The humble postcode goes global

Even though we have now embraced the digital age, one of the barriers to globalisation is still the simple address. Without both addresses and change of address systems, global communication and the delivery of products and services become extremely difficult.

Any marketer trying to communicate even within the confines of Europe will appreciate this challenge all too well. So, just how can the humble postcode help emerging countries play a more prominent role in the market economy?

The globalisation of business and the migration of people has accelerated the necessity for international postage. Despite advancements in online and digital communications, people still rely on offline communications and there will always be things that just can’t be sent electronically.

Behind all communications is an individual, and the physical location of that particular person is crucial for a number of reasons. In the most basic sense, it is essential for the delivery of goods and services, regardless of the channel through which they were purchased. And that is just scratching the surface. In the case of the UK, address data, in the form of the Postcode Address File (PAF), now underpins much more than postal deliveries – it plays a part in everything from identity verification to GIS mapping and customer management.

At the other end of the spectrum to the UK are the developing nations that don’t yet have an established postal system. They have a mountain to climb as they begin to build an address file that can be used, in the first instance, to organise the effective delivery of mail.

The role of the Universal Postal Union working group is to support these nations and propose postal systems based on best practice from countries such as the UK. This includes the development of new, low-cost technologies that help stop addressing errors and the costs associated with cross border addressing problems.

There are many considerations. Language barriers must be overcome and data must be rich in terms of coverage, detail, accuracy and consistency. One of the main challenges is still to close the “awareness gap” – good practice in one country is not necessarily shared. Collecting best practices and disseminating them through this working group should hopefully increase the pace of change.

For marketers currently using international address data to fuel their customer communications, be aware that there will be variations in the coverage, detail, accuracy and consistency depending on how sophisticated the country’s postal system is. But this renewed focus could help us in the not too distant future to develop robust address databases, and a global “language” that facilitates data interchange. Once achieved, businesses will find the postal stream increasingly competitive.

Last year, we celebrated the 50th birthday of the postcode in the UK and here we see it driving business performance and campaign success. For UK marketers, it has formed the basis for a wealth of marketing tools that can be used to improve customer communications: change of address systems, mortality suppressions and demographic profiling and segmentation to name a few. For emerging nations, precision marketing will be fueled by the success of the UPU working group.

By Jonathan Hulford-Funnell, global managing director, Experian QAS

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