The New Direct Mail Glossary Of Key Words, Phrases & Acronyms

The New Direct Mail Glossary of key words, phrases & acronyms

To a marketer new to direct mail marketing, many of the terms, phrases and acronyms used by specialists in the business can seem pretty arcane. More recently, as technology has reshaped the way that modern direct mail works, an entirely new set of lingo has emerged that even experienced direct mail marketers are just becoming aware of. After scaling up a software business that is now serving thousands of customers, we’ve heard from digital marketers adding direct mail, seasoned direct mail pros embracing this new technology and many small business people that the terminology can be confusing. That’s why we put together this new direct mail glossary of key words and phrases.

Many of the terms in The New Direct Mail Glossary are the same as you will find in digital marketing or advertising, and some are unique. Other terms may be obsolete, having been replaced by words that describe a more modern version of a product, service, or price. But print industry veterans may still use the older terminology.

No one expects marketers to be fluent in all the buzzwords found in the direct mail marketing world, but it pays to be familiar with them. Basic knowledge allows you to communicate effectively with service providers, technologists and freelancers while in the planning and execution stages of your direct mail marketing campaigns. Avoid mistakes and misunderstandings by familiarizing yourself with relevant terms and phrases and return to this document if you encounter references to something you don’t understand.

The New Direct Mail Glossary is organized by sections that focus on strategy, data, printing and mailing. In some cases, more details are available via the hyperlinks included in glossary entries.

Strategy: The Big Picture Stuff

Successful direct mail campaigns start with a strong strategy. We thought it would be important to begin the New Direct Mail Glossary with some of the important phrases that you’ll run across when developing the strategy for your direct mail channel or campaign.

Database Marketing – Database marketing leverages customer or prospect information stored in databases to craft personalized messaging and targeted offers.

Direct Mail Automation – Automated direct mail is made possible with software that pulls data from CRM, Marketing Automation, Ecommerce systems or other data sources to generate personalized, one-to-one direct mail. The delivery and response to each mailer is measured and displayed in dashboards. Though automated direct mail can easily handle large batches of work, the system is also works equally well with small volumes, or even triggered workflows with a single mailpiece.

This Postalytics article explains direct mail automation: What Is Automated Direct Mail?

Event Driven Programs are systems triggered to create mailpieces based on events such as an individual’s birthday, product purchase, warranty expiration, etc.

Fulfillment – Responding to a customer request. Fulfillment may include items such as product literature, free branded merchandise, or purchased products. Fulfillment may be accomplished by a company in-house or outsourced to a fulfillment house, depending on volume.

Lift – Lift is the improvement in response from a mailing after making a change in the direct mail package. Companies might experience lift after improving an offer from 10% discount to 20%, for instance.

List Broker – A list broker connects marketers (the mailing list renter) to list owners.

List Rental – Mailing list purchases are usually restricted to a single use, unless otherwise arranged. Marketers to do not own the data, they are merely given permission to use it according to the list rental agreement.

Multichannel Marketing – Multichannel marketing can be a confusing term, but most agree that it means a marketer is using more than one method to deliver the same or similar offer. A campaign that includes direct mail plus email is multichannel. One that uses SMS (text), social media, and autodial phone calls would also be multichannel.

Here are two Postalytics articles on multichannel marketing:

Where Should Direct Mail Fit into Your Multi-Channel Marketing Strategy?

Direct Mail vs Email – Optimize Both Through The Customer Journey

Offer – In direct mail, the offer is the incentive for the prospect to take a preferred action. A non-profit charity might offer a t-shirt or a calendar in return for a donation. Retail sellers might offer a sale price to buyers who purchase during the sale period.

Omnichannel Marketing – Omnichannel marketing is a newer term that refers to channels that work cooperatively to make the sale. With omnichannel marketing, a sales process that starts at the company website can be continued seamlessly in a mobile app or online. The terms multichannel and omnichannel are sometimes used to describe the same thing, but experts assume omnichannel marketing strategies include coordination across the communication channels.

pURLs – pURLs are unique web addresses. Each pURL is created for a single targeted individual. When the prospect visits their pURL the landing page that displays contains content intended just for them. pURLs often consist of a domain followed by the prospect’s name, so it is easy for the prospect to remember. For example: www.abcphotographypage/johnsmith.

pURLs are great for tracking activity an interaction with a prospect. Here’s a Postalytics article about it:

How to Use Personalized URLs to Measure Direct Mail Response

QR Codes – QR, or Quick Response codes are used to connect direct mail to digital content. By aiming a smart phone camera at a QR code, prospects can access websites to get more product information, set appointments, watch videos, or enter a contest, for example. QR codes saw a resurgence once scanners were built into smart phone cameras, so a special app was not needed. During the COVID-19 pandemic QR codes were used to facilitate curbside merchandise pick-up, touchless restaurant menus, and more.

Postalytics explains how QR codes work in direct mail campaigns in this article:

Why QR Codes in Marketing Suddenly Make Sense

Segmentation – Describes a strategy to divide a mailing list into groups for direct mail package testing or to send them different offers or ither materials.

This Postalytics article includes information about segmentation:

What Is Direct Marketing?

Triggered Direct Mail is mail that is generated only when certain conditions are met, usually by indicators in a CRM system. Examples of triggered direct mail might include sending a renewal notice when a customer’s subscription is about to expire or a special offer once a customer reaches a certain level of activity or their aggregate purchases reaches a certain threshold.

This article explains the benefits of triggered direct mail:

Profiting from Triggered Direct Mail Automation

Direct Mail Marketing Glossary – Data

Direct mail glossary: The Golden Rule Of Direct Marketing

In the direct mail marketing world, data is a hugely important part of the success of any campaign. Many marketers believe that direct mail was actually the very first data driven marketing channel. In fact, the legendary direct marketing expert Edward Mayer defined the “40-40-20” rule for direct marketing success, pointing out that successful performance is based:

  • 40% on the audience
  • 40% on the message and offer
  • 20% on creative execution

This section of the New Direct Mail Glossary is focused on the phrases that you’ll hear used to define the important concepts and processes associated with the use of data in direct mail.

CASS stands for Coding Accuracy Support System. CASS improves the accuracy of matching mailing list entries to USPS delivery point codes. CASS is a standard that must be met by approved address matching software. Any mailing claiming discount automation postage rates must be produced from address lists properly matched and coded with CASS-certified address matching methods.

Here’s more information about CASS from the USPS website:

NOTE: Always demand that your direct mail is run through the CASS process. You’ll achieve far better deliverability and results when CASS is applied.

Cleaning Names refers to processes used to correct misspellings, standardize addresses, correct ZIP codes, or eliminate duplicates to get a data file ready for printing.

Database File – Database files are arranged as a collection of tables, where each table is related to one or more other table via a common data element. For example, a table of departments may be related to a table of employees by a department number that appears in both tables. One entry in a database table may be related to many entries in another table.

Data Enhancement – Appending data from an external data source to a name and address file by adding information such as age or income. May also refer to improving data by inserting salutation lines, genderizing, or geocoding.

Dedupe – Identifying and dropping duplicate records from a data file.

Demographic Data – Demographic data is socio-economic. Details such as housing type, ethnicity, or estimated home values help marketers fine-tune their mailing lists so their direct mail campaigns are targeted only to prospects that match the profile of a qualified buyer.

Duplicate – The definition of a duplicate depends on the application. In some instances, ID numbers such as a social security number, phone number, or account number may be used to identify duplicates. In other cases, duplicates may be defined as records with the same street address, or street address plus surname. Best practices call for standardizing data as much as possible before deduping.

Flat File – All the records in a flat file have the same format and maybe processed individually. Records in flat files have no relationship to one another.

Format refers to the way data in a file is arranged. The order of data fields, and the structure of the data determine the format. Systems or organizations may enforce standards, but no universal data format standard exists. For example, one data file may list names as firsname followed by last name in a separate field while another data file contains lastname, a comma, then firstname in a single data field.

Geocoding converts a mailing address into geographical coordinates, such as longitude and latitude, for determining a physical location on earth. Geocoding is useful for computing distances between two points or constructing maps or directions as variable data.

Holdout Group Testing – works like an A/B test where one group (typically randomly selected) does NOT receive the mailers from a direct mail campaign, vs. the other group that does receive the mailers. Often purchase data from the two groups is compared, often 90 days after the fact. The purpose is to determine how many natural sales would occur without mailing, so that the baseline of new sales due to the mailing effort can be established.

House File – An organization’s own file of current customers, past customers, or prospects. House files generally yield the best response to direct mail marketing.

Householding is a technique mailers use to lower mail campaign costs by sending only one mailpiece to a household. In some cases, mailers combine multiple mailpieces in one envelope. Other times, they consider multiple family members at the same address as duplicates and drop them from the mailing file. The householding strategy depends on the application.

List Maintenance – Keeping a mailing list up to date by adding new records, deleting obsolete records, or updating existing records, such as updating mailing addresses.

Mailing Lists – Mailing lists come in several varieties. A “House List” is usually the best performing mailing list because the people on the list are current customers, former customers, or prospects who have previously shown an interest in the marketer’s product or service. These people are familiar with the brand and are more likely to open and read direct mail pieces addressed to them, particularly if the marketer has used information they know about each contact to personalize the message or propose the most relevant offer.

“Response Lists” are lists of people who share an attribute with your target audience. They might subscribe to certain magazines, belong to professional organizations, or be former students of a certain university. Acquiring these types of lists yields better than average results. These people are interested in the same things as your customers, so they will be attracted to relevant content delivered via direct mail. Additional filtering may be necessary to make sure the contacts on the final mailing list meet the criteria for a qualified buyer.

“Compiled Lists” are populated by contacts chosen by general criteria such as estimated income levels, age, sex, or geographic location. These lists will not be as productive as others, since it is difficult to match the contacts to the attributes of an organization’s ideal buyer profile.

Postalytics has published several detailed articles about mailing lists. See these examples:

The Ultimate Guide to Direct Mailing List Selection and Testing

How to Find the Best Consumer Mailing List for Direct Mail Campaigns

8 Direct Mail List Tips and Best Practices

Merge/Purge – Software designed to accept data from multiple sources and combine them. May be used to drop duplicates or to remove records via a suppression file.

National Change of Address/NCOA – The NCOA database (pronounced nō’-ca) includes information on every person, family, or business that has filed a change-of-address notice with the US Postal Service. To combat the enormous cost of handling Undeliverable as Addressed (UAA) mail, the USPS requires mailers seeking postage discounts to use an approved move update method to correct mailing addresses before they present the mail. NCOA processing is the most common method mailers choose to satisfy the move update requirement. The NCOA database changes constantly as new change of address notices are submitted and older change orders expire.

This Postalytics article includes some information about move update and NCOA:

3 No Brainer Tips: How to Save Money on Direct Mail Marketing

For more information about NCOA, here’s a link from the USPS:

Nth Name – A way to test a file. The value of n determines how may records are selected. Choosing every 100th record in a 10,000 record file yields a test file of 100 names. Choosing every 10th record creates a test file of 1,000 names.

Variable Data is any data element that changes from one data record to the next. Names, addresses, and account numbers are examples of variable data. Fixed data does not change according to the data record. The marketer’s 800 number, for example, would be fixed data that appears on every direct mail piece in the campaign.

Variable Logic is a way to alter the text or graphics on a direct mail piece according to variables appearing in the data. Variable logic always falls into the format of: IF something is true, THEN do this. When adding variable logic to direct mail campaigns, always be sure to define a default action in case an unexpected data value occurs in the data file.

Postalytics’ powerful campaign building software allows marketers to use variable logic. For an explanation of how it works, click on the link below.

Variable Logic

Direct Mail Glossary: Printing Terms

Printing can seem to be a mysterious process. Unless you spend a ton of time working in the printing business, the terms used in the printing industry can seem pretty technical. However, once you’re familiar with them, they’re far more approachable. This section of The New Direct Mail Glossary will help you familiarize yourself with the language of print and provide an understanding of how print is produced.

For more information about printing and advice on how to choose a print service supplier, read What to Look for When Choosing a Direct Mail Printing and Mailing Vendor

To learn more about the costs for running direct mail campaigns, see this article:
Direct Mail Costs Made Easy – How to Understand Direct Mail Pricing

/M Stands for per thousand. Often used to describe the cost of paper, envelopes, or data processing operations in direct mail production. “M” is the Roman numeral for thousand.

Aliasing is a jagged, stair-stepped appearance of printed diagonal lines.

Anti-aliasing A technique the smooths the printed appearance of stair-stepped lines.

Banding can occur in digitally printed materials when a pattern appears. Banding is usually due to color or grayscale specifications beyond the range of the output device’s image processor. Banding may also be caused by poor quality of a scanned image. This effect is most noticeable in areas that fade from light to dark.

Bleed – Printing that extends beyond the trim area. Once the material is trimmed, no unprinted edges will appear in the piece. This prevents unwanted white borders. Bleed areas are usually one-eighth to one-quarter inches wide. Printing presses cannot print to the very edge of the paper. Bleeds and trimming are necessary to achieve the desired edge-to-edge effect. Postalytics postcard templates come with bleed areas already included in the design.

Calibration refers to setting up equipment to produce accurate and consistent results.

This term often refers to color management. If devices or consumables change, recalibration is necessary.

Chroma Saturation refers to the intensity or vividness of a color.

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. These are the four process colors used in four-color printed reproduction. Other color models are HSB (Hue, Saturation, Brightness), PMS (Pantone Matching System) and RGB (Red, Green, Blue). Note that electronic devices like computer monitors use RGB. Computer-created documents must be converted to CMYK to achieve accurate color reproduction on printing presses.

Color Gamut – The range of colors that can be reproduced by a digital device. Color gamuts vary by device. Without adjustment, documents may present with slightly different colors when the same file is printed on two different digital presses.

Crop Marks/Trim Marks are marks added to the corners of pages to show the printer where to trim the material to its final size.

Digital Printing – Digital presses place text and images directly onto the substrate without intermediate steps such as generating film or plates found in other printing methods.

DPI/Dots per Inch is a measurement for image resolution. The higher the DPI, the higher the resolution and the clearer the image. The resolution at which each printing device is capable varies. Supplying images such as photos at resolutions higher than the reproduction capability of the press does not improve the quality of the finished product, but will slow the production process as the digital front end attempts to RIP the larger file sizes.

Digital Front End/DFE/Front End – Refers to the hardware and software that comprise a digital printing system, not including the actual printing device. A DFE accepts files, such as Postscript or PDF, and converts them into a format the digital press uses to put toner or ink on paper. This process is known as raster image processing, or RIPing the file — often the lengthiest step in digital print production.

Finishing refers to any process that happens after printing. Common finishing operations include folding, scoring, embossing, stapling, binding, inserting, and tabbing.

Gradiation is a transition between colors or shades. It occurs by mixing percentages of a dominant and secondary color. Also referred to as gradient.

Gutter – A gutter is an additional margin designed to allow space for binding or other finishing options.

Hybrid Printing is a configuration where inkjet print heads are mounted on an offset printing press. The offset press creates the static portion of each page while the inkjet heads print variable information such as serial numbers, all in a single pass.

International Color Consortium/ICC is a confederation of companies that promote open, vendor-neutral, cross platform color management systems.

Image Area is the printable area of a page. Image areas are surrounded by non-image areas, gutters, or margins.

Job Definition File/JDF – JDF is an industry standard for exchanging information between applications and systems in the graphic arts industry. JDF is based on XML and extends the concept of job tickets.

Laser Letters are letters or other personalized pieces of correspondence. Though originally produced on laser printers, printing companies may today use a variety of print technologies to create what some in the industry still refer to as laser letters.

Lettershop – An independent company that handles the details of printing and mailing letters, postcards, or other direct marketing materials.

Lines per Inch/LPI specifies the number of lines per inch reproduced for a halftone screen on a print device. Higher LPI means higher printed resolution.

Neutral colors are black, white, and levels of gray (also called grayscale). These colors lack both hue and chroma and are also referred to as achromatic colors.

Offset Printing is generally used for applications like catalogs and brochures where every item is identical. In offset printing, ink is applied to a printing plate and then transferred to a rubber blanket which then applies the ink to the substrate.

Outsourcing – The process of having print and mail functions performed by external service providers. Outsource service providers in the print and mail industry may be known as service bureaus, direct response agencies, marketing service providers, lettershops, mailshops, or print companies.

Personal URL/pURL – pURLs are unique web addresses. Each pURL is created for a single targeted individual. When the prospect visits their pURL the landing page that displays contains content intended just for them. pURLs often consist of a domain followed by the prospect’s name, so it is easy to remember. For example: www.abcphotographypage/johnsmith.

pURLs are great for tracking activity an interaction with a prospect. Here’s a Postalytics article about it:

How to Use Personalized URLs to Measure Direct Mail Response

Personalization is the process of including personal references in an outgoing mail piece. Relevant personalization has been known to boost response dramatically. Personalization is not limited to simple substitution such as printing the customer’s name, but can include images, colors, languages, directional maps, and much more. Personalization generally does not increase the printing cost for direct mail pieces produced on digital presses.

Plates are made of thin metal and used in offset printing presses. In the four-color process, print companies make plates for each color. Digital presses do not use printing plates.

Print on Demand/POD materials are only printed when an order or request is generated for a specific item, document, or kit. POD reduces overhead, storage and waste. Mail triggered by customer actions and recorded by a CRM is a good example of POD.

Production refers to the operational aspects of creating printed direct mail pieces. Production includes data processing, printing, folding, inserting, sealing, and other finishing operations.

Proofing is the step that allows marketers and document designers to review the material as it will appear when printed. When items include variable data, proofing usually includes the merging process so marketers can ensure the data is formatted properly and will print as designed. Today, modern print workflows allow clients to proof their jobs electronically, by reviewing PDF files. In the past, customers were required to visit the print shop and look at actual printed examples.

Postalytics has built-in proofing. Here’s an article that explains how it works:

Better Digital Proofs for Direct Mail – Postalytics Update

RGB stands for the red, green, blue color model. Computer monitors use RGB. Printers and presses use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black).

Raster Image Processing/RIP – This process converts data generated by graphic and document generation software into data the digital printing device can use. RIPs occur in the digital front end (DFE). Because of the large amount of data to process, RIPs can be time-consuming. Decisions made in the design phase can often optimize the files for processing. Some print service providers use specialized software to optimize customer-supplied PDF files and improve productivity.

Safe Margin – A safe margin is an area, usually one-eighth inch wide inside the trim line. The safe area allows for small variances in accuracy when large stacks of materials are trimmed by industrial blades. Designers should never place critical information within the safe margin as it could be trimmed off on some pieces.

Saturation refers to the amount of color applied in an area on the page. Saturation refers to the amount of pigment as opposed to brightness.

Source Code is a series of letters or numbers printed on an outgoing promotional mail piece. The source code identifies the list, offer, package, segment, and the media. The source code must appear on the response device. Phone center representatives will ask customers responding to a mail piece to read them the source code. Source codes help marketers track the effectiveness of elements and variables they use in their direct mail marketing campaigns, often referred to as A/B testing. For more information about A/B testing, read Direct Mail Testing – A Best Practices Guide.

Spot Color are colors printed as solid areas and used when fewer than four colors are needed, or when the four-color process (CMYK) is unable to accurately reproduce a specialized color, such as corporate colors. Using spot colors raises the cost to print the materials.

Substrate refers to any surface or material on which printing is done. Substrates includes paper and card stock, but today’s printing technology can print on almost any surface including plastic, fabric, or wood.

Templates are used to save time, ensure consistency, and prevent mistakes in document design. Templates supplied by Postalytics include features such as bleed areas. While providing for unlimited creative design, the templates also reserve certain areas, such as the location of address blocks and the postal permit indicia. Users are not allowed to modify these protected areas to ensure that the mailpieces meet all USPS regulations and addresses are visible through standard envelope windows.

Templates do not constrain creativity. Here are two excellent articles that explain how Postalytics templates work:

Use Online Direct Mail Templates to Reduce Fees and Save Time

Postalytics Direct Mail Design Templates Save Money & Time

Trim Line – The trim line defines the final size of a printed item such as a postcard after it has been trimmed. In Postalytics postcard templates, the trim lines are indicated with dashed green lines to show the final finished size of postcards.

Mailing & Postage Terms: Direct Mail Glossary

When you’re dealing with the United States Postal Service (USPS), an organization whose roots are traced back to the Revolutionary War and employs over 600,000 people, you’re going to run into some jargon. Especially when you’re using the more sophisticated tools available to direct mailers.

This section of The New Direct Mail Glossary is designed to help you navigate common terms and phrases that are associated with the mailing and postage aspects of the direct mail marketing world.

ADC/AADC  – These initials stand for Area Distribution Center or Automated Area Distribution Center, facilities the USPS uses to accept mail destined for a set of ZIP codes the center services. Mail sent to ADC/AADC facilities is broken down and shipped to post offices servicing individual ZIP codes.

Address Block – Defines the space on a document reserved for the recipient’s name and address. The address block may also include the postal barcode and/or a keyline. In some instances, mailers include a small 2D barcode that shows through the window of an outbound envelope. The 2D barcode is scanned by cameras mounted on mail inserting machines to verify each mailpiece was successfully processed.

The USPS always delivers to the address directly above the city, state, ZIP Code line in the address block. If a data record includes a PO box as a second line address, that is where the mail will be delivered.

Ancillary Service Endorsements are special instructions telling the USPS how to handle the mail they cannot deliver as addressed. The five ancillary service endorsements are: Address Service Requested, Return Service Requested, Change Service Requested, Forwarding Service Requested, and Electronic Service Requested. Use caution when adding ancillary service endorsements to a mailing. Costs for these services vary depending on mailing class. In the case of a poor-quality mailing list, ancillary service endorsements can be costly. Consultation with mailing professionals or the USPS is recommended.

APO/MPO – Army Post Office or Military Post Office. Mail sent to military service members are often addressed with APO or MPO designations. Domestic military bases are APOs. Foreign bases are MPOs.

ASCII – American Standard Code for Information Interchange. ASCII is a standard for representing computer data.

Automation Compatible Mail – Mail that meets USPS requirements for processing on their automated equipment, such as barcode sorting machines is designated as automation compatible mail. Material specifications for automation compatible mail include mailpiece dimensions, address orientation, thickness, shape, flexibility, and more.

Aspect Ratio – The USPS requires the ratio of length to height to be between 1.3 and 2.5. Find the aspect ratio by dividing the length by the height. The length of a mailpiece is the edge parallel to the address. Violating the aspect ratio results in a “non-machineable surcharge” that can significantly increase mailing costs. Note that square pieces have an aspect ratio of 1, and therefore do not meet the specifications for machinable mail. Rotating the mailing address so it is printed parallel to the short side of a mailing piece will also cause the piece to be subject to the surcharge, as the aspect ratio will always be less than 1.

Barcode Clear Zone – A specific rectangular area in the lower right part of a letter-sized piece. This area must be kept free of printing and symbols other than the postal barcode.

BRC or BRE stands for Business Reply Card or Business Reply Envelope. Postage for these return pieces is paid via the mailer’s Business Reply permit account. Recipients need not apply a stamp. Mailers only pay postage on BRCs or BREs actually returned. The format of BRC’s and BRE’s is strictly regulated. The USPS assigns special ZIP+4 codes to them. Be sure to have the USPS approve designs for these reply pieces before having them printed.

BMEU – Bulk Mail Entry Unit. These are USPS facilities that accept discounted First Class and Marketing Mail. Mail service providers typically take their mail to a BMEU for induction into the USPS mailstream.

BPM – Bound Printed Matter. This USPS designation typically applies to books, catalogs, or directories weighing at least one pound. Certain restrictions apply to this mailing class.

Bulk Mail –This term is still sometimes used to describe presorted First Class or Marketing Mail.

Carrier Route Presort Mail/CR/CRRT is mail sorted by carrier route. This mail provides mailers the greatest postage discounts as it bypasses primary and secondary sortation by the USPS. Some mailers even sort mail into the walking sequence of the postal carrier as he/she delivers the mail, in return for additional postage discounts.

Cheshire Label – A type of plain paper label used in mailing. Cheshire labels do not include an adhesive. A Cheshire machine must cut the labels and affix them to mailpieces.

Coop mailing is a mailing in which two or more offers — usually from different companies — are included in the same envelope. The mailers share the costs.

Courtesy Reply Mail/CRM/CRE – Courtesy reply envelopes are often included in bills and invoices. They feature a pre-printed address, or a window designed to allow the delivery address printed on the remittance stub to show through. Unlike Business Reply, recipients must pay the postage for CREs. These envelopes often include the message “Postage Required” or “Place Stamp Here” printed in the upper right corner of the envelope.  CRE use has diminished as more consumers pay their bills online, allowing billers to reduce the cost to mail bills by not inserting CREs.

Deliverability Rate – The proportion of names on a mailing list with valid mailing addresses.

Domestic Mail Manual/DMM – The DMM is the mailer’s bible. It contains all US Postal Service mailing standards, rules, and regulations. This large, cross-referenced volume is periodically updated and is only available online.

Delivery Point Validation/DPV – DPV is necessary to confirm that addresses in a mailing list are actually deliverable. Contrary to popular belief, CASS processing or assigning a ZIP+4 code only verifies an address falls within a defined range of house numbers for a particular street. DPV is the process that determines whether an address exists and the location accepts mail.

Delivery Sequence File/DSF – The DSF is a tool used to standardize mailing addresses and contains every valid postal address in the USA.

Destination Entry Discount is a postage discount the USPS offers mailers in return for depositing mail at specific postal facilities close to the final destination.

Every Door Direct Mail/EDMM is a USPS program intended to allow marketers to blanket a geographic area with non-personalized mailpieces. The mail pieces do not contain individual addresses. Postal carriers simply deliver an identical piece to every residential address on their routes. Though the US Postal Service touts EDMM as a do-it-yourself tool for casual marketers, most companies enlist the help of mailing professionals to craft their EDMM campaigns.

First-Class Mail/FCM – First Class Mail provides mailers with services such as automatic mail forwarding at no additional charge. Unlike the less expensive Marketing Mail class, the USPS publishes delivery standards for First Class Mail, allowing mailers to better predict in-home dates for their communications.

Facing Identification Mark/FIM – FIM’s are a set of five vertical lines found at the top center of reply cards and envelopes. The presence of a FIM is absolutely required for Business Reply mail.

Flats – Flats are large mailpieces, generally taller than 6 1/8”, longer than 11 ½” or thicker than ¼”. The USPS publishes several guidelines concerning the design and construction of flats to make sure they process through their automated equipment properly. Consult the Domestic Mail Manual for information about the specifications for flats. Flats cost much more to mail than letters or postcards. Changing the size of a mailpiece to qualify as a letter instead of a flat can result in significant postage savings.

Householding is a technique mailers use to lower mail campaign costs by sending only one mailpiece to a household. In some cases, mailers combine multiple mailpieces in one envelope. Other times, they consider multiple family members at the same address as duplicates and drop them from the mailing file. The householding strategy depends on the application.

Intelligent Mail barcode/IMb – The IMb is a series of vertical bars that appear in the address block or in the lower right portion of a mailpiece. These codes allow the USPS sorting equipment to route the mail to its destination. They also carry important information to identify the mail owner, mail preparer, mailing class, and ancillary services.

Each IMb includes a serial number that identifies a unique mailpiece, allowing the USPS to track each mailpiece as it travels throughout the delivery network. This tracking functionality, known as Informed Visibility, allows mailers to see when their mail is about to be delivered, allowing them to issue additional messages, such as emails, to reinforce the direct mail pieces. IMb is also useful to highlight an unexpected delay. Mail owners or mail preparers can take action with the USPS to locate mail that has not been delivered within a reasonable time and begin an investigation.

Here is a Postalytics article containing details about the Intelligent Mail barcode:

The Intelligent Mail Barcode: A Free Tool to Track Direct Mail Campaigns

Indicia is the box that appears in the top right corner of a mailpiece. Indicia’s show the USPS the class of mail and tells them the postage has been prepaid via a permit. Some mailers use their own permit and indicia, others use their mail service provider’s permit. The advantage of permit mail is that postage is paid only when a mailing is deposited, unlike stamps or meter impressions which require a pre-mailing investment in postage — sometimes long before the postage will actually be used.

Keyline/Match Key — A combination of numbers and letters. May be used as a duplicate eliminator or to match a customer in the mailing file to information in other databases.

In-Home Date is the target date for mail to arrive at its destination. For direct mail advertising, in-home dates are frequently expressed as a range.

Letters – This class of mail refers to mailpieces between 3 1/2″ and 6 1/8″ tall, 5″ and 11 1/2″ long, and between .007″ and 1/8″ thick.

Here’s an excellent article about mailpiece sizes:

Everything You Need to Know About Direct Mail Sizes – Postcards & Letters

Mail Drop – Mail drops are parts of a larger mailing that are entered into the mailstream at different times. In some cases, the distribution is spread over time to better manage expected responses. In other cases, mail drops can be used to contact the same set of contacts multiple times. Research shows direct mail campaigns work best if marketers can achieve 4-7 “touches” to establish brand awareness and elicit the desired response. Mail drops are one way to accomplish this objective without setting up separate mailing jobs each time.

Postalytics mail drops are versatile, yet easy to implement. For details about how they work, see these articles:

Add a Mail Drop for Multi-touch Campaigns

Multi-touch Direct Mail Campaigns Get Better Response

Marketing Mail (or Standard Class Mail) is the class of mail most popular with high volume direct mail advertising because of low postage rates. However, the USPS publishes no delivery standards for Marketing Mail. Predicting in-home dates becomes more difficult for marketers.

This Postalytics article explains some of the differences between Marketing Mail and First Class:

When to Use First Class vs Standard Mail

Nixie is an undelivered mailpiece which has been returned to the sender.

Non-machineable mail cannot be sorted on mail processing equipment because of size, shape, content, or address legibility. Such mail must be processed manually and is subject to a surcharge.

Non-Profit Class – The US Postal Service allows non-profit organizations to send mail at reduced rates. Organizations must apply for and be granted a permit. Service is similar to Marketing Mail.

Palletization – Refers to sacks and trays of mail arranged on pallets. Palletized mail can often be delivered faster because of less handling. Some mailers palletize the mail and then transport it at their own expense to USPS distribution centers near the final destination. In these cases, workshare postage discounts often exceed the cost of private transportation.

Pander – A pander is the name of an individual who does not want to receive direct mail.

Postal pre-sort – Sorting outgoing letters in advance of mailing to take advantage of postal discounts.

Presort Accuracy Validation and Evaluation/PAVE – PAVE is the process the USPS uses to assess the address handling quality of postal software. Vendors of such software will often advertise their product is CASS/PAVE certified.

Presorting – Presorting is the process a mail owner or mail preparer uses to arrange the sequence of the mail to reduce the labor required to route and deliver it. Presorting can be done before printing, by arranging the data in the proper order, or after printing using large mail sorting machines. Presorting mail involves several steps, including calculating mailing tray capacity, printing and affixing tray labels, and preparing electronic mail submission reports.

Pressure Sensitive Labels are labels featuring an adhesive backing. Sometimes referred to as peel and stick.

Return-To-Sender/RTS – RTS is sometimes handwritten on a mailpiece by a mail carrier, usually on First Class Mail. Carriers sometimes include a reason for returning the piece such as NFA (No Forwarding Address), NSN (No Such Number), NMR (No Mail Receptacle), Refused, or Deceased.

Response Device – Response devices are items a mail recipient returns to the marketer, such as an order form or donation form. Response devices often contain a customer ID number, bar codes, or a source code that identifies the offer, list, or segment.

Saturation Mailing – A saturation mailing is a mailing to 90 percent of the residential addresses, or 75 percent of the combined residential and business addresses, within a specified geographic area or carrier route.

Sectional Center Facility/SCF – An SCF is a major mail entry and handling point in the USPS delivery network designated by the first 3 digits in the ZIP codes. SCF’s oversee distribution of mail to several ZIP codes. Sectional Center Facilities can change. The USPS may at times reorganize the delivery network according to demand and efficiencies.

Self-Mailer – A self-mailer is a direct mail piece that does not need an envelope. Folded brochures or flyers are examples of self-mailers. Several design requirements pertain to self-mailers including how they are folded, and the methods used to keep them intact, such as glue lines, glue dots, and wafer tabs.

Simplified Address – Simplified Addresses typically include “Postal Customer”, “Postal Patron”, “Current Resident”, “Current Boxholder”, etc. This form of addressing is used for saturation mailing purposes and won’t contain any actual addresses.

Stuffer/Insert – A stuffer is a marketing or informational piece included in an envelope containing a bill or statement. Though these kinds of materials may be selectively inserted into envelopes according to certain criteria, the contents cannot be personalized.

Third Class – This is an obsolete term but may still be used by mailing industry veterans. The US Postal Service renamed Third Class as Standard Mail, and then renamed it again as Marketing Mail. See Marketing Mail.

Title Addressing uses a title, job function, or description rather than a specific person’s name on a mailing label. Examples would be “Sales Manager”, “HR Director” or “Office Supplies Buyer.”

Workshare Discount refers to the postage discounts the USPS allows mailers who lessen the Postal Service’s workload by sorting, bundling, or transporting mail closer to the delivery destination.

Zone Improvement Plan Code/ZIP Code – ZIP codes have been the primary way the USPS uses to sort and deliver mail since 1963. A five-digit ZIP Code generally identifies a postal delivery unit. The numbers are arranged incrementally from the East coast of the United States to the West. ZIP Codes change frequently as the USPS reacts to population shifts and new residential or commercial development. Use postal software to prepare a mailing list for every job to ensure the list matches the current ZIP Code scheme.

3-Digit/5-Digit – Refers to the first 3 or 5 numbers in a ZIP code. Mailers often divide their mailings according to 3-digit presort and 5-digit presort, depending on how many pieces are addressed for a given area. Mailers pay less postage on items qualifying at the 5-digit level than the 3-digit level.

ZIP+4 – is an extension to the traditional 5-digit ZIP Code that identifies addresses more accurately, down to the side of a street or the floor of a building.

More Terms? More Clarification? Tell Us!

The New Direct Mail Glossary is a living, breathing, growing document. If you don’t understand anything, would like further clarification or if we missed important terms or phrases, please let us know! We’ll keep editing and improving this, so it can be a great resource for marketers as technology continues to disrupt and shape direct mail marketing.