener than print – consider these startling facts:

A person who reads a printed newspaper daily for a year uses 20% less CO2 than one reading news online for 30 minutes each day. (source)

By 2020, data servers in the U.S. will be the single largest users of electricity. (source)


No one’s trying to tilt at windmills and say paper should always be used over digital communications. But it is very important to have an accurate understanding of the environmental impacts of our energy and information consumption habits throughout the communicaitons “mix.” Paper is biodegradable, sustainable and produced by an industry hard at work to maintain a healthy environment and the healthy forests that are essential to the industry’s survival.

Rely on your printer for advice and direction with your concerns about sustainability and you or your business’ commitment to being a good environmental steward. They should be able to offer you information and options for paper, ink and FSC certified products that will help you print and market in a sustainable manner. If they can’t, you have the wrong printer. The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!

Call us at 828.684.4512. ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your print and marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

New Global Forever Stamp from the USPS: Great Design, Great Idea

the new forever stamp for international mail

Now the convenience for a Forever Stamp, like the ones we all use for domestic first class letters, is available for international mail. For $1.10, you can send a one ounce letter to any country in the world (or a 2 ounce letter to Canada), and these stamps may be used in the future no matter how much postage prices change. They may be purchased individually or in a sheet of 20 for $22.00.

The beautiful stamp was designed by Greg Breeding, art direction by William J. Gicker, and the composite satellite image of the earth was created by Leonello Calvetti. The unusual round shape is eyecatching and unique, a suitable fit for a stamp that has a unique function and carries its message around the world.

The USPS, which receives no tax dollars for operational expenses and funds itself through the sale of its products and services, is actively branching out in social media and marketing to its customers, especially stamp-collectors. Check them out on Facebook or Twitter @USPSStamps. For philatelists, or stamp collectors, the USPS has a great site called Beyond the Perf, showcasing upcoming stamps, first-day-of-issue events and other stamp-related news.

Variable Data Printing or VDP Produces Direct Mail Results

Variable Data Printing

During the 2012 presidential campaign, both major political parties spent more on Direct Mail than any other form of advertising except broadcast television. Are you surprised that more was invested in old fashioned snail mail than internet or mobile outreach? It is because the campaigns know that Direct Mail works. Direct Mail with variable data works even better. And to the surprise of many it works more effectively than most email marketing efforts. The reason why says a lot about both the nature of email/web ads and the benefits of smart direct mail print marketing.

Many people’s first impression of “blast” email marketing was that it would save print production costs and revolutionize campaign strategy. What prevented that sea-change however is basic human nature. Most people ignore – even sometimes resent – unsolicited email messages, and easily overlook banner ads or website advertising, especially if it is not accurately customized to their personal interests.

Direct mail has long been a staple in reaching a target audience and producing results. Personalizing the message on direct mail through variable data printing (VDP) can increase ROI even more – anywhere from double the normal return to 10-to-15 times! And the best part is that it works even better when you get creative with the possibilities – use VDP in a way that is unique to your clientele and needs.

Think of VDP as much more than just someone’s first name on the front of the card. For example: if you own a pizza place, you could collect personalized data from customers in house with a survey card – then mail each customer a coupon for the specific pizza they said they enjoyed most, vastly increasing the likelihood of their return over just a generic coupon that goes out to all customers. In this way you begin to profile your customers buying habits, and can target your marketing efforts in a much more effective, powerful way.

For a good overview of VDP, check out Adobe’s VDP Resource Center. Then call us and we’ll brainstorm some exciting VDP solutions for your integrated marketing.

5 Tips for Customized Holiday Greeting Cards: Keep Up the Tradition

Personalized Holiday Cards

E-cards make an impression – often not the one intended. Email messages lack the physical impact of a traditional, printed holiday greeting card sent the old-fashioned way through good old snail mail. Even with a dancing flash elf that sings your name, an e-card generally says, “This is easy, cheap and (worst of all) impersonal.” The traditional mailed greeting card can be viewed as just another piece of “junk mail,” but with personalization and a targeted approach, will be a pleasing personal reminder of gratitude during the holidays. Here are a few tips to encourage you to print and mail your holiday greetings rather than e-blast them – and hopefully save both time and money in the process since both are at a premium during the holiday season.

  • Order EARLY for the best prices AND to free up your busy schedule. Your time is even more valuable during a rushed holiday season so plan ahead, ordering by the end of October. You can also reliably schedule when the cards will be mailed out to avoid any last minute confusion.
  • If time permits, consider actually SIGNING your cards. I know, that could be a lot of work! But if your list is not up in the hundreds, a signature is manageable if you decide there is not enough time for a personal note. The extra effort can go a long way in making a card memorable and appreciated. Maybe just think of yourself as a celebrity signing autographs!
  • DESIGN a customized card that is uniquely your own. You can choose online from many high-quality cards and personalize them with your business name and your own message. If you want to invest more, design your card from scratch to fit your brand perfectly and even include variable data where each card is individualized for its recipient. Also consider branded gifts for your best customers to show your appreciation.
  • For large LISTS, save time and money by mailing with your printer or a professional mail service. You can send your snail mail at First Class rates, or realize even more savings with bulk rate postage. For a more personalized look, ask your printer or mail house about using precancelled stamps in lieu of a preprinted bulk mail indicia – the cards will look more personal and less automated.
  • CONSIDER the public’s wide variety of feelings about religious holidays. Some folks will be offended if you assume they would appreciate a card with a Christian, Jewish or other specific religious sentiment. A safe way to avoid any unintentional offense when sending to a large number of people is to choose a card and greeting that simply wishes gratitude for their business at the close of the current year, or a wish for good health and happiness in the new year.

To browse customizable designs and place your order online, visit, or give us a call at (828) 684-4512 to discuss more money-saving holiday options.

Print is a vital component of any successful integrated marketing campaign. It works in tandem with your website, email, signage and other outreach – yet the unique power of print lies in physically reaching the hands of your potential customers. Rely on your printer for advice and direction in the creation of all your marketing materials. They should be able to guide you in everything from copy writing to the latest technology to help get your message out… if they can’t, you have the wrong printer! The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!

ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

Getting Ready for Big Data: Take a Look at Your Mail List

Mail Lists, Databases and Big Data

Our privacy is shrinking… or at least our concept of privacy is certainly evolving into something new in a world where just about everything we do, think, read, buy, eat, spend, or consume is digitally tracked. In such a world, your small business database of information on your customers is gold. It is not only how you stay in contact with clientele for invoicing, shipping, and marketing, but in the new world of “BIG DATA” it will increasingly define your profits and growth. Up until now, your data on each customer might be as straightforward as name, address and phone number or email. But as progress continues, you will be presented with the opportunity to gather FAR more data on individuals such as purchasing history, income, political and social affiliations, their avenues of consuming information and purchasing goods, their interests, dislikes, lifestyle and so on. Being able to organize, interpret and manipulate this data for more effective marketing will be at the core of your business’ success.

For now, even if your database is essentially a spreadsheet with customers and their contact information, spending the time to get all this information correct, organized, delimited and “usable” for various marketing efforts is time well spent. Standardization for every entry and every category of information is critical. If you have many folks all entering data into your system about customers or transactions, they all need to be doing so in the exact same way… the “rules” need to all be standardized so that, for instance Mary J. Sawyer, Mrs. MJ Sawyer, Ms. M. Jane Sawyer, Sawyer Mary J., and M. J. Sawyer are not all entered in your database like 5 different people! At a very basic level, that is an important first step.

We do mailings and variable data printing for many clients, and to receive what could be called “clean” data for a mailing is truly the exception rather than the rule. We have methods to “correct” and clean up data, but the sad part of that is usually clients do not want the “new”, corrected data back… so the errors continue to live and repeat in their database – a costly shame.

When you do a mailing, the USPS requires that the address information meet NCOA requirements. NCOA is the National Change of Address program that makes available to mailers the last 48 months of updated addresses where folks have moved or changed address. It flags duplicates and corrects out-of-date address information. Further sorting and certification software for mailing will standardize address spelling, zip codes, street numbers and other inaccurate information. But it is essential that once you have paid your printer or mailhouse to correct and use your database list for a mailing, that you recover that new information and reintegrate it into your database. It is the first step toward “cleaning house” and starting a good first step into the world of “big data” manipulation.

Be sure to ask your printer about how to best streamline the process of supplying your mailing list to them AS WELL AS them returning the corrected, updated list back for reintegration into your database. They will help you set up a routine that makes the file transfer flawless and easy. The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!


ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

If You Have The Right Printer, You Have Your Marketing Consultant

Printers are Communications and Marketing Experts

Running a small business demands expertise in many, many divergent fields. You must excel at finance, employee relations, marketing, sales, and of course the specifics of the type of business you went into in the first place. In a large corporation, each duty or specialty is handled by an expert in that profession – or an entire heirarchy of experts: production, sales, marketing, human resources, R & D. As a small business owner, that’s all on you. Technology is only making that landscape even more challenging, daily.

To bring in help or advice on any of these areas is costly and risky. When it comes to marketing, however, your best resource is right at hand. And – this is by far the best part – it is FREE! If you have the right printer, you already have a highly trained marketing consultant who knows print, branding, direct mail, web strategies, social media and has years of experience in both high and low tech marketing approaches that work for businesses just like yours. The most assuring part of this partnership for you is that the print/communications company only succeeds when your marketing succeeds! Start taking advantage of this asset – the print industry itself has had to reinvent itself in this new high tech economy. They know what works.

Even if you have a background in marketing, the rules of the game over the past 10 years have changed DRASTICALLY. (Check out this amazing and exhaustive infographic on the History of Marketing.) The marketing success that got you and your small business to where it is today will most likely not take you to future success in the emerging economy and IT world. Do you have the time and resources to become an expert in web design, SEO (search engine optimization), interactive online marketing, web metrics or analytics, to position your operation to embrace the new and as yet unknown technoligies that are right over the horizon? In most cases, the answer is no – and unless your business IS marketing, you should not have to. Turn to your printer for help.

The term “printer” is misleading. Today, printers do far more than put ink on paper. They have become marketing and communications specialists, and they are your closest and most knowledgeable sources for consulting with you on your overall marketing strategy. A good printer will understand your budget, your marketing goals and be able to suggest many options for creating results: integrated marketing strategies, direct mail, targeted variable data printing, promotional products, signage, branding, website development and e-commerce, social media marketing techniques, and unique design ideas. Discuss with them your target audience, who your consumer is, what your mission and specific goals are for the year. These are the facts your sales rep needs to recommend specific marketing strategies that you can use to translate into profit and customer recognition of your brand and your work. So the question is: why drain your energy trying to learn the new world of marketing on TOP of running your business when you already have a marketing consultant waiting to talk with you?

ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.