Politics Aside, At Least Folks Are Focused on the USPS – Let’s Keep It Up

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is a vital institution in our economy, democracy, and history – and future. It provides for confidential communication in a timely and affordable manner, paid for entirely by ratepayers rather than taxpayers. And, while we were on summer vacation, the ugly state of today’s politics brought it to the top of the news cycle.

Well, maybe that’s a good thing.

The U.S. mail stream also is a vehicle for millions of properly cast votes during primary and general elections, a process that even President Trump’s campaign knows is true, and in the frenzy of this moment, that reality must be promoted and protected. And although the 2020 U.S. Census is primarily an online event this year, mail notices have gone to all residential addresses to drive populations to the counting website. Earlier this month, the Census reported that self-reporting has accounted for an estimated 63.3% of all U.S. households thus far – so now field operations are underway to count the rest before Sept. 30.

As citizens, being counted in the Census ranks up there with voting and serving on juries. As non-citizens seeking citizenship, being counted may be the only voice one has at all. Many of us in direct and data marketing know how crucial, too, Census commercial products are to business. For all the billions spent on targeted advertising, and billions more on general advertising, understanding Census statistical areas provides valuable insights and informs strategies.

All of this only underscores the role USPS has in executing all of this. If dirty politics is what it takes to call attention to USPS operations and “fix” what needs fixing at the Postal Service, then so be it. Floating loan guarantees is a crucial start, in my humble opinion. A reinvigorated attempt during the next Congress at a postal reform bill might help, too, to soften the blow from the 2006 law – with its outrageous healthcare pre-funding mandates, for one.

It’s wrong to summarily dismiss the Postmaster General or his intentions. If his goal is to increase USPS efficiencies, then all parties can rally around that objective – as long as service levels are maintained. Privatization, however, is likely a non-starter, and may even require Constitutional changes. If the goal – as some critics maintain – is to throw an election, let’s uncover the truth of it. In the least, many states have been conducting elections by mail for years with integrity – which the Secretary of State in Oregon, a Republican, maintains. At least, the Postmaster General has halted mail processing cuts, with his stated goal of long-term sustainability, until after the November election.

Direct Mail – With Integrity

So what does all this mean to direct mailers? I love John Miglautsch’s message: “Direct mail ain’t dead.” Miglautsch says too many marketers are still prone to “digital delusional” thinking that digital can replace direct mail altogether. (Please, folks, test first – you’ll see the mail moment is real.) The Winterberry Group in January predicted a small uptick in direct mail spending in 2020 to $41.6 billion, but reported in June a Q2 drop in USPS mail volume of 33%. It’s clear that at least temporarily, marketers slashed direct mail budgets much more than their digital counterparts.

Yet direct mail has supreme advantages: It’s personalized, and free from identity challenges that still exist in digital. (See the latest Winterberry Research on data spending on digital identity management.) It’s secure and confidential. Direct mail also is a direct relationship – there are no intermediary infrastructures where audience, measurement, and attribution data can be unavailable to the advertiser. In many, many ways, direct marketers hope for an addressable digital media future that matches the offline addressable direct mail realities of today. We’re making progress in addressable media across all channels, but we’re not there yet.

From a direct mail perspective, perhaps the best contribution of digital is that (1) it has taught more U.S. households to shop direct; and (2) it has lessened competition in the mailbox. The two media work in tandem powerfully. Less clutter in the physical mail box opens the opportunity for increased response. All this assumes, however, that direct mail delivery can be predicted in-home reliably. That’s why we cannot monkey around with USPS service standards.

So fill out your Census form, if you haven’t already. Vote in the November election. And make sure USPS (and direct mail advertising) is getting the attention – and protection – commensurate to its powerful contribution to our nation.

Will Pandemic and Politics Put Postal Service in Peril? Here Are the Facts.

Depending upon which experts you heed, the U.S. Postal Service is either just a few months away from insolvency or it’s in no danger of running out of cash any time soon.

Depending upon which experts you heed, the U.S. Postal Service is either just a few months away from insolvency or it’s in no danger of running out of cash any time soon.

The purpose of accounting, one of my favorite professors used to say, is to give people the information they need to make decisions.

Postal accounting, however, is more like a Rorschach inkblot test: People looking at the same numbers reach widely, and wildly, different conclusions about its finances, depending upon their own perceptions of how the agency should be run.

Even its financial statements don’t mean what they seem to mean. Every expert’s explanation of them always includes a couple of but-you-should-ignore-this-number caveats.

Adding to the confusion are the recent politically charged battles over the supposedly apolitical Postal Service. The danger for us publishers is that we’ll get caught in the crossfire.

Let’s cut through the fog of war and political “heifer droppings” to get a clearer picture of actual facts about what’s going on with this agency that’s so central to American life – and the largest expense for most magazine publishers:

Fact: Even before the pandemic, the Postal Service’s business model was becoming increasingly unsustainable.

On paper, the Postal Service has been losing billions of dollars annually for more than a decade. But if you ignore the odd prefunding of future retiree health benefits – essentially interest-free loans to the federal treasury, which the USPS simply stopped making – the agency was basically at breakeven.

Until the past couple of years. However you slice it, the Postal Service was losing money even before COVID-19 entered the picture. And the trend of declining mail volumes not matched by equivalent cost savings made the outlook even bleaker.

Every significant study of the agency’s long-term health has concluded that long-term survival will require some sort of controversial legislation – whether that’s federal subsidies, reducing service requirements (such as fewer delivery days), raising prices, and/or stripping power from the labor unions.

Fact: The pandemic’s financial impact on the USPS hasn’t been as bad – yet – as initially indicated.

Initial reports in March suggested that closures and the recession were costing the agency about $2 billion per month, a trend that could drive it to insolvency within a few months.

Indeed, “Marketing Mail” (direct mail and catalogs, for example) was 45% lower in April, the first full month of the pandemic, than in April 2019. But revenue from highly profitable First Class Mail was down only 8%.

Package revenue was up 38%, as quarantined consumers switched to online ordering, which has seen some post offices handling more boxes than they do during the December holiday crush. Total revenue was down less than 4% and expenses rose only slightly, apparently because of increased employee leave.

“Our best estimate of the net effect on USPS finances from the Covid-19 pandemic is a hit of $470 million in April,” wrote Steve Kearney, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers. “We do not foresee USPS running out of cash for the foreseeable future as some have predicted,” added Kearney, a former USPS financial executive noted for his expert and seemingly nonpartisan commentary on the Postal Service.

Fact: We can’t be sure that the April results will be repeated in the months that follow.

Kearney’s analysis seems to be based on assuming that April’s results will largely be repeated in the coming months.

But as the economy opens up, will the online-buying surge continue or will consumers revert to shopping at brick-and-mortar stores? And when will direct mail bounce back? And will it ever completely bounce back, or is some of the lost mail volume gone forever?

If online buying fades before traditional mail recovers, the Postal Service’s bottom line could get ugly. But if the opposite happens, the agency could actually be better off than it was before the pandemic.

Fact: Contrary to what President Trump claims, the Postal Service can’t solve its financial problems by raising “the price of a package by approximately four times.”

That would work about as well as a publisher trying to fix its problems by quadrupling its advertising rates: Customers would just say no, and seek other options.

Jacking up freight rates might even benefit Amazon – the target of Trump’s ire because its CEO, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Washington Post. Amazon already has its own delivery force, so it would be in a better position than its ecommerce competitors to pivot if postal rates suddenly became uncompetitive.

The USPS also has multi-year contracts with major package clients like Amazon and UPS that apparently inhibit its ability to impose simultaneous, across-the-board rate hikes.

Fact: The Postal Service can’t declare bankruptcy.

Some on the Left have worried that Trump, who has a history of using bankruptcy proceedings to solve business problems, will try to push the USPS into insolvency in order to advance his agenda and boost his re-election chances.

The Postal Service isn’t subject to federal bankruptcy laws. If it were to become insolvent, most of its financial obligations – such as for pensions and loans from the federal treasury – would shift to the federal government.

But it’s still not entirely clear what would, or could, happen if the agency ran out of cash.

Fact: The most generous recent proposals to prop up the Postal Service were never entirely about the pandemic.

Some Democratic members of Congress, along with the postal unions and some mailers groups, have used the pandemic as an opportunity to push, so far unsuccessfully, for emergency aid that would have also addressed longer-term issues.

One multibillion-dollar proposal, for example, called for ending retiree-health prefunding and providing federal funds to replace more than 200,000 outdated delivery vehicles that have a tendency to burst into flames.

Fact: Trump’s agenda for postal changes also extends beyond the pandemic.

Trump’s Administration has resisted providing any aid to the USPS, and recent Trump tirades have focused on vote by mail as well as package rates.

The USPS’s Board of Governors is now controlled by Trump appointees, who recently hired a Trump donor as Postmaster General. That has critics warning that the agency could become an arm of Trump’s re-election campaign, undercutting states’ efforts to expand vote by mail this fall in response to COVID-19.

Some fear that the governors and Postmaster General will try to carry out Trump’s vendetta against Amazon, resulting in the loss of a major customer. Or that they may force, or at least welcome, a postal financial crisis as a means of pushing through emergency changes – such as privatization, large rate increases, or cancellation of union contracts.

A worry for publishers is that such a crisis could put at risk the long-standing practices of providing unprofitable preferential rates to the Periodicals class, especially for not-for-profit publishers.

Fact: The only postal legislation Congress has passed in the last decade was for the naming of post offices.

Almost all discussions of postal reform face the same hurdle: They require changes in the law. But making tough, controversial decisions is not exactly Congress’s forte.

The U.S. Postal Service seems to be headed for a crisis. The only question is whether that crisis will be brought to a political and/or pandemical head this year or whether it will be pushed out to some point in the future.

Rising Above the ‘Noise’ of Digital Marketing With Direct Mail

As marketers, we have to ask ourselves how much “noise” we will be required to make to have our offerings heard against this cacophony of messages and how much our customers and prospects are willing to tolerate?

Remember in the 1960s when a direct mail campaign of a million pieces was a dream, but it was unlikely that even by combining house names, rentals, and trades, you could get your hands on that many names? (We hadn’t yet begun to call them data files or databases.)

And did you know what the abbreviations MM or M; B or Bn or Bil; T or Tn stood for? And if you did or could guess, it’s doubtful you could attach a specific number of zeros to each of them?

Things were quieter then, something like the quiet we have recently been experiencing in whole or partial lockdown. Admittedly, back then it was nice to hear the blare of trumpets on the Fourth of July holiday when the local brass band paraded through town, much nicer than the blasting sound of today’s boom boxes at full decibels. But paraphrasing the old saw, silence was golden.

Accepting that we are entering a totally different marketplace than any of us have experienced, it is fair to say that it is likely to be more boom box than brass band. According to the “Wall Street Journal,” WPP is forecasting “Political ad spending will total $9.9 billion in 2020…. up from $6.3 billion in 2016, when President Trump was elected.” That’s “B or Bn or Bil.” The same article projects the digital portion at “$2.8 billion, or 2.2% of total digital ad spending.”

If the spend was evenly divided among the 153.07 million registered voters, that would provide $6.53 each. But as we know, only about 30% of these, 9.5 million, are what are said by FiveThirtyEight to be potential swing voters and, if the spend was divided equally among them, it would allow $21.78 to bombard each of them with “electoral noise.”

As marketers, we have to ask ourselves how much “noise” we will be required to make to have our offerings heard against this cacophony of messages and how much our customers and prospects are willing to tolerate? We will need to contemplate whether the answer will be as T.S. Eliot wrote of the end of the world in “The Hollow Men”: “Not with a bang but a whimper.”

This may be one of the reasons why — along with the fragile and uncertain future of the U.S. Postal Service — so much recent interest has been generated by the resurgence of direct mail as a serious participant in the marketing mix.

Instead of being denigrated as “snail” (or worse) “junk” mail, the quiet “whimper” of a well-conceived and directed mailing, delivered in the mailbox, may single itself out and have greater impact than yet another loud explosion in the endless digital war for attention in the inbox.

Imagine Express put it succinctly:

“Direct mail provides companies with the commodity of time — time to communicate the message effectively, convey emotions and convert the customer.”

The “commodity of time” is often the secret asset missing from our frenzied marketing activities. It is so much faster, easier, even seemingly cheaper to fashion promotions for social media and digital than to weigh and choose all the interesting new options for direct mail, that this path of least resistance is the one chosen.

But wouldn’t be a good idea, especially now that we are emerging into new era, to revisit the past successes of direct mail as a major generator of leads, sales, and profits, and determine whether mail might make our messages raise above all the noise?

How to Use Psychology to Improve Your Direct Mail

Many marketers are struggling to generate leads that convert to sales, and it’s clear that more efficient strategies are needed. Most marketers are well aware of the power of direct mail, especially at times like these. But have they considered how psychology can be incorporated into their direct mail strategy?

Many marketers are struggling to generate leads that convert to sales currently, and it’s clear that more efficient marketing strategies are needed to generate profitability. Most marketers are well aware of the power of direct mail, especially at times like these. But have they considered how psychology can be incorporated into their direct mail strategy?

According to the USPS Market Research and Insights Report, “COVID Mail Attitudes,” 65% of those surveyed stated that receiving mail lifts their spirits, with 54% of respondents stating that mail helped them feel more connected. With people looking forward to getting mail each day, you should strive to be in the mail box. Let’s consider some of the best ways to leverage direct mail right now, and how can marketers use psychology to improve their direct mail pieces.

Customer Loyalty

  • Create special offers for your customers based on past purchase history.
  • Suggest new items they would like.
  • Help them feel how important they are to you and that you care.

Prospecting

  • Be very honest and transparent in your communication with prospects.
  • Vet your messaging well so that you are certain you’re providing a product or service they actually need.

Trusted Source

  • Provide needed information and ways people can help others — this is a great way to show how you care, and will help you build brand status with customers and prospects.

Did you know that the human brain is doing most of its work outside of our consciousness? If we are able to create a good strategy that enables us to tap into the subconscious decisions, we can generate a greater response from prospects and customers with direct mail.

Psychology is an excellent tool to help drive direct mail response. Consider the following when working on your direct mail:

  1. Use Emotional Triggers Appropriately – Both men and women need emotional engagement for direct mail to work. This requires the use of both good emotional copy and imagery. Segmentation can really help you target the right people with the right emotional copy and images.
  2. Avoid Overload – When there is too much clutter within messages, either from words or images, the brain cannot process it. Make sure that you leave white space and use concise copy so that the brain can easily process your message.
  3. Make It Interesting – The brain likes puzzles and humor. Keep them simple for easy understanding. They are effective with increased engagement.
  4. Understand Your Audience – For example, if your audience is made up of women you need to tap into empathy. Women engage with faces and direct eye contact images. Women also respond to group/community activity images and of course babies too. She will pay attention to messages that make life easier, celebrate her or allow her to do multiple things.

A complicated mail message will most likely be ignored by the brain. But there are ways to simplify your copy and images to capture attention and drive results. Here are two ways to capture attention:

  • Novelty: This is the No. 1 way to capture attention. Our brains are trained to look for something new and cool. A novel message or layout can really help you stand out in the mail box.
  • Eye Contact: Humans are social beings. Images of people or animals making eye contact with your prospects or customers grab attention and draw them into the mail piece.

As you can see the brain is powerful and is very good at ignoring messages. Taking the time to consider how all these psychological factors can really help you drive your direct mail response rates up. As always, focusing your messaging with targeted segments to really reach the right people with the right message will increase the success of your mail campaigns. Are you ready to get started?

How to Persuade Buyers With Your Direct Mail

Direct mail marketing is a very powerful response driver when used correctly. If you have not been getting the results you need, there are many different choices you can make to change the outcome based on several possible problem areas.

Direct mail marketing is a very powerful response driver when used correctly. If you have not been getting the results you need, there are many different choices you can make to change the outcome based on several possible problem areas.

The problem area we are going to highlight today is your copy and messaging. If your copy and messaging is not compelling, you will not get a good response to your mail.

How can we best create compelling message and copy?

  1. Storytelling – The first way to draw people in is with storytelling. You need to make sure that you are telling real stories about real people. If you are not authentic, your prospects and customers will know. Keep in mind that details make it seem more real and believable.
  2. Emotional associations – These are very important especially if there has been a strong negative association with your product or service. You can counteract these associations with good emotional associations you create. The simpler they are to comprehend the better. Emotions often trump logic, so make sure you manage emotions in a positive way.
  3. Statistics – Statistical evidence is a credibility builder, and should be used to illustrate a relationship. It’s more important for people to remember the relationship than the actual number. Keep in mind that statistics are not inherently helpful; it’s context that makes them helpful. Use them correctly in your copy to convince people to buy.
  4. Recommendations – Authorities are a reliable source of credibility; we trust recommendations from people we know, like, and want to be like. Use these testimonials on your mail pieces to show how great your product or service is.
  5. Details – Identify details that are compelling and human as well as meaningful; details that symbolize and support your core idea. Don’t be long winded.

This can seem like a lot of information you need to convey on your mail piece, but you can do these things in a concise way. You also don’t have to do all five on every piece. Pick the ones that will work best for what you are trying to say. You also need to consider the type of piece you are using. A postcard will have less room for copy than a letter.

The most important thing is to be authentic. Direct mail is the most trustworthy form of marketing according to consumers, but you can override that inclination with misdirection or shady copy. Don’t be the “used car salesman” that no one likes — be the honest, helpful marketer and win the business. Did you know that 62% of people who responded to direct mail made a purchase? Are they purchasing from you or your competitor?

Good direct mail drives increases in response rates, so make sure that you are creating the best direct mail with compelling copy and a great call to action. Consider trying one of the options above on your next campaign, to see for yourself what works. Are you ready to get started?

The U.S. Postal Service Needs Financial Protection

Even in crisis, exacerbated by COVID-19, there’s not likely to be new postal reform bill any time soon. So here we are now: the U.S. Postal Service needs financial protection.

COVID-19 may have frozen ad budgets, including direct mail, but the financial woes of the U.S. Postal Service have pre-dated the current crisis. Calls for postal reform to facilitate all types of fiscal fixes have gone unanswered, despite bipartisan support to get the job done. Huge Congressional mandates from 2006 to pre-fund healthcare costs for future retirees – which do not exist to any such extent in the private sector – are just one example of how politicking gets in the way of running USPS more efficiently.

On paper, the U.S. Postal Service should be holding its own. And it had been through the end of last year.

A Formidable Job of Management Couldn’t Predict a Crash

Mix and match, but it’s been managed. In 2010, First-Class Mail volume was 77.6 billion pieces. In 2019, it was 54.7 billion – a nearly 30% decline. Marketing Mail also declined, but less precipitously – from 81.8 billion pieces to 75.7 billion. Meanwhile, as direct-to-consumer (DTC) shopping has taken hold, parcel volume has doubled from 3.1 billion to 6.2 billion package deliveries, making the USPS truly the Greatest Carpool on Earth. (Happy Earth Day.)

And though there is mail volume decline, the “mail moment” remains vital, and delivery points have increased from 150.9 million in 2010 to 160 million in 2019. Against this expanse, the USPS has shed 93,000 jobs in 10 years, maintaining 497,000 positions in 2019.

Throughout all this, USPS operating revenue has increased to more than $71 billion, from $67 billion in 2010. Rate hikes have been predictable and better managed. So why the carnage?

Yes, it’s COVID-19. Mail volumes reportedly have dropped by 30% since the crisis began. Add to this the hands-tied effects of the Congressional mandates – and it’s no wonder the USPS Postmaster General is seeking a “we need cash” bailout. This time, will Congress – and The White House – answer the call? According to The Washington Post, as of Friday, April 24, President Trump stated he would not approve of emergency aid for the Postal Service if it didn’t raise prices for package delivery immediately.

We Can Debate the Amount – But Let’s Recognize These Heroes at Work

The U.S. Postal Service is a quasi-governmental operation that answers by U.S. Constitution to the American people – but is called upon to run as a business. And it indeed tries. Yet it can’t just set rates on its own, as everyone gets a voice in rate-making and operations, even competitors.

Even in crisis, exacerbated by COVID-19, there’s not likely to be new postal reform bill any time soon. So here we are now: the U.S. Postal Service needs financial protection.

It’s hard to blame the USPS, but that doesn’t stop President Trump from calling out sweetheart deals that don’t exist. Add to the cacophony those who wish to privatize – answer to shareholders instead of the public – and sparks fly. Postal labor interests, for one, are powerful – and so are marketing mail and parcel customers. No one wants to upend the letter carrier.

But a virus might just do that.

So as I put on my mask and gloves, and go to the mailbox as part of my daily heightened ritual, I retrieve my personally addressed parcels, flats and letters. I spray them with Lysol. I open and read each piece, and I recycle each piece when I’m done (Happy Earth Day again). And I wish Godspeed, and a few billion tax dollars, to all these postal heroes who are keeping American commerce every day in movement. We need you. America needs you. Thank you.

How to Best Use Direct Mail Marketing During COVID-19

During a time of crisis like COVID-19 it can be hard to know how best to market to your customers. Direct mail is still a great way to reach them, but you will need to adjust your tactics somewhat in order to remain a trusted resource.

During a time of crisis, it can be hard to know how best to market your products or services to customers. If your customers are consumers and not businesses, direct mail is still a great way to reach them. Of course, with businesses having employees work from home, this certainly creates challenges for B2B marketers who use direct mail in their marketing mix. However, there are other channels that can be used instead. So for now, you many want to put B2B direct mail plans on pause  and wait for when those individuals are back in the office.

Also to note, a few people have expressed concerns about virus transmission from mail, but the WHO and CDC both say that no coronavirus transmission has occurred from a newspaper, magazine, letter, or package. Sending your mail pieces to customers and prospects is still considered safe. So what is the best way to use direct mail right now?

  • Images – Avoid images of people in groups, touching, or at events. Instead find other images that are compelling to convey your message.
  • Message – Avoid using terms that involve touch and closeness. Instead, keep your message about how your product or service will help the prospect out. Do not try to capitalize on the crisis. It is acceptable to mention any changes you have instituted, but do not have a COVID-19 sale. It’s just tacky phrasing. And of course, do not dramatize the crisis for your benefit.
  • Empathy – Be sure to show sincere empathy for what your customers are going through. Times are tough and you don’t want to come across as insensitive. Consider creating direct mail that conveys optimism, hope, and humanity.
  • Plan – When setting up your mail piece, consider how it can actually help people. If you have a product or service that already will help prospects during the pandemic, highlight that – without capitalizing on COVID-19. If not, then find a way for the mail piece to educate, entertain, or inspire prospects into action.

Another way you can help customers and prospects at this time – and generate some good PR – is to find ways to help your community, as well as encouraging mail recipients to do the same in their communities. Or consider teaming up with a relevant local nonprofit, and make a pledge to donate a portion of your sales revenue. Creating a mail campaign with a positive message and needed products, services, or information will be well received and responded to.

It also is important to consider your list. There may be people on your list who are better targets to reach out to than others right now. Segment them out and send only to them. This is not the time for a one-size-fits-all campaign. Sensitivity and relevancy really matter right now. The best direct mail is sending the right offer to the right person at the right time.

In a crisis, your customers want you to be reliable and credible. Provide them with needed products, services, or information so that your mail is relevant and appreciated. Be a friendly, trusted resource to help them through the crisis. Keep in mind that how you communicate contributes to how your brand will be remembered. This will position you now and in the future as a company that your customers and prospects want to do business with. Are you ready to get started?

USPS’s Mobile Shopping Promotion Still Available for 2020

The USPS has confirmed that despite the current pandemic, all discount programs are still in place, including the 2020 Mobile Shopping Promotion. This program encourages mailers to integrate mobile technology with direct mail to create a convenient way for consumers to online shop, as well as earn a postage discount.

The USPS has confirmed that despite the current pandemic, all discount programs are still in place, including the 2020 Mobile Shopping Promotion. This program encourages mailers to integrate mobile technology with direct mail to create a convenient way for consumers to do their online shopping; provides a 2% postage discount for standard and nonprofit letters and flats; and runs from Aug. 1 through Dec. 31, 2020.

The registration period runs from June 15 through Dec. 31, 2020, giving marketers some time to consider the program and how they can benefit from the popularity of mobile shopping to boost response rates. So how can you take advantage of this discount? Qualifying mobile print technologies include one of the following:

  • Open-sourced barcodes: QR Code or Data Matrix code. “QR” stands for “Quick Response”, which refers to the instant access to the information hidden in the barcode. A Data Matrix barcode code can store up to 2,335 alphanumeric characters.
  • Proprietary barcode or tag: SnapTags or MS Tags. SnapTag technology is very similar to QR code technology, but, consumers with any camera or smart phone can take a picture of the tag. From there, information is sent via text or email. Microsoft Tag allows data to be stored in a graphical bitmap using shapes and colors. The difference is not using square pixels, but triangle shapes and colors to store data.
  • Image embedded with a digital watermark: A digital watermark is a kind of marker covertly embedded in a noise-tolerant signal such as audio, video or image data.
  • Intelligent print image recognition such as augmented reality: Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, and more.
  • Shoppabble Video: Today’s technology enables you to set interactive touch points in any video (or image), allowing your audience to expand on any product with more details and the ability to purchase.

You can use one on these options on your mail piece to send prospects and customers to a page where they can purchase the product or service you’re marketing on your mail piece. This particular promotion has been around for a while now and is very popular with both marketers and customers, especially because it extends through the whole holiday season.

New for this year is the Shoppable Video option. The experience involves viewing a video on a mobile device which contains clickable spots on the video where customers can make a purchase.

The easier you make it for your customers to buy, the more and faster they do so. Because of promotions like this from the USPS, marketers can capture impulse buys with direct mail. The Mobile Shopping Promotion also shows how the buying experience does not have to be boring. You can add elements to spice up your landing page and still be able to make transactions like the promotion rules call for. Think of all the fun and creative ways you can integrate mobile technology, while benefiting from a savings of 2% on your postage! It is a good time to try something new.

This is not the only promotion the USPS is offering this year. If interested, check out my previous coverage of two other promotion programs that are currently running, but with registration still open:

Are you ready to get started?

 

COVID-19’s Effect on the USPS and Direct Mail Marketing

We’ve heard a lot on the news about essential businesses during COVID-19, but one we all count on that is not mentioned much is the USPS. The Postal Service, like many of us, have been greatly impacted by this crisis, and so has direct mail marketing in general.

What strange times we are living in right now as individuals and businesses. In 29 years of working with direct mail, I have never seen anything like this. We’ve heard a lot on the news about essential businesses during COVID-19, but one we all count on that is not mentioned much is the USPS. The Postal Service, like many of us, have been greatly impacted by this crisis, and so has direct mail marketing in general.

First there has been a dramatic drop in marketing mail with numerous events canceled and businesses shuttered, causing a need to send fewer mail pieces. Second, the USPS must maintain facilities and personnel based on CDC guidelines, which can be very difficult in a processing facility. For more details on that, you can read the statement that was issued to address this. And third, the USPS was already having financial troubles before the crisis without congressional action.

To address the drop in marketing mail, Mailers Hub along with several other industry associations have sent a letter to Postmaster General Megan Brennan and Robert Taub, chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) to express concern about marketing mail volumes.

They offered suggestions like a per-piece discount, deferring collections, extending or adding promotions and incentives, and deferring planned price changes for international mail.

As the letter stated, “Now is the time for action from the Postal Service and the PRC to keep businesses using the mail.” While the USPS may understand this, the challenge will be to find a “stimulus” for mailers that is within the limitations of the CPI cap and the rate setting process that the PRC is charged with enforcing. What the USPS may want to do to help mailers and what the law allows them to do may be very different.

So, one would think that when Congress is working on legislation to help businesses and individuals through this crisis that there would be some help for the post office as well. Check out what Leo Raymond, Managing Director of Mailers Hub wrote in the last newsletter issue:

“By voice votes in the Senate on March 26 and the House on March 27, Congress last week passed HR 748, the Middle-Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act of 2019, a $2.2 trillion program to help the nation’s economy and citizens deal with, and recover from the consequences of the ongoing virus-related crisis. Conspicuously missing was any aid for the Postal Service.

Instead, the bill only allowed it to borrow another $10 billion from the Treasury, going even deeper in debt. The final version of the bill was a dark disappointment for many in the mailing industry as well as the postal unions and their allies, who’d hoped Congress would use the occasion to lift some of the Postal Service’s burden of debt – not make it worse.”

From Target Marketing’s sister brand, Printing Impressions, Lisbeth A. Lyons VP, Government and External Affairs of the Printing Industries of America (PIA) shared additional thoughts about the $10 billion line of credit, and what PIA is looking to do in regard to the situation:

“This is a short-term victory as it throws a lifeline to USPS, which is reporting an 18-percent drop in entered mail this week as compared to the same week last year. However, simply extending more credit is not the best solution to what could be an impact to USPS greater than that of lost volume and revenue post-9/11 or post-2008 financial crisis. PIA is redoubling efforts to achieve more structural changes and financial stabilization such as full repeal of the onerous pre-funding of retiree health benefits requirement in the next phase of Congressional response to COVID-19.”

This crisis is going to go on for a while and those of us that send direct mail could use some relief in order to get marketing mail numbers back up. We have seen movement in the B2C mail stream as many people are now stuck at home; well-designed and executed direct mail is something they look forward to getting.

Sending Direct Mail During COVID-19

If you are a B2C marketer, you should take advantage of this situation and provide good quality direct mail offers that your customers can use. On the other hand, the B2B market is a whole other story. With many companies closed and employees working from home, your direct mail may not get to the right person. For now, you should plan to hold your mail pieces until your customers return to the office, and consider other channels that may be more appropriate for reaching your B2B customers.

As we continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic and get closer to reopening the country fully, you can expect marketers to be planning and executing as many relevant marketing campaigns as possible to help get our economy moving again. What has been happening in your area? Do you have any bright spots to share? Let us know in the comments!

Optichannel Marketing Campaigns Get an Additional Boost With Direct Mail

Not every brand has a big brand’s marketing resources. Here’s are two case studies in how optichannel marketing is being used at a more reasonable level of investment by real, medium-sized businesses to increase campaign effectiveness and bottom-line results.

Not too long ago, we looked at how some of the biggest companies in the world — including Disney and Neiman Marcus — use optichannel customer experience strategies to deliver great marketing ROI. Even among big brands, though, the customer experience magic of Disney may be out of reach. So let’s take a look at how optichannel marketing is being used at a more reasonable level of investment by real, medium-sized businesses to significantly increase campaign effectiveness and bottom-line results.

Response-Lift Modeling Finds New Campers and New Revenue for Summer Learning Initiative

The hard part of operating any business focused on school-age children is the built-in rate of attrition. Students grow up, graduate, and otherwise age out of your programs every year. It’s likely that at least 25% of your customers won’t be back the following year due to matriculation alone.

To refill those seats without breaking the bank, these institutions must focus marketing on lead generation and new customer acquisition — two of the most expensive goals in marketing. It’s challenging to do that and still find a way to market profitably.

One such program is Galileo Learning, which operates 75 children’s summer camps across parts of California and Chicago, Ill. Age limits on the program mean that large portions of the customer base graduate out every year.

Finding a way to replace those students quickly becomes prohibitive. Summer Erickson, head of marketing for Galileo Learning, saw that many direct mail strategies were becoming too expensive for the ROI. The answer she found was to combine a very effective mail piece with tight customer models built on the data of current customers.

“The customer modeling tool was a game-changer for us,” says Erickson. By using response-lift modeling to identify prospects on external lists who were highly likely to respond, Galileo was able to market much more efficiently. They used the savings to create better mail pieces that would also drive better-than-normal response, and the mailers were localized to each of their nine markets where Galileo operated camps.

The results, Erickson says, surpassed her most optimistic expectations. The campaign brought in 155 new campers and $66,000 in new revenue. And she expects even better success from a wider program launched later in the year.

Holiday Direct Mail Adds Optichannel Targeting, Gets 6X More Impressions, $200k-Plus in Donations

Sometimes you need to break out beyond a single channel to get the best results. Meals on Wheels (MOW) in the Diablo Region of California spurred $230,000 in new donations by doing exactly that with its holiday donor appeal campaign.

The campaign broke with MOW’s traditional strategy in two main ways:

  • They built three audience segments defined by demographics and customer look-a-like modeling.
  • MOW added targeted digital advertising to amplify its direct mail, which made sure the target audience saw 6X more campaign impressions that they would have in a mail-only strategy.

First, much like Galileo, MOW and its agency starting working from the donor database, using existing data from real donors to identify three list segments who would be most responsive to this campaign: current donors, lapsed donors and prospective donors. Although the names sound straightforward, the segments were developed by examining the demographic and engagement data of known donors across dozens of factors.

Each person on the list received a personalized donor appeal letter with infographics highlighting the benefits of donating to MOW and a coupon CTA to make a donation.

Overall, the campaign blanketed the audience with 75,000 pieces of direct mail alone. But that was just the beginning of the campaign.

In addition to those 75,000 mailpieces, MOW built email, social media, and online display advertising to amplify the direct mail message. Together, this added 467,542 additional marketing impressions for the campaign — more than a 600% increase in overall brand exposure, compared to a mail-only control group.

The results were impressive for MOW, even for a holiday appeal: $230,000 in donations, 43% new donors, and donors from the optichannel campaign averaged 169% more than donors in the control group who only received direct mail.