mailEver wonder why things get lost in the mail? Picture this.

You are a newbie mail carrier driving your mail truck along a beautiful coast overlooking emerald-colored ocean that spans as far as the eye can see. Focused completely on your next delivery, you cross a bridge over a bustling bay, enjoying the salty breeze from your open windows. Suddenly, you are horrified to see pieces of mail flying out the window on an ill-fated trajectory straight into the bay below.

This is the true story of the beginning and the end of a friend’s career as a mailman. His misfortune is no doubt legendary in that area now, and he and I still laugh to tears over the story. Amusing as it may be, this scenario illustrates just how little control we have over mail once entrusted to the Postal Service. You just never know what is going to happen.

Direct marketers run the risk of direct mail pieces getting lost in transit. Luckily, over the course of my own direct marketing career, I’ve only experienced a couple of occasions when direct mail pieces inexplicably failed to be delivered. Each time I wondered if our mail was wedged between the console and driver’s seat of a mail truck somewhere, or between the teeth of a dolphin swimming around the ocean. It’s fun to pin the blame of lost mail on innocent sea creatures, but new evidence suggests other reasons for undelivered mail.

The real culprits, it seems, are bad addresses and Postal Service errors.

Jamie Dupree’s Washington Insider exposes some eye-opening statistics on undeliverable mail that we direct marketers should pay attention to.

  • 40% of wrong address issues are “public error” – mainly from people failing to report new addresses to the Postal Service.
  • 35% of undelivered mail is due to business mailers with a wrong address.
  • 23% of undelivered mail is due to Postal Service errors made in sorting or failed deliveries.
  • Despite efforts to reduce undeliverable mail, the error rate has gone up in recent years from 4.17% of all mail in 2011 to 4.26% in 2014.

Statistics like these bear an important message for direct marketers. Once a mail piece enters the mail stream, we can’t control whether it will fall victim to Postal Service errors, but we can control one thing – accurate addresses.

But even the USPS struggles to keep accurate address information on file, so how can we conquer the same challenge?

The answer is simple…Cultivate relationships and stay connected with audiences to maintain quality data to use for communications.

What exactly is quality data? Quality data is verified and accurate mailing addresses and information on preferred modes of communication that come directly from target audiences. Maybe an individual prefers email or a phone call over direct mail. Perhaps a person has decided to make his vacation home a permanent one, and we need to update our data on that. Keeping this information current is a challenge, but there is a way to tackle it head on.

Nurturing enduring relationships with our target audiences through engaging, trackable, multi-channel communication strategies is the best way to control the accuracy of our own audience data. It’s true we can’t control post office sorting errors or mail flying down to a watery demise, but if we focus our efforts on maintaining quality data directly from people, we increase the odds of our communications landing where they are supposed to – in the hands of our target audience.