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 Also, people and businesses frequently move, leaving mailers with out of date contact info.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.


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.

New 2013 USPS Rules for Folded Self-Mailers (FSMs)


2013 USPS rules for FSMs or Folded Selfmailers

As of January 5, 2013, the USPS puts into effect new rules for the design and preparation of FSMs, or folded self-mailers, a staple of effective direct mail marketing. As anyone involved with mailings can attest, the USPS rules and regulations for mail piece design, sorting and delivery can be mind-boggling. In this instance, they have done a good job of giving us all plenty of notice about the upcoming changes (publishing a “final rule” providing mailers with upcoming changes back in December of 2011), and spelling out the requirements in a fairly clear manner (despite the clear-as-mud “Decision Tree Design Matrix” spreadsheet someone spent a lot of time creating). Clearly, the USPS sought to accommodate a variety of design options in these rule changes to encourage direct mail marketers and their creativity while still ensuring mail piece compatibility with automated processing. Good job, USPS!

In an attempt to summarize, here are some GENERAL highlights in this rules change:

  • If the FSM is secured with tabs (rather than glue dots or strips), at least two are required, and they cannot be on the “bottom”, folded edge.
  • The bottom of the mail piece must be a folded edge. If the piece is oblong, the short or leading edge must be the fold.
  • New recognition of closure methods such as glue strips on lead and tail edges. The rules define many closure methods: continuous line glue strips, glue spots, elongated glue lines, and various tab options. Some of these are dependent on what weight of paper and how many folds are used.
  • Panel count maximum is 12 for non-newsprint folded pieces, 24 for newsprint paper.
  • Allowance of a 1-to1 cut-tie ratio for all perforated lines. (This has to do with the strength of any perforated pieces so they will not separate en route).

A “Folded Self-Mailer Reference Material” guide is available on the RIBBS site. It includes helpful diagrams – often with rules this technical, a picture really is worth a thousand words. It also includes the aforementioned “Decision Tree Design Matrix,” if that works for you. You can also contact mailpiece design analysts at the USPS for guidance:

“The MDA Support Center hours of operation are Monday through Friday, between 7:00 am and 5:00 pm CST. Customers may contact the MDA Support Center by dialing 855-593-6093, or by sending a request via email to”

It’s easy to complain about all the confusing rules when trying to learn the basic requirements for mail piece design, but if you consider all the variables that must be accomodated by the USPS when codifying exactly what can and cannot be accepted, it makes sense. Mailpieces must be compatible with processing machinery, or appropriate charges attached for other methods of handling. While we may want to know just a simple rule for folded self-mailers, they must consider all the variables that could be involved: is it closed with a tab, staple or glue strip? What size can the panels be? Is it folded top, bottom, tall, short, twice or more? How do different weights of paper affect those rules? Is there a flap; an insert or attachment? a perforated panel? When you take into account all of the design options possible, it’s pretty amazing they can present the rules in any intelligible way at all!


Rely on your printer for advice and direction in integrated marketing with direct mail. They should be able to answer all your queustions – 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.

The Letter: 10 Songs About Mail, the Written Word and the USPS

Mail and Music

Despite the ease of digital mail, it cannot quite match the impact of the arrival of a handwritten letter. While the USPS struggles through some very difficult economic times in the digital age, it has stood tall in our cultural history in fiction, film and song. Many dramas have arisen about our communications through the mail: waiting for the mail to arrive with an answer, a missed letter with a life-changing message, the dilemna of whether a lack of communication is the post office’s fault or signifies something bigger. Just like our previous blog post about Print, Paper & Ink in popular song, below are some classic evidence of the role mail and letter writing plays in our culture.

Please Read the Letter – Robert Plant & Alison Krause (2008)

Beautiful, haunting song named Record of the Year at the 2009 Grammys. Originally recorded by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Plant claimed the lyrics are an “unfinished business.” No USPS involved in delivering this letter however; the narrator just nailed it to the door.

Box Full of Letters – Wilco (1995)

Gotta box full of letters – and not enough time to answer all the questions. Same feeling we get now with an inbox full of email, but it just doesn’t inspire the same musical feeling that snail mail does somehow.

Strawberry Letter 23 – The Brothers Johnson (1977)

Known as the most sampled song in hip hop music, I remember this hit from high school. Seems the author was so moved by the strawberry scented paper on which a girlfriend wrote to him, that this song was born. A trippy, psychedelic imagery fills the lyrics about this 22nd letter, the title suggesting he’s waiting on the next delivery.


Anchorage – Michelle Shocked (1988)

In the lyrics, two friends on very different paths separated by a “burning bridge” catch up via the USPS. A letter is sent to Dallas, “but the reply came from Anchorage, Alaska.” Le Roy’s wife must have used the Change of Address service!

Sep ’88 “Anchorage” hits Billboard Top 100 from Michelle Shocked on Vimeo.

The Letter – Joe Cocker (1970)

Originally recorded by the Box Tops, I just like Joe Cocker’s gravelly-voiced version from his album “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” better. This was Cocker’s first Top 10 hit in America. The lyrics illustrate our deep cultural belief in the right letter arriving at the right time and it’s ability to change someone’s life. A missed email doesn’t seem to have the same built-in drama of a misplaced or misdelivered letter.

You Wear it Well – Rod Stewart (1972)

The entire lyrics are a handwritten apology to a lost love, from the man who blew it in Minnesota. He says he’s been meaning to phone, but “Now I’m eating my heart out, trying to get a letter through.” (Check out the great violin solo from Dick Powell.)

Take a Letter Maria – R.B. Greaves (1969)

R.B. Greaves, the nephew of legendary singer Sam Cooke, hopefully did not write this song from real life experience… a terrible story about a businessman dictating a letter to his secretary to break up with his wife whom he had just caught cheating, then asking the secretary out for a drink. My bet is Maria said “No!”

Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) – Stevie Wonder (1970)

Enjoy Stevie on The Dick Cavett Show singing his first hit he produced himself. A classic.

All My Loving – The Beatles (1963)

Early Beatles at their best. “I’ll write home everyday, and I’ll send all my loving to you.”

Letter to Me – Brad Paisley (2007)

We have to include one from the country world. The USPS hasn’t mastered this delivery service yet, however: “If I could write a letter to me/ and send it back in time to myself at 17…”


Some obvious examples not on our list include: “Return to Sender” by Elvis, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” by Fats Waller, “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (A Letter from Camp)” by Allen Sherman, and of course, “Please Mr. Postman” by The Carpenters, The Marvelettes, The Beatles and many others. Not favorites of mine, so they didn’t make the list.

The post office also honors the music industry. Check out the USPS stamp series, Legends of Rock & Roll/Rhythm & Blues from 1993, and order the 2014 Rock Icons series here, featuring Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Lydia Mendoza, Edith Piaf and Miles Davis.


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.