One of the most important decisions a printer has to make is the selection of mailing software. The complexities of USPS rates and regulations make it virtually impossible to compete without committing money for one or more software programs.
Mailing software is designed to save you time, eliminating manual preparation steps by automatically sorting mail and producing all proper marking and postal reports, save you money by obtaining the lowest allowable postage rates that only mailing software can achieve, and save you anxiety by making sure (as much as it can) that you’re meeting current postal requirements. Full featured software will improve the address quality of your database, presort the mailing, eliminate duplicate records, prepare USPS documentation, print labels and envelopes, and make it easy to spot and update individuals that have moved.
The three main categories of software are: 1) CASS-certified software focused on data and address accuracy, 2) PAVE-certified software that presort mailing lists for the lowest postal costs, and 3) mail preparation software that does both functions. In addition, there are several other types of software that you might invest in: statement management software and business management software that specializes in direct mail or has an optional mail module.
Data and Address Accuracy Software
CASS™ stands for Coding Accuracy Support System. This is a USPS certification provided to software that cleans up, corrects, and standardizes a mailing list. It will add missing ZIP+4 zip codes, carrier route codes, Delivery Point Numbers, as well as correct any invalid address, city, state, or zip code information. It will also put the address into the post office recommended standard format such as using the two letter abbreviation for state names. Of course, there are some invalid addresses that can’t be corrected (e.g., a street direction is missing—N, S, W, or E—and the street has two identical street numbers).
Delivery Point Validation, or DPV®, is handled by the same CASS Certified™ software. This is a method by which a specific address is validated. In general, CASS will accept an address as valid as long as it falls within the range of addresses listed in the CASS database.
For instance, the CASS database may give the range of valid addresses for Deer Run Road in zip code 15143 as being from 100 to 500. If you have an address in your mailing list of 240 Deer Run Road 15143, then the general CASS processing will consider this a valid address and assign it a delivery point number even though there is a possibility that no such address really exists. DPV will double check that delivery point number against another database to verify that 240 Main Street 15143 is actually a valid address. If so, the DPV data field will show a match. If the address is not considered a match the software will alert you and let you know why the address was not matched.
As part of this address validation, the software will employ the USPS LACSLink® dataset to convert rural route addresses to newer, city-style addresses, a requirement that has primarily arisen from the implementation of the 911 system. The software will also use the dataset to change city-style addresses that have been renamed or renumbered.
After making sure addresses are complete and correct, your CASS Certified software may also be capable of ensuring that the database is as current as possible. It does this by giving you access, via your software provider, to the NCOALink® (NCOA = National Change Of Address) data from the Postal Service to provide you with updated addresses for all the businesses, families and individuals in your database that filed change-of-address forms with the USPS. Software companies are normally licensed by the USPS as Full Service Providers of NCOALinc and can run your lists against up to 48 months of NCOALinc data.
There’s a separate costs to use this integrated service; even so, your customers are required to check their lists against the USPS Change-of-Address database at least every 95 days in order to maintain postal discounts. Using NCOALink to meet this “Move Update” standard is a popular approach. Software companies also market Move Update services separately.
Finally, address accuracy software can allow you to bring added value to your customers’ databases by providing additional data such as carrier route information, line of travel, congressional districts, county codes, census tracts, block groups and enumeration districts. Common optional software modules give you the opportunity to distinguish between residential and business addresses (helpful to avoid residential surcharges when shipping parcels) and to geocode addresses with longitude and latitude coordinates (giving customers the ability to create campaigns based on location proximity).
On the data side, the ability to merge lists and detect duplicates is typically part of this software. Finding and removing duplicates is done by searching and matching on many identifying information such as: personal name, address, company name, account number, etc. The more expensive packages may have more powerful algorithms for finding dupes. The software may also be integrated with suppression services provided by your software vendor. By offering these services prior to sending mailing jobs, you can add value by identifying and omitting from your customers’ mailing recipients who do not wish to receive promotional offers or may be unlikely to respond. Frequent lists used to suppress names are drawn from DMA’s Mail Preference Service (a file of 4.5 million who don’t wish to receive promotional mail), prisons, military locations, and nursing homes.
Popular address accuracy-only Software:
- AccuMail Frameworks (www.smartsoftusa.com)
- MaxCASS (www.anchorcomputersoftware.com)
- i/Lytics® PostLocate™ (www.innovativesystems.com)
- QAS Batch (www.qas.com)
PAVE™ stands for Presort Accuracy Validation and Evaluation. This mail presort software has been tested and certified by the post office for accuracy in doing different types of sorts and producing various types of postal documents. Presort software sorts mailing lists according to all of the rules and regulations of the post office and produces, among other things, the barcoded mailing labels, barcoded tray and sack tags, qualification reports, postage statements, bundle and container reports, and instructions for packaging/traying. Presort isn’t completed until mail is in trays and sacks so that it can be transported through the postal system. Depending on the software it accommodates at least letters and flats in first-class, standard, and periodical mail, and presorts to achieve the greatest postal discount based on the mail density.
Some of the optional modules that can be purchased, depending on the software, will handle:
- Automation that allows scripting so that jobs can be processed unattended.
- Full-service Intelligent Mail Barcodes (IMb) and its many requirements.
- Palletization that will perform the presort necessary to palletize or co-palletize bundles, sacks and trays, an indispensible option for high-volume mailings.
- Mail.dat output of electronic reports for the USPS’s PostalOne! Network. Electronic reporting is currently required for companies using the full-service IMb and is likely to eventually become the norm.
- Drop shipping by providing access to the USPS drop ship information files that are required in order to claim destination entry discounted USPS postage rates.
Popular presort-only software:
- MaxPresort (www.anchorcomputersoftware.com)
Mail Preparation Software
Mail preparation software combines address accuracy and presort software into one powerful package. This is the software that most printers entering the mailing business will invest in. These software packages typically come in different editions—e.g., desktop, business, and professional—that respond to varying production needs. What may be an option in the standard package could be included in the deluxe or professional version. The low-end (read low-cost) programs can minimize your investment risk, allowing you to get your feet wet without full immersion. But you should make sure the transition from the low end to high end is straightforward and not the equivalent of changing software vendors.
Popular mail preparation software:
- Bulk Mailer (www.satorisoftware.com)
- Mail Manager (www.bccsoftware.com)
- PostalSoft (www.businessobjects.com)
- SmartAddresser 5 (www.smartsoftusa.com)
- A-Qua Mailer (www.lortondata.com)
- MAILERS+4 (www.melissadata.com)
- AccuZip6 5.0 (www.accuzip.com)
- DuoShare.com (www.duoshare.com)
- DAZzle® Express V3 (www.envmgr.com)
- AlphaMailer (www.envmgr.com)
- Envelope Manager PAVE (www.envmgr.com)
Statement Management Software
Statement management software is now being called “post-presort” software since the latest packages, such as DAT-MAIL from Window Book (www.windowbook.com) and MAILdb from Monticello Software (www.montsoft.com), give mailers the tools to output, update, submit, and store USPS documentation electronically (a requirement with the full-service IMb).
Although presort software is necessary and very powerful, one of its limitations is that it can be difficult or impossible to make changes to mailing documentation once the presort is complete. You may need to make changes because the USPS adjusted rates or the drop shipment entry point or because of any piece weight, thickness or count changes. You can then use the post-presort software to update and share mailing and postage data in an industry-standard format (Mail.dat® and Mail.XML™) with USPS, resulting in a quicker and more efficient mail verification and acceptance process.
The software can also validate Mail.dat files when created by presort software to check for incorrect formatting, errors or missing data; merge mailings from multiple jobs into a single, larger mailing that qualifies for greater postal discounts; and generate and manage IMbs for trays/sacks and pallets.
Business Management Software
At last check, only a few of the more than 50 management information systems in use in the printing industry offered support for mailing. Software from two companies—ProMail and Mail-Shop—is built specifically for direct mail and fulfillment. In addition to helping you manage the rest of your operation, these packages will include postage and related services into estimates, import Mal.dat postage statements, track postage by client and job, and manage an inventory of different types of postage.
Business management software with built-in mailing support or optional mail modules:
- Avanti Graphic Arts Management System Version 12 (www.avantisystems.com)
- EFI Monarch Foundation (www.efi.com)
- EFI Monarch Planner (www.efi.com)
- Mail-Shop (www.virtualsystems.com)
- PrintStream (www.printstream.com)
- ProMail (www.sma-promail.com)
The determinants as to which software is best for you go far beyond the price. At first glance, many packages may seem similar, however their standard capabilities, pricing model, upgrade paths, ease of use, and processing speed undoubtedly vary.
Mailing software is typically available as a subscription for a specified period, usually annually. This is because mail preparation requirements are constantly changing to meet the requirements of the United States Postal Service. To keep up with those changing requirements, mailing software developers must continually modify the software. Subscription prices for subsequent years are often lower. That makes the original selection of the right software for you, all the more important. You surely want to avoid paying that first year premium again in a year or two.
Some of the software is accessed via the Web (Software as a Solution). In that case, pricing may be by annual subscription, block unit subscription, or pay-as-you-go. This is a good approach for companies with small mailing volumes, less practical due to slower speed for larger volumes.
Software reliability and ease of use is critical. To avoid programs more apt to have glitches or erratic behavior, or have steep learning curves, take advantage of free trials and talk to companies that currently use the product. Find out the extent of training and customer support offered.
Mailing services account for a growing, albeit small, portion of industry revenue and profits. Printers continue to bring mailing in-house after weighing the costs and skills necessary to succeed, with the potential financial gain and knowledge that half of what is printed is mailed. If your company is in that group, choose your software wisely so that it fits your needs and propels you down the road to new profits.
Printing Industries of America is currently developing a free on-line publication that will allow members to compare the features, capabilities, support, and purchasing details of mailing software programs.