Direct Mail Merge Strategy: Finding your NEXT BEST Universe

February 9, 2021

Here at ForwardPMX, we get very excited about merge strategy.

Sure, it doesn’t get the fanfare that things like cutting edge modeling techniques or omnichannel attribution get (two things we also get excited about), but frankly it should. Your database is a goldmine, and revisiting merge strategy is yet another way of getting more out of your most valuable asset.

It’s likely you have merge logic that’s been in place for multiple years, a decade or more even – and in many cases for good reason, as a healthy suppression strategy is just as important as your targeting strategy. However, revisiting merge logic could lead to major gains in revenue and donors (or whatever audiences you’re trying to cultivate). Isn’t it about time time you ask yourself, who is being left behind?

To help meet this opportunity, we’ve put together three merge strategies that can help grow your direct mail program from within.

Household vs. Individual Suppression

Suppression duplicates are typically matched at the Household level which impacts your ability to identify the strongest potential donor within a given household. By identifying drops at the Individual level, you suppress those individuals that should be suppressed, while allowing the companion household record to receive your message and act on your ask.

Example: Amy Holiday is the philanthropic giver in the household. Bill Holiday is on a requested suppression file record; in a household level suppression, Amy is also suppressed based on her relationship to Bill. The philanthropic giver NEVER gets the chance to give.

This same logic has been proven successful within acquisition universes.


  • Supports response by putting the correct offer in front of the right potential donor.
  • By switching your merge suppression logic to the individual level, you recognize a higher keep rate in the merge reducing list cost. An extra bonus is that these individuals tend to perform stronger than cold names.

Example: One of our clients using this strategy has seen a 3-5% increase in mail volume, a 2.5 – 5% increased response resulting in a 3-5% decrease in list cost. Total net improvement vs. budget is $16-20K.

Strong performance with NO negative side effects? We will take it!

Audit Suppression Logic for Potential Inclusions

Identify and correct any over suppressions to create additional universe, reduce costs and improve performance. Often, we see suppression universes that are leaving valuable targets left out of mailings. The suppression universe is built on outdated business rules that are no longer understood or perhaps not even valid for your organization today. The larger the suppression universe, the greater the number of households being excluded from mailing. There is so much time and energy invested in selecting the right direct mail targets that if you run it through too fine a filter, you are likely removing some of your best targets.

How:  Review the definitions and current usage of each suppression file as they exist today and determine if the business rules/treatment of these files still makes sense in today’s mailing environment.


  • Opens pockets of universe who have historically been purposefully excluded.
  • Increases merge net rates leading to lower list fees.
  • Typical performance of these previously unsolicited individuals tends to be very strong.

Gain A Better Understanding of Who You Are Suppressing

How active are these audiences in the marketplace? You may discover a significant portion of your suppression universe is active elsewhere, providing you an opportunity to target them in non-direct mail channels such as digital.

How:  We partner with numerous databases to better understand marketplace behavior, and suppression names are one area we can gain added insight. Where there is positive activity recognized, a deeper review of who these individuals are could uncover an opportunity to deliver marketing in other channels they may be more responsive to.


  • Again, opens pockets of universe who have historically been purposefully excluded.
  • Supports a multichannel approach to marketing by providing universe to other channels.

Merge isn’t a “go through the motions” process and if being treated as such you are probably missing major opportunities. These three strategies, and countless others that we bring to our client partners, are fool-proof ways to bring more meaning and purpose to the merge process.

Have question about your merge process and how it can be more supportive of your organizational goals? We’re here to help!

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