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!

WWTT? Bud Light Promotes #OpenForTakeout During COVID-19

We’ve all heard about breweries and distilleries making hand sanitizer, as well as automakers producing medical equipment. But for this week’s “What Were They Thinking?” I have something a little different, but important: a campaign from Bud Light that supports the restaurant and bar industry, badly hit by COVID-19.

March 2020  which felt like it was a year long  is finally over. However, the coronavirus pandemic is far from over; many of us are staying at home under order of our local, state, or national governments, and doing the best we can personally and professionally. Through it all, it’s been uplifting to see communities come together to support each other (of course, while practicing the phrase of the year: social distancing), as well as the myriad brands stepping up and away from business as usual to also do their part.

We’ve all heard about breweries and distilleries shifting production to hand sanitizer, as well as automakers realigning their plants to produce the much needed medical equipment that healthcare workers need. These are such important stories, which have been covered a lot (as they should be). But for this week’s “What Were They Thinking?” I have something a little different, yet still important: a campaign from Bud Light in an effort to support the restaurant and bar industry, badly hit by COVID-19.

Our local restaurants and bars feed us; give us a place to come together with friends and family; and they make up so many of the important small businesses in our communities. While some have had to shutter, there are others who have managed to stay open (again, depending on local and state regulations here in the U.S.), offering takeout and delivery options. And this is where Bud Light steps in.

On Mar. 25, Bud Light debuted a new campaign, “Open for Takeout.” Powered by Bud Light, the new website encourages those establishments still open within the restaurant and bar industry to submit their info to be included on the website. The site’s focus is to help consumers across the U.S. locate spots that are #OpenForTakeout, while still practicing safe social distancing.

While money might be tough for a lot of people right now, there are those individuals who do have the spare cash for a takeout meal, which means Bud Light using their extensive reach can go a long way in extending the reach of the restaurant and bars they aim to help.

For me personally, there are at least 157 restaurants or bars within a 10-mile radius of my ZIP code, which gives me a lot of options after being cooped up all day in front of a computer and having no desire to cook (it happens from time to time).

Bud Light also is diverting some of their media spend to drive awareness of this consumer resource, offering added visibility for #OpenForTakeout, and their parent company, Anheuser-Busch has the following initiatives planned to support other COVID-19 efforts:

  • $5 million donation to the American Red Cross, as well as the donation of media air time to the Red Cross for PSAs.
  • Working alongside sports partners, Anheuser-Busch will identify available arenas and stadiums to be used for temporary blood drive centers.
  • The company’s tour centers in St. Louis, Mo. and Merrimack, NH will be made available to the Red Cross.
  • Anheuser-Busch’s supply and logistics network will produce and distribute bottles of hand sanitizer. The hand sanitizer will be used at Red Cross blood donation centers, as well as in an effort to support shelters for future relief efforts.

This partnership between the macro brewer and the Red Cross is, again, just another example of brands stepping away from business as usual, and considering what they can do with the resources and talent they have to play a role in the fight against the pandemic.

As for Bud Light’s initiative, this is personal for me (and I’m sure many others). I’m fortunate to know a lot of wonderful people in Philadelphia’s vibrant food and drink scene, and it crushes me to see so many of them out of work, many fighting to obtain unemployment, uncertain of their futures, and the restaurants and bars that once employed them facing the heartbreaking question of if they’ll ever be able to open their doors again.

I hope Bud Light’s Open for Takeout campaign truly helps those in the restaurant and bar industry across the country who are still open and feeding their local communities.

And finally, in my previous post from a couple weeks ago, I looked at two well-done email messages about COVID-19 that hit my inbox. Some readers shared publicly in the comments, as well as privately in emails to me, about what they had worked on and the response received, as well as about some of the good pieces they received themselves.

Feel free to keep commenting, and send me messages about what you’ve seen and done as well. As I’ve said, now is the time for sharing good news, and celebrating the little victories.

How Do We Leverage Data to Drive a Faster Economic Recovery?

As growth leaders, we will be waking to a world with fewer resources and businesses desperate to grow again once we get past the coronavirus pandemic. However, in our struggle to regain our financial footing we will have a very valuable resource that previous generations did not: data and data science.

As growth leaders, we will be waking to a world with fewer resources and businesses desperate to grow again once we get past the coronavirus pandemic. And despite the global hardships that will be felt by many, in our struggle to regain our financial footing we will have a very valuable resource that previous generations did not: data and data science.

When used well, data science will help direct scarce resources to the right opportunities and efficiently drive growth. I am convinced this will be a big differentiator versus previous recoveries of this magnitude.

Over my career, I have consistently encountered inefficient and counter-productive practices in data-driven decision management and have written about them often. They are paralleled in the crisis today. Below are three issues I would like us all to think about when we leverage data science to rebuild the national and world economy.

1. Customer Data Hoarding

Companies collect so much data that many are “drowning in data.” If you have no idea of the value of what you are collecting, then it is digital garbage.

We were led to believe that AI and data mining would help make sense of the data. It does to some extent, but more often it leads to head-scratching conclusions. We can’t leverage what we can’t understand.

As a data-driven consultant, I am amazed at how much time is spent sifting through data just trying to make sense of it all before any valuable insights can be generated. Going forward we cannot afford this luxury. If there are 10 gallons of fuel in the tank, we can’t spend five gallons trying to figure out if the engine works. However, when it comes to mining company data, we often do.

2. It’s About Qualitative, Not Just Quantitative

We can’t be slaves to the data we have. Collecting the right data is often cheap and easily done, if time is taken to plan. This means that measurement strategy can’t be a retrospective exercise. Too often, I have engaged clients in the post-mortem analysis of very important projects. In many cases, my team is often limited to the data that is available and not the data that was needed. Critical answers are sometimes left unanswered. This is a waste of time, resources and most importantly, valuable information.

3. Data Is Not the Solution, It’s the Tool

We must regularly remind ourselves that data does not solve problems or create opportunities. Rather, brave decision making solves problems and creates opportunities. Data is a valuable tool that can only inform the decisions we need to make. It can help lower the risk and provide valuable insights. Sometimes, collecting more data before acting can be wise. Other times it can also be the delay in action that leads to disaster.

What is happening today has no parallel in recent memory. While the 1918 flu pandemic had similar infection rates, the world was a different place then. Today, we have advanced tools and technology to aid our recovery.

Data science will be one of those important tools, especially if we collectively decide to use it to its true potential. As a result, I am hopeful that we can come out of this faster than we realize.