Double Response Rates: Mail to Carrier Routes not ZIP Codes

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carrier route map

Gas prices are high, postage rates are increasing again, email and web marketing continue to grow... in other words, it’s a perfect time to re-examine how you can increase direct mail response while getting the lowest postage rates. Ideally, you want to target specific neighborhoods instead of entire ZIP codes. But how do you micro-target your direct mail campaign to this degree?

When talking about mailing, postal carrier routes are a great way to approximate neighborhoods. This is partially because of their size, which is typically 500-1000 deliverable addresses and generally represents the area a particular postal employee covers each day. It is also because saturation mailing by carrier route qualifies you for the maximum postage discounts. Each standard ZIP Code is made up of ten’s of carrier routes. When you cut out carrier routes that cover areas in a ZIP Code where you expect low response rates, you save money and improve overall response. That means more profit. You like profit, don't you?

Oh No, Not the Whole ZIP!

Many direct mail firms tell you "just mail to the whole ZIP code," thinking they should rent as many names/mail as many pieces as possible. But that's not thinking of your best interests. They should be focused on results, not counts. If you save money and increase sales, you'll keep going back to them right?

Even if you are a novice, you probably have a good idea of which neighborhoods you want to target and which are best avoided. Mapping service bureaus can provide you with maps of carrier routes showing streets, so you can cherry-pick the best routes to target. Or some can even get you a map showing the correspondence between carrier routes and actual neighborhoods (for example, SOHO). You’ll still qualify for the saturation-level postage discounts but you’ll get a better response rate (since only the best areas are targeted). Pretty cool.thematic carrier route map

A more sophisticated use of mapping is to create a "thematic" map that color-codes each carrier route. Thematic mapping based on customer response data you provide can offer strong visual evidence of trends and patterns. Seeing where prospects have responded best in the past can tell you where new prospects are most likely to respond in the future.

What Your Broker Is Afraid To Tell You

Another problem with mailing to entire ZIP Codes: including some of the wrong people and missing legitimate targets. Imagine a retail chain with a site that is near the border of two ZIP codes. Pulling lists only for the ZIP Code the store is located in misses many high-quality prospects just across the border. It also reduces response rates because individuals at the far end of the store’s ZIP Code probably aren't good targets anyway.

The solution is to break each ZIP Code into postal carrier routes via carrier route maps. By spending less than $100 per site, you can save 10 times that in mailing costs (list fees, printing costs, and postage) while dramatically increase your response rate. Even if you save less than 10%, that will often cover the map costs. Check out our case study on a rug cleaner.

Most list brokers can pull names based on postal carrier route, but be careful of those who say they can do the targeting without maps. Their pseudo-targeting is usually based on the center point of a postal carrier's delivery route. But carrier routes are not single points. If you want to limit the mailing to carrier routes that are entirely within a desired area, the center point method fails: you need to see the route’s actual delivery area. Another common approach from list brokers is to pull by ZIP+4 Code. But ZIP+4's are tiny, and there are no discounts for "saturating" a ZIP+4 so targeting at that level is more expensive anyway.

Your To-Do List

If you are doing daily or weekly mailings and have a budget of around $150,000, you can add the software, carrier route map data, staff person, and training to your existing infrastructure and do carrier route targeting yourself. Otherwise, if your mapping needs are less frequent, you can enlist a dedicated mapping service bureau to call on when needed. Make sure you choose a company that is focused on mapping so they aren't competing with you. You also want to ensure they have proven experience with postal geography down to the carrier route level, including a deep understanding of how carrier route boundaries are defined and a commitment to frequently updating their data.

How do you get started? We encourage you to explore the carrier route maps offered via the Maponics online store. Have questions? Call us at 800-762-5158 and one of our experts can talk with you about your options.