Merge-purge: Six steps to save money on wasted postage

If you’re in direct mail, you’ve probably heard of the term “merge-purge.” And no, it’s not what happens when you get sick to your stomach while accelerating to highway speed.

Merge-purge is a six-step process that creates the best possible list of names for your mailing by filtering out unwanted and duplicate entries — keeping you from pinching potential profits with wasted postage.

1) List conversion

Before the merge-purge can begin, all files need to be in the same format. It’s nearly impossible to run a proper merge-purge if the data files vary in field length and layout. Garbage in — garbage out.

2) Pre-merge-purge count approval

Once you decide which lists you’re going to use, always approve your input quantities before starting the merge-purge. Make sure you received all the lists you ordered, confirm the quantities and double check that your list priorities are set correctly. This simple yet crucial step might catch a mistake before the merge-purge runs, saving you money and keeping you on schedule.

3) Address hygiene and standardization

The United States Postal Service’s National Change of Address database and various proprietary change-of-address databases will update addresses to the most current ones on file. Standardization can fix misspelled addresses, names and abbreviations. Without the correct addresses, the matching and de-duplicating processes won’t do you any good.

4) Merge-purge matching logic

  • Address only: Name fields are ignored; entries are matched based strictly on address.
  • Household: First names are ignored; entries are matched based on last name and address.
  • Full name and address: Nothing is ignored; all inputs must match.

You can apply the same matching logic across all data inputs or change it up by source, depending on your business rules. For example, you could suppress house-file matches at an address level, while simultaneously matching rental lists at a household level.

5) Nthing

There are three ways to randomly pick a representative sample list from the total available mail volume:

  • A/B split: The simplest split of lists.
  • Random: Completely random across all lists or a group of lists.
  • Almost perfect: Random, but will contain the same number from each zip code in all lists – otherwise known as “Nthing.”

6) Final count approval

If everything went well, this is an easy step — and like the others above, it should never be skipped.

Many factors can complicate this basic breakdown of the merge-purge process. It’s not an exact science or automatic process, and it requires a balance of software and human judgment. But without it, even the most brilliant strategies, concepts and offers might never reach the mailboxes that would make your campaign a winner.

 

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