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.

9 Ways to Keep Your Direct Mail Data Up-to-Date

Many times, our data files get old and need a little TLC before we can mail to them. Not only does the post office require you to keep addresses up-to-date, but you don’t want to be wasting money sending pieces that are not going to the intended recipients. There are several options to clean up your data files.

Many times, our direct mail data files get old and need a little TLC before we can mail to them. Not only does the post office require you to keep addresses up-to-date, but you don’t want to be wasting money sending pieces that are not going to the intended recipients. There are several options to clean up your data files.

Methods to clean data:

  1. CASS — The Coding Accuracy Support System is a certification system from the United States Postal Service for address validation. A CASS-certified address validation will standardize your mailing list, update outdated addresses, and verify that addresses are valid and complete.
  2. DPV — The Delivery Point Validation service is a process of verifying that an address is actually deliverable, meaning that mail can be sent to that address. A delivery point is a single mailbox or other place at which mail is delivered. It differs from a street address, in that each address may in fact have several delivery points, such as an apartment or office.
  3. ACS — Address Change Service is a post mailing service that allows mailers to receive change-of-address and other reasons for non-delivery electronically to reduce the number of manual address notifications. This allows you to update your list after an initial mailing and prior to the next one.
  4. NCOA — NCOALink product is a database of approximately 160 million permanent change-of-address records consisting of names and addresses of individuals, families and businesses who have filed a change of address with the Postal Service.
  5. PCOA/ACOA — The Priority Change of Address and Ancillary Change of Address services allow access to more than 60 million address changes reported by sources other than USPS. This allows you additional ways to find consumers who have moved. Changes are contributed by publishers, catalogers, retailers and other institutions, nationwide. It covers a 60-month time period.
  6. Apartment Append — Apartment Append will correct records on your file that have been identified by the DPV process as having either incorrect or missing apartment numbers. After the records are identified, the Apartment Append process updates the missing or incorrect information.
  7. Duplicate Processing — Finding Duplicate records used to be a problem — as they may not match exactly, but still be the same. You can now match accurately even with abbreviations and nicknames to remove real duplicates from your data file.
  8. Deceased Processing — Deceased processing enables you to eliminate deceased individuals from your list. The file contains approximately 40 million records relating to deceased individuals.
  9. Canadian Address Processing — Canadian Address Verification validates, corrects and standardizes Canadian postal addresses.

As you can see, there are many ways to clean your data files before and, in some cases, after you mail. The incentive to do this cleaning is that it can save you money. There is no reason to send mail to people who are not there. In cases where you are mailing presorted standard or nonprofit, you may never know that the post office is throwing the undeliverable pieces away. You can use an endorsement to get those returns, but why not clean your data first then send to only good addresses?

As of January 2018, the USPS changed the method for measuring Move Update compliance to a Census-based approach. The Census Method uses Mail Processing scans to determine compliance. The Census-based assessments will start in April 2018, based on March mailing data. You need to make sure your data is up-to-date, or you will pay the penalty. Are you ready to get started cleaning your data files?

Timing Really Is Everything

The recent flaps over mailings sent out by Republican fundraisers reminded me of a rule put forth years ago by the late Dick Benson: “Direct mail should be scrupulously honest.” In case you don’t know, here’s the skinny. First, the use of the word “Census” on mailings by the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee led to Congressional passage of a bill last month that required new, clarifying language on the outer.

The recent flaps over mailings sent out by Republican fundraisers reminded me of a rule put forth years ago by the late Dick Benson: “Direct mail should be scrupulously honest.”

In case you don’t know, here’s the skinny. First, the use of the word “Census” on mailings by the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee led to Congressional passage of a bill last month that required new, clarifying language on the outer. Apparently, there had been some concern that people would mistake these efforts for the big Census Bureau mailing that was due to drop. Then, someone who actually had that complaint called the number on the RNC’s donation form, only to discover that it was for a phone sex line. Coming on the heels of news about lavish RNC spending, it’s been a tough few weeks for the party.

It’s easy to dismiss the second problem as merely a vendor mistake, one that appeared on only some of the mailings. It’s also easy to brush aside criticism of using “Census” on the outer. After all, it’s legal — it had passed muster with the USPS. And, it doesn’t really look like the Census mailer. It’s pretty obvious when opened that it’s just another issues poll, with leading questions, and a request for money. There’s nothing wrong with that, both parties have been mailing surveys for many years.

But it illustrates a bigger problem. A great national political party shouldn’t rely on a gimmick, like putting “Census”, or the IRS form — like “(2009) Return Enclosed” on the outer envelope to get someone to open it. Seriously, no one at the RNC thought this through, and saw this bad publicity coming? And, given how some of the Republican base feels about the Census, and especially, the IRS, it’s an especially puzzling choice of a teaser.

Twenty-five years ago, in the newsletter Who’s Mailing What!, Roger Craver wrote that to have a successful direct mail appeal, the “donors of principle,” the heart of any political organization, must be motivated by writing that conveys mission, selectivity, urgent need and effectiveness. The GOP was way ahead of the Democratic Party in this regard for decades, but as shown in the 2008 presidential race, not anymore. It’s going to be very interesting to see how both parties will energize the faithful in this election year.