Keep the CPI Postal Rate Cap Alive!

There are no guarantees when “grand” budget and funding bills make their way through Congress … there’s always a chance some horse-trading will be tacked on that undermines the interests of and harms the direct marketing community. That’s why I was more than an interested bystander when a federal budget deal was announced last week that seeks to keep the government funded without another costly shutdown

There are no guarantees when “grand” budget and funding bills make their way through Congress … there’s always a chance some horse-trading will be tacked on that undermines the interests of and harms the direct marketing community. That’s why I was more than an interested bystander when a federal budget deal was announced last week that seeks to keep the government funded without another costly shutdown.

There’s nothing in this bill (so far) that is nefarious to marketers (a vote is still needed in the Senate). In the whole of the budget bill, some fiscal conservatives are not happy—prompt spending controls have been punted, and deficit reductions have been kicked down the road, a reflection of our still-weak economy being the rationale.

But it’s also a reflection of what’s dysfunctional in Washington: A seemingly ever-present readiness and willingness to punt fiscal discipline in more matters than just the federal budget. At least the three-year pattern of budget shutdowns and debt ceilings may be diverted. At least we can hope.

Now to postal reform … which was not part of the budget bill.

We need postal reform legislation—both political parties and nearly all postal stakeholders agree on this, but there’s devil in details in a current Senate proposal to move another breakthrough piece of legislation forward.

The reason for postal reform’s urgency, however, has nothing to do with the annual rate cap on postage increases that is now part of federal law.

Yet this most precious centerpiece for ratepayers of the 2006 postal reform act—the Consumer Price Index-Urban annual rate cap on postage hikes—is dispensed in the Carper-Coburn Postal Reform Act of 2013 (S. 1486) bill now before the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee. Crucially for us, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is leading a bipartisan effort to remove from the bill Section 301 (a Section which would eliminate this rate cap for market-dominant classes, among them First-Class Mail and Standard Mail). If she is successful, the vital rate cap would be preserved. A markup for the bill overall in Committee is scheduled for this coming Tuesday (Dec. 18), so there is still time to voice support for Sen. Baldwin’s effort to amend the legislation and save the cap.

What is urgent, of course, is relief from 2006 Congressional mandates to pre-fund retiree health benefits at a magnitude that was (and still is) wholly unsustainable and has proven to be unrealistic. One might say how ironic it is to have a column praising fiscal discipline bemoan a pre-funding mandate, but this type of mandate is unprecedented, unwarranted and blind to financial facts. The CPI cap, on the other hand, has been an extremely useful tool to USPS and its customers and, arguably, an important driver of USPS management efforts to “right size” USPS infrastructure to today’s mail (and marketing) realities.

Fiscal discipline matters to the private sector, and to all U.S. citizens in our own households and our business affairs. It is shocking (to a layperson, if not Beltway insiders) that such discipline means little to too many policymakers. Price caps are a common-sense, and extremely demonstrable, method for assuring predictable increments in postage hikes which serves to aid businesses and nonprofit organizations in their marketing and media planning. Take these caps away, and we’re back to uncertainty, costs rising unchecked and diverted dollars from direct mail media spending.

Stay tuned to industry organization efforts to see postal reform through—but with the all-important CPI rate cap intact. I’m hopeful Sen. Baldwin has a great week, and so do we.

Should the iPad be in Your Channel Mix?

The iPad launch has been manna to procrastinators everywhere, between all those endearing toddler/house pet and iPad videos, the countless tweets and retweets, and a guaranteed handful of daily news articles and blog posts (add this one to the count). Beyond a source for personal amusement, the iPad has turned out to be a surprising gift to the marketing community. I’ll get to that later, but let’s start with a dose of reality.

Or, you might already be in it and not even know it yet …

The iPad launch has been manna to procrastinators everywhere, between all those endearing toddler/house pet and iPad videos, the countless tweets and retweets, and a guaranteed handful of daily news articles and blog posts (add this one to the count). Beyond a source for personal amusement, the iPad has turned out to be a surprising gift to the marketing community. I’ll get to that later, but let’s start with a dose of reality.

It’s imperfect. It’s no secret, the iPad is flawed. It’s expensive, it’s awkward to hold, it’s heavy and its most compelling feature — streaming videos — limps along or not at all when you try to use it out of Wi-Fi range. And let’s not even get started on the lack of Flash support. But despite all its faults, it’s a device worth paying attention to.

Does the iPad change everything? At the recent “All Things D” conference, Steve Jobs described the iPad as a revolutionary device that’s nothing short of “magical,” while Steve Ballmer countered at the same event that the device is “just another PC.” In a way, Ballmer’s right. The iPad is “just another PC” in that it, too, is a container — a vehicle for content delivery. But how that content experience comes to life is raising the bar and making us rethink existing paradigms.

Blurring the lines. Until now, the idea of “lean-forward” versus “lean-back” media consumption has been a useful shorthand to delineate the active, more engaged nature of internet usage versus the laid-back, take-it-in mode of watching TV. However, this framework doesn’t neatly apply to the iPad. Steve Jobs alludes to this key difference when he describes a more “direct and intimate” nature of media consumption, and that with the iPad “it’s like some intermediate thing has been removed and stripped away.”

Spectacipation. You heard it here first. What the iPad offers is an experience that resides between that of spectator and participant. The perfect example is a well executed magazine on the iPad. Among the early crop of iPad-enabled publications, Wired stands out. First of all, the issue loads in its entirety locally, and is accessible even when you’re not online. You can be lazily flipping through the latest issue much as you would the print version. As you’re reading an article, you can effortlessly listen to a related audio clip or view a video montage with a tap of your finger.

It’s not about the apps.
If you’re a marketer, it’s not iPad apps you should be thinking about; it’s the iPad-enabled magazines and newspapers. With the iPad, and unlike the iPhone, you have a way to fast-track your presence through these publishers. In addition to Wired, other iPad-enabled monthly titles include Men’s Health, Popular Science, Vanity Fair and Time, with many more publishers planning their debut over the next few months.

If you advertise in print, chances are — whether you know it or not — you’re heading to the iPad. Take advantage of the opportunity; instead of merely embedding your 15-second ad, think about the “ideal” experience. Make it entertaining, make it fun, make it unexpected. In short, make it worth the reader’s effort to shift from spectator to participatory mode.

Should the iPad be in your channel mix? Likely, it already is.

The Future of DM: It’s Interactive

Earlier this week, the Direct Marketing Association released a qualitative report on the future of direct marketing, concluding that it will most certainly be interactive.

More on how the report was put together in a moment. Bottom line: Customers will be in control, analytics will rule and digital marketing will increase.

Earlier this week, the Direct Marketing Association released a qualitative report on the future of direct marketing, concluding that it will most certainly be interactive.

More on how the report was put together in a moment. Bottom line: Customers will be in control, analytics will rule and digital marketing will increase.

The DMA asked more than 35 well-respected direct marketing leaders — including copywriting maven and columnist Herschell Gordon Lewis of Lewis Enterprises, Alan Moss of Google, Jeanniey Mullen of Zinio, and Akira Oka of Direct Marketing Japan — their opinions on the future of direct marketing and their industries/segments. The report provides insight into what these leaders think about the short- and long-term future of direct marketing.

Specifically, they were asked the following questions:
* Where do you think direct marketing will be in five years? Ten years?
* How should direct marketers prepare for these changes?
* How will your industry/segment change during this time?
* How is the state of our nation’s economy impacting your industry/segment?
* How do you think the election of Barack Obama will affect the direct marketing community?

The report revealed the following about the future of direct marketing in the next five to 10 years:

Customers will be in control. Technology has given consumers myriad choices, options and resources that let them find what they want and skip over what they don’t. Technology also will continue to advance, opening up great opportunities for both consumers and marketers.

Measurable and accountable marketing will increase. The health of the economy has made marketers think and rethink about where to put each dollar of their marketing budgets, according to the report. As a result, allocations will move away from traditional channels such as catalog and direct mail into digital channels, which are intrinsically more measurable.

Traditional DM will decrease; digital marketing will increase. Environmental pressures, postal rate hikes and the potential for a do-not-mail bill will result in a decrease in both direct mail and catalog volume. Digital has many advantages over traditional DM, such as its ability to track real-time measurements; create more targeted, relevant and personalized messages; and reach new generations of consumers who were born with a mouse in hand.

Many channels, one message. It’s not all bad news for direct mail and catalogs, though. Integration always has been a key component to direct marketing and will only increase in importance as the number of viable channels increases, the report says. There also will be a movement from single channel campaigns to more integrated, multichannel strategies. These campaigns have the same message across multiple channels, allowing marketers to reach more customers, who have more opportunities to respond via the channel of their choice.

While the death of direct mail will not come in 2009 — or any time in the near future — interactive marketing clearly is growing in importance. If you’re not participating in any interactive marketing programs now, it’s time you start. Your future depends on it.