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.

Money Talks: It’s Past Time That Marketers Reconsider Reward-Based Promotions

Recently, Bill Warshauer provided Target Marketing readers with a timely reminder of the efficacy of reward-based promotions and their utility in replacing discounts in the promotional mix. Now let’s take it a step further with some modeling.

Recently, Bill Warshauer provided Target Marketing readers with a timely reminder of the efficacy of reward-based promotions and their utility in replacing discounts in the promotional mix.

Extremely interested, I commented and a somewhat updated summary follows:

It is past time that marketers reconsider reward-based promotions.

Let me give you one simple case history.

Some years ago, a client, a leading bank, found that they were sending pre-approved but unrequested credit cards to customers and were getting unacceptably few people “deblocking” or “activating” their cards despite a regular monthly conversion series urging them with various incentives like no annual charges for one year, to accept and use the new cards. The low conversion rate, plus the costs of up to six efforts per prospect with no revenue, were at least discouraging.

When we were asked for help, we proposed turning this system on its head. Our objective was simple: incentivize card recipients to use their new cards immediately instead of allowing the costly slow drip from promotions over months: make them, as mafia lore says, an offer they couldn’t afford to refuse but we could afford to make.

To do this we designed an elaborate mailing to be sent without fail, the day after the card, rehearsing all the card holder benefits but telling the prospect there was another “secret” benefit which could only be had by calling a special toll-free number.

Having determined in advance, the allowable cost per active card, we knew that we could afford to offer $50 per active card user. The caller was not to be asked to “deblock” or “activate” their card (unnecessarily bureaucratic words in our view) but rather, “May we credit your card account with a $50 gift you can spend right away when you use your card within the next five days?” (We also tested $20, $30, and $40 as alternatives to determine the most profitable offer.)

Want to know which was best? Ask me.

While the cost of the mailing package nearly got us fired, the results turned client fury into joy. We achieved the client’s objective of conversion, even after consideration of the cost of the reward, at a cost-per-conversion of less than half of what the client had been spending. And it was right away, a significant cash advantage.

Not exactly the proverbial rocket science, is it?

I had drilled into me over the years by the iconic Dick Benson and by others that Rule No. 1 of what was then called direct marketing was:

It doesn’t matter a damn how much you spend in marketing money so long as in the end, the unit cost of achieving your order gives you the pre-determined profit you desire, or more!

Why many marketers have the least trouble getting their minds around this is a total mystery to me. It should be hardwired into them.

However, taking advantage of the isolation of the pandemic, it seemed worthwhile to have another go at trying to explain it and providing those readers who are interested, with the tools to build a simple model to help them calculate it for themselves.

Using the activation of distributed credit cards as an example, let’s assume that the bank has determined it can afford to spend a maximum of $87.50 to generate each active credit card. In arriving at that assessment of the “allowable,” the bank has determined that it wishes to achieve a profit of a similar $87.50. And to make certain that their marketing geniuses won’t forget the need for that profit, the bank’s managers have made believe the profit is a “cost” and reserved it so the marketing guys cannot get their mitts on it.

Now, if the actual cost of generating the activation is exactly the $87.50 allowable, the profit will still be there. And if, due to the marketing team’s genius (or luck, or a combination of the two), the activation costs less than the allowable, the difference will go right to the bottom line and the applause will be deafening.

Let’s look at this starting with the knowns:

Determining the allowable figure 1For this hypothetical example, let’s accept that the historic active card revenue is $350 and that operating the card system and covering general and administrative costs is 50% of this revenue. Now let’s reserve an additional 25% ($87.50) for profit before determining how much we can spend for marketing.

As you can see, that leaves us with $87.50 which we can afford to obtain an activated card user and make a 25% profit. Put another way, if we spend exactly $87.50 for marketing including the cost of any incentive, then we will make the mandated 25% profit. Spend more and we will make less profit or even have a loss; spend less and the saving against the $87.50 allowable will add to the profit.

Now the fun starts.

What we wish to project is how much our response needs to increase from a non-incentivized baseline to justify the incremental cost of each level of incentive. Let’s assume that including the variable cost of converting the incoming telephone calls, the per-thousand marketing cost is $1,500. Before adding the cost of any incentive, the baseline at different response levels looks like this.

Non-incentivized cost per activated card, figure 2
Note that the white outlined cells are inputs and the shaded cells are driven by formulae. In working with the model, this allows you to play “what ifs?” and input your own assumptions, for example, different percentage responses or cost per thousand.

As you can plainly see, only the cost of a 1% response exceeds the $87.50 allowable and eats into the reserved profit. At 2%, the cost is $75 which means that the bottom line is the $87.50 allowable plus the $87.50 reserved profit objective, less the $75 cost per response, for a total contribution of $100 or 35% of revenue, a comfortable ROMI of 1.33.

But as aggressive marketers, we want more responses and profit. And we are prepared to offer an incentive of $20 to achieve that. Our question must be: How much does the addition of this incentive have to increase the percentage return to justify the additional $20 (or some other number you choose)?

To find the answer to this and provide a tool for answering other questions with different inputs, we built this model. It references the ACPO model above and matrixes the calculated cost of a given response percentage with the addition of the incentive.

Actual Cost, Figure 3To this has been added a table which permits us to input any combination of response rate and incentive and generate how much additional percentage response would be required to justify using the specified incentive, in the case of this example a $30 cash promise.

Incentive Justification, Figure 4
To help you should you care to build your own model, the equations which drive it are explained below the numbers.

As you’ll see, to justify the $30 incentive, response must rise by 0.86% from 2.0% to 2.86%. Any increase greater than 0.86% would make the use of the $30 incentive a winner.

There is no question that money talks. We just need to understand the language.

Any interested reader who wishes to have a copy of this Excel model, email pjrosenwald@gmail.com with “Model Please” in the subject line.

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?

A Look at Marketing Spend Recalibrated: Where Are the Green Shoots?

We are well into Q2, and the pandemic is having a detrimental impact on U.S. marketing spend. How much so? Firm principal Bruce Biegel recently updated some parts of The Winterberry Group’s Annual Outlook report as COVID19 took hold, citing various sources — and the updated data is worth a look.

We are well into Q2, and the pandemic is having a detrimental impact on U.S. marketing spend. How much so?

That’s where we turn to The Winterberry Group which tracks data, digital, and direct marketing spend vs. general advertising, and releases its Annual Outlook each year in January. As COVID19 took hold, firm principal Bruce Biegel recently updated some of its numbers, citing various sources — and they are worth a look:

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

Green Shoots in Media

Hey, I see a green shoot here. In digital, while display, search, and social are taking the greatest hits, digital video’s loss is less pronounced — and we might guess why. Consumers are consuming digital media in record numbers. In fact, OTT (connected TV) and podcast ad spend is out of sync with the number of consumers migrating to these media, even before the pandemic took hold.

As reported in Digiday:

“According to Magna Global, OTT accounts for 29% of TV viewing but so far has only captured 3% of TV ad budgets. And as consumers increasingly flock to internet-connected TV devices, a wide range of players — from tech giants, to device sellers to TV networks and more — are building services to capture a share of the ad dollars that will inevitably flow into the OTT ecosystem.”

So if anything, advertisers may need to get their tech stacks ready to enable OTT and podcast engagement. But this is not a linear TV buy based on cost-per-thousand (CPM). This is an opportunity to personalize, target, and attribute on a 1:1 level.

Another green shoot: Email remains a staple. Again, as we stay at home, whether as consumers or as business people, it’s been email that is sustaining connections for many brands. So “flat spending” is a positive, even as price compression is underway.

Offline is not a pretty picture — right now.

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

My last post sought to document U.S. Postal Service’s woes. I still believe direct mail is a brand differentiator, particularly right now — as I watch my own household pause from the sameness of screens, and take our “print” moment with each day’s incoming mail and catalogs. We’ve dog-eared pages, placed our DTC (direct to consumer) orders, and even some B2B purchases for home office supplies. (Thankfully, all but one of us are still working.)

Green Shoots in Verticals

The Winterberry Group also examined some primary verticals — which ones will lead our economic recovery?

One green shoot is identified as financial services. After the Great Recession (2008-2009), the financial sector — which prompted the Recession beginning with subprime mortgages — recapitalized and strengthened reserves. Banks had to do it, by law. As a result, they are better positioned to weather the pandemic storm; though there may be pressure to lend to less-than-stellar-credit customers, the Winterberry Group reports. We shall see. As of May 7, the NASDAQ had completely erased its 2020 year-to-date market loss.

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

In the Media & Entertainment sector, live events are effectively gone — except where they can go virtual, but that’s hardly a dollar-for-dollar exchange. The good news is that media subscriptions (for on-demand media) are rapidly increasing, and ad-supported on-demand media also is increasing — pertinent to the aforementioned OTT discussion.

And another green shoot candidate, Healthcare & Pharma, is actually on neutral ground. Some trends, such as telemedicine, online prescription fulfillment, and anything COVID-related — are booming, but elective surgeries are on hold, and 33+ million laid-off Americans may wind up uninsured.

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

Ingenuity — The Greatest Green Shoot of All

And my last green shoot is this — our own innovation, agility, and creativity. I leave you with this one anecdote heard last week on National Public Radio.

Can you imagine being a member of the Graduating Class of 2020? These students will go down in history perhaps as a model of resiliency. Time will tell. But next door in North Salem, NY, the town and school system landed on a novel idea: The faculty, students and families will drive one hour north to a one of the state’s few remaining drive-in theaters. The commencement address will be projected — and the diplomas handed out vehicle by vehicle.

Who knows, maybe Summer 2020 will be the Great American Comeback of the drive-in theater. Maybe Bruce will need to update his out-of-home and cinematic spending accordingly. (You can learn more from Bruce at this upcoming June 17 Direct Marketing Club of New York virtual briefing on your laptop. Registration here.)

I love such ingenuity. If you know of other examples, please share them in the comments section. Stay safe — and keep America innovating.

 

 

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?