The Snap Direct Mail Bible
Our Complete Guide to Getting your Direct Mail off the Ground
Direct mail is now a widely used and effective marketing tool in small and large Irish businesses. It sometimes takes the form of a simple letter being used to generate a lead to more complex multi-stage campaigns. Either way, direct mail users need to be aware of the basic principles and tools that make direct mail effective in terms of response and costs.
This new online guide give users – veteran and new – an opportunity to remind themselves of what works and what they need to watch out for when planning their mailers. We have included tips on design and mail pack development as these are often the areas that users find the most demanding to manage.
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Five Things You Need To Know About Direct Mail
- Direct Mail is about getting a response – of some kind – now. Right here, right now! You are always trying to get the prospect to the next stage e.g. to telephone you. Direct mail cannot work with fuzzy objectives; it is accountable and measurable medium.
- Direct Mail is good at two things: Getting a direct sale now. Getting you actions that will lead to a sale or that support some sales process e.g a registration.
- Direct Mail that works well uses the “sale within a sale” approach. It’s always moving the prospect to the next stage e.g to open the envelope, to look at the reply card, to sign the order.
- Direct Mail not only tries to move the reader to the next stage (e.g. to telephone), it also tries to sell the benefit of moving to the next stage e.g. Freefone NOW and you will get the early bird discount.
- Direct Mail gets the reader involved – reading, touching, opening, dialling etc.
Direct mail needs to sell the reader on the benefits of acting Now
The Direct Mail Formula
[AIDA] Awareness Interest Desire Action
This is a brilliant little formula to help you structure your direct mail campaign. It can be used for writing your letter or designing a whole campaign.
AWARENESS: Make your reader aware of you, your company, your brand, the benefits of your product, the offer and what action needs to be taken next. Awareness also refers to making the reader aware of issues that affect them. Making sure that the reader is aware of all the pieces in your mailer is an “awareness” task in itself e.g. Getting a response might depend on the reader spotting the post-paid card.
Example: A headline that refers to a business issue the reader might have can create awareness.
INTEREST: You have to get the reader interested in your communication, your company, your product, your offer and your response channel (e.g. Freefone number). In particular, the elements of your package must hold the reader’s interest. e.g. if the envelope is personalised in an innovative way, the reader will be interested in moving to the contents.
Example: Words like ‘At last’ create interest as they suggest a solution is on the way.
You must hold the reader’s interest at every stage of the mailer – from the outer envelope to the reply device(s). Remove any opportunities for the reader to lose interest!
DESIRE: You must create desire at two levels. The first is to create a desire in the reader to handle or deal with your communication in the first place. Fail at this stage and your offer won’t matter. The second aspect of “desire” is that you have to make the reader want your offer per se and/or the product per se, to the point that they look for the “action” required.
Example: A deadline for a price offer can create desire through fear of loss.
ACTION: This is the really crucial stage for direct mail success. You must facilitate the action and perhaps even reward it.
Example: The reader sees that they can attend a direct mail seminar for €50 and bring along a colleague for half-price. They see the Freefone number and the deadline for the offer and lift the telephone there and then to book. This is action!
Response Is King
Direct mail nearly always looks for a response. It seldom works with fuzzy goals such as “get us better known.” (Interestingly, it’s also very good a the latter!)
When you hear someone say “that mailshot didn’t work” it’s often the case that it wasn’t designed in the first place to get any specific action. Many mailshots are designed to fail!
You must set clear goals for your direct mail. The most common are:
- Order right here now (maybe with an offer)
- Telephone this number
- Fill out some information and reply by post etc.
- Visit our web site, store, stand etc.
- Cut out the coupon and use by a certain date
- Fax back a reply form
- Call this number FREE and
- Register for a trial or test period
- Ask for a sales representative to call.
In direct mail speak we call these the “call-to-action.” Make them part of your direct mail mantra! Look for the active verb!
Starting With The List
Don’t make the mistake of developing your mailing or mailing pack and only then start thinking about who you are going to send it to.
Start with the list. In board terms there are 2 types of lists; your own and somebody else’s. Your own list starts with your existing customers. It’s usually the best list.
The next best – still your own – are prospects who have contacted you or who you have developed over time.
Then there are lists from third parties – somebody else’s. These come from list owners and list brokers. They can be classified as response lists and compiled lists.
Response lists are lists that contain names of people who you know have done something in particular e.g. bought over the Internet, attended a show.
Compiled lists are devloped based on the characteristics of the people e.g. a list of all Marketing Managers in top companies.
The 60 – 30 – 10 Rule
Direct mailers often cite the 60-30-10 rule. Translated, it means that 60% of your direct mail success depends on the list you pick, 30% on the offer and the 10% on creativity.
So the list is important! And what makes a good list?
Recency of data: data not updated within 12-18 months will usually be 30% out of date.
Updating: Hos is the list updated? Ideally by contacting the people or companies on the list.
Selections: Good lists usually allow for different selections e.g. age, date of last purchase, geographic area, industry etc.
Source of data: You should always ask what the source of any list is. List owners such as Kompass own their list and update their lists themselves. Many external lists however, are from third parties (several times removed) and you have no way of knowing their accuracy.
Size of List: This is important when you need to know whether the list is comprehensive.
Past Users: It can be useful to know who has used a list in the past. Is the list used a lot? Maybe it’s overmailed? If the list is re-used by the same users it’s probably a good list then.
Affinity: This is the term used to describe how closely a list matches your product or offer. If you are looking for leads for a top end business car model, then business owners would be a logical match. Previous buyers in this car type would be an even better match.
List can vary a lot in terms of their content. Some lists are for mailing purposes only showing just the name and address. Others will provide telephone and fax numbers. The best ones will also contain extra information about the people or companies on the list.
Direct Mail Pack Elements
Outer Envelope: These range from plain business envelopes to elaborate, unusual sized envelopes that carry messages. Any type of envelope can work but it depends on the context.
The Letter: Not always necessary but nearly always get results and is about as cost effective as you can get.
The Brochure: If you haven’t yet designed the brochure then now is the time to think it through. Many brochures are laden with irrelevant detail whereas they should be demonstrating, reassuring and proving your claims.
Reply Devices: Order from, reply card, business reply envelope. Some mailings are built entirely around these crucial items. Some mailers include a reply device to emphasise that a response is needed even though most response might, for example, come via the telephone.
Variation: More elaborate formats are available such as containers, boxes, expensive packaging. These are sometimes called “tactile” packages as they cause the receiver to examine the package (in layman’s terms “they’re hard to miss!).
Self Mailers: These are single items that combine the outer, the letter, the reply device and the brochure. A Postcard is also a self mailer.
Direct Mail Tactics
Make an Offer: Unless you are selling a product directly, direct mail often does not focus on your product; instead it focuses on the offer.
An offer can be a free trial, free consultation, money off, 2 or 1, extra product, a free gift etc. It needs to suit your business or service.
Enhance your offer: A collection of brochures can become a free information kit; a free trial can be a full 30 days free; “call now” can be dial FreeFone 1800 now.
Length of your letter: There are conflicting views about this. In general, long letters sell more! This view is based on many years of testing by top mailers in the US and the UK. However, short letters (e.g. 3 paragraphs) can work better for the likes of generating leads or enquiries.
Write your letter. Then let it sit for a day. Then rewrite it. First drafts seldom work – that would be art! Direct mail is a science, so you need to keep fine tuning your copy.
Graphics: Avoid busy or fancy graphics. It’s not that readers cannot understand them, they often don’t see the relevance of them. The basic rule is that a picture can paint a thousand words when it’s the right picture.
How many Pieces?: Too many “bits” in a package can confuse the reader. In general, stick to what people are used to (letter, reply, brochure). If you need to use extra elements make sure that the reader has a clear starting point.
Jargon: Avoid jargon and “big” words. A good rule of thumb is that words or terms you wouldn’t use face to face, you shouldn’t use in a mailer.
Spell out the Benefit: Above all, spell out the benefit to the customer What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) approach. You need the readers to be saying in their mind “If I do this – now – I will benefit by…”
Incentives: Sometimes called premiums, these intended either to get your attention and/or be functional at the same time. A pair of sunglasses or a coffee mug in the mailing are examples. They certainly can get attention and if the reader holds onto the item, there can be long term benefits. It depends on the context. Anything that gets you noticed is always a start. It if makes a relevant point, even better.
Often, in direct mail, it’s the offer you are selling , not the product itself. Which of the following is likely to get a response today? All your Telecommunications needs from one provider! Vs, 200 Channels and Internet at the speed of light – yours free for 60 days!
Reply Cards: Ideally, reply cards should be personalised as it speeds up and encourages response (make it easy). You can also re-estate the offer on the reply card as readers often only read the part of the mailing. You can also use the reply card to gather more information also e.g. to find out about another need the reader has.
Options to Respond: Readers like different ways to reply e.g
- Book me my free trial
- Have a sales representative contact me
- Send me my free information kit
- Respond to my email request
Create urgency: The best direct mail gets a reaction today! Use words that create urgency: Respond by..Hurry…Call now…Only the first 50 will receive….
Put limits on your offers: Print the limits often on your mailer.
Frequency: How frequently should you mail? It can take between 6 and 12 sales “approaches” to get a sale. Some mailers mail every six weeks. Single mailings seldom work, not for any long-term project.
In the course of a busy day, most of us read at roughly 6th class primary school standard. So write messages to that standard. It will keep your text fresh and simple and keep you away from big words.
Newsletters: These can be useful for building long term name and brand awareness but the content should be relevant to the reader. Too many newsletters are all about the company with no benefit apparent to the readers!
Humour: In a world that is busy and where we are overburdened with information, humour is even important. Cartoons are a great way to get a message across as are funny anecdotes, illustrations, headlines and one-liners.
Testimonials: Probably the one thing that increases response above all else. Given that you are not face-to-face, a testimonial from a happy customer, important user or independent body is a response winner every time. In direct mail, truth will get you agreement. Proof will get you a response.
On timing. Seldom do we get the timing of a mailshot right. Don’t worry though! The trick is to be remembered when it’s time to buy. You don’t actually have to be there.
Ease-of-Response: Don’t ask readers to jump your hurdles as it will lose you response. e.g. have VAT amount already calculated on the page, provide a pre-addressed, reply paid envelope etc. All these things aid fast response.
Involvement: Direct mail usually leads to actual physical actions on the part of the reader. A good test of a direct mail piece is to ask “what actions am I causing the reader to take?” e.g. reading, looking, handling, opening, writing, telephoning, emailing, calculating, posting, licking, sticking, tearing, inserting, visiting, booking, signing, taking out a credit card etc.
In direct mail, truth will get you agreement but proof will get you a response!
MOST POWERFUL WORDS IN DIRECT MAIL
- At Last
Would you believe? Letters on their own are read more carefully and more fully than when they accompany a brochure! Hence, they’re great for getting leads.
How Headlines and Opening Paragraphs can kill your Customers!
By Robert Hayes-McCoy
Robert Hayes-McCoy Consultants Ltd
David Ogilvy, the legendary founder of Ogilvy and Mather, one of the world’s greatest direct marketing agencies, tells how he gathered all his copywriters into a room and said
‘Ladies and gentlemen when you have written the headline you have spent 75% of your client’s money.’
By this he meant that unless the headline in your brochure, or the opening paragraph in your direct mail letter, has the power to hold your readers’ attention…three out of every four of them will not read any further. Wow!
So take your time! Get this fundamental right and your direct mail is well on its way to success. Get it wrong and you effectively kill your readers’ interest before they start.
The secret of getting it right is to ‘always put yourself in your reader’s place’. What your reader wants to know – and know quickly – is ‘what’s in it for me if I read on?’ So you must promise your BIGGEST BENEFIT up front.
And keep in mind that, next to your name, the most emotional word in the English language is the word ‘YOU’. Use it often and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how effectively this tiny little word increases your response. No wonder it’s called “the platinum word” of direct marketing copywriting.
Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster!
Gotcha! Who could resist reading a headline like this? It’s eye-catching and typical of the short snappy headline genre used in the increasingly popular tabloid newspaper. But it’s not a great direct marketing headline. You see, the best direct marketing headlines promise a benefit up-front.
For example: ‘Cash if you die, Cash if you don’t.’ This very successful headline was used by Lloyds Life and ran unbeaten for more than five years. Not only was the benefit clearly identified ‘up-front’ but the headline also contains the ‘platinum’ word ‘YOU’.
The Irish Start Faster!
One of the striking differences between direct marketing letters written in the US and copy written in Britain is that US letters start faster. They go straight in, whereas British copywriters start gently and develop the sales pitch. In my experience the fast start works best in Ireland. For example, which of these letters sounds more interesting to you?
“In recent times, as technology progresses, new development are announced in computers…”
“We’re so convinced that this computer will save you money that you can have a…”
In a nutshell… headlines and opening paragraphs that promise a benefit UP-FRONT and contain the ‘platinum’ word ‘YOU’ work best in Irish direct mail.
Robert Hayes-McCoy may be contacted at email@example.com
Telling is not Selling: The XYZ group has been in existence for 10 years now = telling. W have become the preferred supplier to 3,000 Irish companies = selling.
Business Direct Mail Can Be Different
- Business readers use your headlines to sort the mail each day; what the headline on your letter or envelope says could determine who it reaches, if it all!
- Personalised titles in business direct mail are very strong as they immediately paint the reader into the picture. (We always look for ourselves first).
- Be wary of gimmicks such as fake handwriting. Business readers are more experienced and cynical than customers and may consider you to be an amateur.
- Business readers are habitual scanners therefore the opening paragraph should state your offer and benefits as it might be the only part that gets read.
Getting Business Sales Leads
- Don’t send out lame letters that say, “looking forward to working with you”. Be more definite such as offering “free, no-obligation initial consultation that will” (You now have a clear next step).
- Have a secondary offer ready. Only a few percent of prospects will actually see you face-to-face. Therefore, offer something that is easier to attain e.g. free planning guide; sign-up to technical email newsletter or better, get them to write for you mail newsletter!
- Offer the business reader several ways to reply; phone, email, post, fax. Repeat the phone number. Make these prominent. Don’t assume that the reader will check the small print on your letterhead to locate your telephone number.
- Establish credibility; enclose article, Q & A, show your photo, mention clients, awards, partners.
- Business lead campaigns need to be repeated over time to establish your credibility and your desire to do business.
Design Of The Direct Mail Pack
A stunningly creative mailshot with its complex folds may be what your heart is telling you is needed but, your head tells you that most mailings quickly exceed budget and become completely impractical to fulfill. So the best mailshot becomes a compromise between theory, hope and cost. Talk to your print supplier early in the process and that way you can pack in most of those “response-getting” ideas at least cost. Talk too late and you’ll pay the price!
Design Of The Promotional Piece
- Simplicity is the hallmark of good design. Inevitably when you think about it, you will have one key message to get across to your target audience.
- Use only a few typefaces or styles of each type throughout. Each type/font (or family) can provide light, bold, extra bold, italic, expanded or condensed versions of print.
- Decide which points from your copy need to be highlighted and reserve your bold type just for them.
- Select a type style and size for the normal body copy that is easy to read. It is better to be safe and sure rather than choosing obscure, fancy styles that may prove difficult to read or follow.
- Use white space instead of bold reverse panels for impact.
- Don’t be tempted to fill every bit paper with information just because there is space. Let your text “breathe” as the direct marketing people say!
- What is colour? A simple one-colour job is not restricted to black on white but can be any colour ink on any colour paper.
- If using two colours, make one your main colour and use the other colour sparingly to highlight key messages.
- Use photographs and illustrations. Make sure they have plenty of contrast and are not washed out. Old photos, photocopies or newspaper clippings generally do not reproduce well.
- Reward the reader. Everyone has an innate sense of good and bad design. Acknowledge that your reader is a person that is valuable to you and deserves a reward for the time it takes to read your mail piece. Good design is one of the best rewards you can offer.
Design Of The Letter
The most common item in mailers is the letterhead. Was your letterhead designed with selling in mind? Probably not! If you cannot change its design, you need to use text wisely to get best impact.
- The letterhead will be used as the address carrier for personalisation so it needs to suit window envelopes and accommodate both addresses and text.
- Spending a little extra on designing a letterhead specifically for a mailing can improve the response.
- Letterheads can also incorporate graphics, photos and reply devices such as coupons.
Design Of The Envelope
Ensuring your direct mail gets more than the cursory glance on the way to the bin is becoming an increasing challenge for businesses and choosing the most appropriate outer envelope is crucial. The envelope can determine whether or not your target audience will read your carefully planned message.
- The starting place is getting the right message and image on the outer envelope.
- Decide on whether you want your logo on the outside or do you want to keep the recipient in suspense until they open. This is very much dependent on the products on offer. (Put another way, is sight of your logo a response killer?)
- Good design can transform a simple C4 or C5 envelope and options include one colour to four colour.
- Some mailers design a customised outer envelope for “impact.” The greatest impact will usually be on your budget and the Post Office may charge you more for a non-standard item not to mention extra fulfilment costs.
- The range of envelopes is vast and the potential for creativity is endless.
- The decision is to grab the attention of the recipient when your mail hits the desk or let the recipient go that stage further by opening before you make an impression.
- Use key benefits and illustrations from your mail shot as most of the hard work will have gone into creating the mail shot.
- Leave the design of the envelope until last when creating your direct mail piece.
Printing Of The Direct Mail Pack
Before starting the design process, involve your print supplier. Print suppliers will recommend stock, colour, size options for all elements of the mailing pack. Print suppliers will also bring expertise on folding and finishes that will and will not work on mailing machines.
- Choosing the right print company can best be done by way of recommendation or choose a reputable, well-known printing house.
- Print suppliers can provide graphic design. Print suppliers will sometimes offer graphic design as part of their service. This means fewer suppliers for you to deal with and fewer disagreements.
- The worlds of print is complex and is evolving at such a pace that keeping up would require a training course. That is why it is essential to build a relationship with your print supplier who knows how to manage you!
- Make sure you are well organised and provide a detailed print order covering every aspect of your project. This leaves no room for error or misinterpretation once the job is finished. A print order must at least include the following:
- Job Description
- Size and format
- Artwork Supplied e.g. CD Disc with laser guide
- Quantity required
- Number of Colours
- Finishing & Folding
- Delivery Date
- Delivery Address
- There are hundreds of choices in paper and finishes available. Design will generally dictate the size, shape, format and finish. However, involving the printer can make your direct mail piece much more cost effective.
- The stock choice needs careful selection particularly if there is a need to personalise the piece for machine-filling at the mailing house.
- Personalised pieces more often than not need to be “laser friendly” when using a conventional mailing house.
- The type of envelope you choose can have a real impact on the fulfilment process in terms of timings & processes. For example, if your envelope needs to be printed full colour in a particular size it can add at least a week to the schedule.
- If your job needs to be machine fillable, typically the envelope will need to open on the long end. This is known as a “Wallet” . Choose the wrong type of envelope and your job could go from machine fill to hand fill and of course there will be a huge increase in cost.
- Involve your print supplier in your choice on envelopes and give them details of your project. They will give you the best advice.
The Use Of Colour
- Documents in colour are read in 1/3 the time and can be recalled with fewer errors.
- Recall of your message can increase by up to 80% using colour.
- Comprehension of information improves up to 73% where colour is used effectively.
- Highlight colour attracts up to 60% more sales.
- 44% of telephone directory users responded first to businesses that highlighted their message in colour.
Top Five Ideas for Effective Use of Colour:
- Use a colour for your text instead of black (deep blue can look very stylish, red very exciting).
- Highlight your most important messages or words in colour, a colour added to a black logo will totally change your image, a two-colour logo has even more impact.
- Smaller quantities in glorious full colour are now affordable using the latest digital technologies.
- Spot colour will add dramatic impact to your simple flyer or promotional piece.
- Four-colour process gives you the flexibility and lifelike realism of millions of colours, hues and tints.
Design & Print Terms (Print Dictionary)
Ten Ways To Improve Your Sales Letter
- Include a headline – Your headline will pull the reader into the rest of your letter and together with the PS is one of the most important parts of your letter. Include your most appealing benefit in the headline and spend time on it as it will pay off.
- AIDA – Structure your letter to create attention, interest, desire and ultimately action. Most copywriters will use a structure, and AIDA is the most effective and widely used. The last A is the most important and sometimes the A for action will headline your letter.
- A letter should be to one person – from one person. Avoid the temptation to say “we are offering” etc. This is not personal. The letter should read ” I am offering….” The more personal the letter is, the better your chances are of being read.
- Use of Fonts – Experts believe that a serif font is easier to read than a san-serif. Keep the stylish fonts for your mail piece which needs to fit in with your overall branding but your letter does not need to look slick but be easy to read.
- Have an Offer – If you want to dramatically increase your results, dramatically improve your offer. Find the offer that you can sell in the letter.
- Keep it short – Common to all the really great direct Mail letters is a simple underlying structure…short! Keep your sentences short, your paragraphs short, your words short and you’re well on your way to writing a great sales letter.
- Do your research. Unless you are familiar with the product and service, you should spend time researching it.
- Sell benefits but do not ignore features. Your letter needs to highlight the benefits of your product or service. It is also important to outline the features to enhance your offering.
- Be Specific. When citing figures and facts, be specific. Vague and unspecific copy is ineffective because your readers believe you are generalising.
- The List. No matter how good your offer, your copy or headline is, it won’t matter if the letter goes to the wrong person. Make sure your list is correct and spend time on selecting and getting it right.
Personalising your mailings is known to significantly improve response rates. Add in relational data to the mix and response gets even higher. True one to one marketing is becoming a reality in the Irish market place with significant developments in print and data capabilities.
- Thanks to internet technology, it is now possible to capture and record every single action and reaction.
- Masses of knowledge on customers, their products, their preferences and their information can be stored into a single database.
- This information can then be transformed into relational data, which is used to create effective marketing, focused toward a tightly targeted audience.
- This allows companies to tailor the information on every page of a printed communication to match the needs and preferences of different individuals.
- The terms of Relational Data Printing and it means that the print run of the future will not be one thousand or one hundred, but just one.
- Digital printing technology has made the print run of “one” possible.
- Variable data printing has made the print run of one an effective and commercially viable marketing tool.
- Relational data is the exact combination of information recalled on request from storage to make variable data printing relevant to its personalised target audience.
- From basic information to brilliant personalised communication, the whole process can be managed and run by a single service provider with the appropriate software and print expertise.
One to one marketing works better than conventional print marketing. Figures for Relational Data printing show that:
- Response rate is 34% greater
- Average order is 24.5% larger
- Repeat order is 47.6% quicker
- Retention is 47% higher
- Profit is 31% bigger
- Response time is 34.9% faster
Optimising Your In-House List Mailings
From data supply to the final output, every step needs to maximise the level of response to your mailing. Fail at any stage and a well-targeted direct mail tactic can fall short of the targets.
Data supply & security
- Reputable mailing houses will always give written assurance that your data will be secure and not misused.
- All will be registered for the Data Protection Act and most will belong to a recognised association such as the IDMA (Irish Direct Marketing Association).
- De-duping – Duplicate addresses are annoying, costly and inefficient. Many data companies and mailing houses have developed specific software to deal with the commonality amongst Irish addresses.
- The De-duping Rules – When merging a number of lists, give a simple hierarchical list of rules that clearly defines which is the best and which is the worst list. This means that duplicates will be removed from the lists at the bottom of the hierarchy.
- Reports will show which have been retained and which have been discarded and it is worth testing the process prior to full roll-out.
Other List Cleaning Operations
- Mailing Preference Service List (MPS) MPS is designed to prevent individually addressed, unsolicited, consumer advertising material being mailed to those individuals who have registered with the service. Use of the MPS consumer file by list-owners and users is a requirement under the Data Protection Law.
- Deceased mailings are distressing and offensive to the bereaved, causing untold damage to your company. It is worthwhile running your list against an updated deceased list to minimise the upset.
- External data companies and mailing houses are generally the best lists to use as they are regularly updated with information.
- Gone Away Suppressions – Approximately 6% of the population moves each year equating to over 1,000 people daily. Mailing “gone-aways” reduces response rates and encourages fraud.
- Returned mail should always be suppressed and again it is worth running your list against a data company or mailing house “gone-away” suppression list as they are regularly updated.
Size & Weight Of Pack
- In order to produce an accurate postage rate, it is necessary to know the quantity of the mailing as well as the weight and dimensions of the final pack. These parameters will determine the rate of postage which generally tends to be the most expensive part of the mailing.
- Talk to your mailing house about how to achieve the best discount on your mailing.
- The sortation process for availing of discounts known as PostAim organises the address file into the correct sequence and usually prints the sortation town with the address data.
- Data companies and mailing houses offer PostAim sorting as part of the overall mailing.
- When the mailing is completed, it is good practice to update your master database files with the cleaned data received back from the mailing house. This will save you paying again for the same cleaned data.