Postal topics are not always top-of-mind for integrated marketers, but direct mail and the “mail moment” continue to be a workhorse in direct marketing — generating in excess of $45 billion a year in advertising revenue, according to The Winterberry Group. This week, I caught up with Jody Berenblatt, senior advisor with GrayHair Advisors, and a recognized “postologist” expert and industry speaker — with recent contributions at meetings at the National Postal Forum and Greater New York Postal Customer Council, and is a member of the USPS Mailers’ Technical Advisory Council. (By the way, National Postal Customer Council Day 2015 is Wednesday, September 23. Contact your local Postal Customer Council to get involved.)
Chet Dalzell: At this year’s National Postal Forum, you spoke about “Postal Matters” — what were or are the three hottest topics being discussed by mailers now?
Jody Berenblatt: The 2015 NPF theme was “Growing Together.” We heard about the U.S. Postal Service’s efforts to build a bridge between physical and digital mail. We heard about “omnichannel” and the new digital mail box … offering a daily preview email of what is scheduled to arrive in your physical mailbox. While recognizing the Postal Service’s accomplishments, mailing industry representatives noted what still needs to be done, such as improving the timeliness of the data … untimely information is not actionable. And of course that goes for mail delivery as well on such activities disruptive weather, 21 named storms [in 2015], and significant postal network changes. So providing reliable, predictable mail delivery at affordable rates is still a hot topic, important to both business and consumer postal customers.
The Office of Inspector General, in collaboration with IBM, recently published a report on the Internet of Postal Things, and that will remain a hot topic for some time. Kirk Kaneer, an economist at the Postal Service — OIG, invited me and a few others in the postal community to share ideas for innovation in neighborhood delivery. I wrote about how we might better use the information we already have. These blogs are now on view at https://www.uspsoig.gov/blog.
CD: The Exigency looks like it will stay for another 8 months or so — what’s your take on this? Any surprises, or is this a ‘New Normal’?
JB: There are rumors that USPS will file a case to contest the Postal Regulatory Council ruling, once again, this Friday [August 28]. Perhaps we will know if this rumor turns true after the publishing deadline.
The exigency, and whether or not the USPS will file for a CPI [consumer price index] price change, remain areas of uncertainty. More recently, postal executives have sent signals that might result in competitive price changes in January 2016, while any monopoly price changes will depend on the CPI rate experienced over the next few months. If warranted, USPS would more likely file the CPI increase when the exigency expires to increase its income. If the exigency surcharge is removed in April 2016, prices will likely increase by whatever CPI will allow. Still, the net effect will be a reduction in prices [if CPI rate is less than the exigency rate].
The downside to not filing a CPI increase is that it does not allow the USPS to make any mail preparation changes since they affect prices.
If you happen to mail a heavy volume of Flats, then FSS [Flat Sequencing System] mail prep, FSS pricing and USPS attention to ‘bundle breakage’ are concerns. De-facto cost increases resulting from mail preparation requirements are an important concern, which recently generated this comment from Quad-Graphics’ Joe Schick.
And if you happen to mail polybags, please join the MTAC [Mailers’ Technical Advisory Council] team to examine physical characteristics to improve postal handling of polybag packages. Expect new regulations on this.
Readers ought to be aware that the USPS recently obtained funding to modernize the digital payment system (CAPS), along with a new MTAC workgroup to focus on the development of the new Oracle-based postage payment reporting function.
CD: How healthy is the direct mail medium? Is it finding a reliable role in omnichannel marketing?
JB: I think from a marketing perspective, the answer is a resounding yes.
The OIG worked with Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making to conduct a neuro-marketing study exploring the differing impacts of physical and digital media on the consumer buying process. The study highlighted strengths of both media, but also suggests that, combined the two formats provide a powerful way for marketers to optimize their media mix.
As my colleague Marc Zazeela said, “I think it is really great that USPS is catching on and catching up. Listening to, and acting upon, the comments of their customers is a behavior that is one of the hallmarks of successful businesses.”
USPS Brand Marketing Manager Chris Karpenko recently talked to MTAC about mail as a media channel [within an integrated media mix], and provided sales staff with a tool to measure the ROI of mail and optimize a dozen media channels.
A copy of Chris’s presentation is here — and for mail advocates, it’s worth a look:
CD: What new digital, interactive tools from the USPS are delivering greater transparency for mail delivery? How are these tools making a difference?
JB: Today you can sign up to MyUSPS.com and find parcel delivery information. A new technology that could become the ultimate in mail-delivery transparency will be piloted this fall in the New York area. Each morning, it sends you [the mail recipient] an email preview of the mail the Postal Service is scheduled to deliver to you that day. This bridge between the physical mail and digital mail has enormous potential, and with that comes some risks … of course.
In a Virginia pilot, the Postal Service reported that the program increased response rates and interest in the mail/contents of the mail box. How big a difference these tools will make remains to be seen.
I will be the industry co-chair for the MTAC workgroup on this new tool, Informed Delivery App, so I encourage you to sign up to MyUSPS.com, see what mail is coming your way and tell us about your experience.
CD: The USPS Mailers’ Technical Advisory Council just celebrated its 50th year. What are the current focus areas on MTAC’s agenda — and what do mailers need to watch closely?
Yes, I am proud to be a MTAC member. As executive director of the Continuity Shippers Associations (CSA), I collaborated with Judy DeTorok, manager, industry engagement & outreach, consumer & industry affairs, at the USPS to record this perspective with long-time MTAC leader Coleman William (Bill) Hoyt.
You can watch that video here. [password is MTACHOYT]
Bill served as MTAC Chair, representing Readers Digest, during the early days, when USPS was still the Post Office Department. He and other MTAC members at the time helped the Postal Service with the original ZIP Code.
Fast forward to today, USPS Postmaster General Megan Brennan outlined MTAC’s 2016 four Focus Group Areas as follows, with USPS contact:
- Mail Preparation, Entry and Operations — Linda Malone, Vice President, Network Operations — Mail processing discussions, issues around Network Rationalization/Consolidations, equipment operation/production/capacity, discussions to optimize mail separations, service performance and MTE [My Time Entry]. This group will be an avenue for discussion around delivery, Transportation and international mail processing.
- Payment & Acceptance, and Education — Pritha Mehra, Vice President, Mail Entry and Payment Technology — Mail acceptance, mailing documentation, methods of payment, PostalOne!, Seamless Acceptance, eInduction and mail piece design. It will also be the avenue for issues around customer education around new acceptance programs, payment technology, finance and mail prep technologies.
- Enterprise Analytics and Data Usage — Robert Cintron, Vice President, Product Information — Product visibility, service performance measurement, data provisioning and address management. With its broader focus, it will also address IT related discussions, cyber security, data visualization and geo‐
- Emerging Technology & Product Innovation — Gary Reblin, Vice President, New Products and Innovation — Will expand beyond its current focus on new products, promotions and product changes. It will be the place for new disruptive technologies to include market research and marketing tools.
Four items that mailers need to watch:
- Look to participate in USPS promotion incentive programs to improve the interactivity of mail with other media channels.
- Take a look at your mail quality. The Postal Service has created a feedback mechanism on all aspects of mail quality. These scorecards are accessible via the Postal Service’s web portal: the business customer gateway.
- The Postal Service will be publishing clarifications of the Move Update rules. Make sure your business process for managing names and address is in compliance.
- Consider joining one of the MTAC User Groups. You don’t need to be an MTAC member to participate. If you don’t already belong to an association — look at joining one.