Biobottoms, a $16-million cataloger of natural-fiber diapers and children's clothing in Petaluma, Calif., has its sights on Europe and Japan. But selling internationally can be expensive, so marketing director Elizabeth Nelson wants to make sure the company does everything it can to get the response it needs.

"Name and address standardization is crucial," notes Nelson. Foreign addresses, with their long street names and various postal codes, are easy to mess up. "Dead mail" is not always sent back to the States. "Undelivered catalogs are a killer," she says. But for direct marketers who want to test the waters, there are ways to improve the accuracy of international mailings.

For starters, if you're renting mailing lists from two or more sources, consider using a "merge/purge" service to cut duplicate names and correct misformatted addresses. Among the better-known computer houses set up to handle international mailing lists are Printronic International of London (011-44-71-378-7244); Acxiom, in Conway, Ark. (800-922-9466); and Printronic, in New York City (212-480-4000, no longer linked to the London company).

Fees for merge/purge services vary, and so will the number of duplicates -- depending on the type of list and the geographic market. With 85,000 names, it's not unusual to lose 10% to duplicates, says Chris Page, vice-president of Direct Media, a list-management firm in Greenwich, Conn. "When you can save 10% to 15% on printing and postage, merge/ purge is worth it," he says. If you're doing a small mailing, say 5,000 to 10,000 names from two to three lists, the cost-effectiveness of merge/ purge becomes questionable.

As for Biobottoms, it decided to test its international appeal closer to home. Last May it mailed 50,000 catalogs into Canada. Data Services, a computer house in Barrington, Ill., cleaned up Biobottoms' rented lists and obtained Canadian bulk rates, shaving the cataloger's postal costs. "We're pleased with the response, and we're going to do another mailing to Canada in 1993," reports Nelson. If all goes well, Biobottoms' next destination will be the United Kingdom.

-- Susan Greco

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Global-Mail Primers
For an overview of the challenges of mailing into Europe, send for Printronic International's free six-page pamphlet (available from Gateway Europe, 205 East 42nd St., Suite 1705, New York, NY 10017).

Federal Express's international team has a number of services and how-to guides aimed at small businesses. Call the international customer-service line (800-247-4747) to get the name of a local account executive.

Whether you're doing your first test mailing or you're a seasoned international direct mailer, you'll appreciate the 1992-'93 Guide to Worldwide Postal-Code and Address Formats (Direct International, 212-861-4188, $99.50). The 138-page book contains tips for standardizing foreign addresses, including city and country names, postal-code formats, and abbreviations. -- S. G.

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