Why Can’t I Mail It? – Flats

As you know from parts one (postcards), two (self-mailers) and three (booklets) of “Why Can’t I Mail It?,” there are many times a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues, here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign. Finally, let’s look at flats:

As you know from part one (postcards), two (self-mailers) and three (booklets) of “Why Can’t I Mail It?,” there are many times a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues, here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign.

Finally, let’s look at flats:

  1. Flat-sized mail is between 6.126 x 11.51 to 12 x 15. These mailers have fewer restrictions as the equipment they run on at the USPS is very different. They lay flat, mail-panel side up, as they run through. Unlike the letter-size machines that run so they stand up on the edge below the mail panel.
    This means less damage happens to flat-size mail pieces. They also stand out in the mailbox better.
  2. Paper stock must be a minimum of 0.009 thick. The maximum thickness is 3/4 inch for the whole mailer. Usually this is not a problem since many flats are mutli-pages.
    Many people get creative here, since you can go a lot thicker. Just make sure you keep the thickness even throughout the mailer.
  3. No aspect ratio requirement. Since these run laying flat through the equipment, there is no need to adhere to a ratio.
    This gives you more freedom in your size design. If you want a more slender look, you can do it!
  4. Flats are required to have address blocks in the upper half of the short edge. For instance, with an 8.5 x 11 mailer, you would need to address from the top of the piece down only to 5.5, do not address below the 5.5. There is no barcode clear zone for flats. You will need to use an address block that includes the barcode, a 4 x 2 clear area, no varnish, UV coating, text or images. You must also make sure that you have at least a 0.125 clearance for the address block from the edge of the piece and any text or graphics.
    This requirement is not actually for the machines, but for the employees to more easily see the addresses when distributing the mail.
  5. The fold or binding must be to the right of the mail panel. If you are using a poly bag or envelope, this is not necessary.
    The reason they want it to the right is because as they pass through the machines laying down, the lead edge is on the right side.
  6. No tabs are required. In some cases, such as when you are inserting a piece loosely into the mailer, you may decide to use tabs to hold it closed. You may do that if you wish, it is just not a requirement to do so.
    Most people opt to not use tabs even when they have a loose insert, since in most cases they do not fall out.
  7. If you use a poly bag/envelope, the maximum extra space you can have inside the bag from the edge of the piece to the edge of the bag is 0.5. This is very popular now. It allows the recipient to see the creative through the clear material, as if it were just mailed without an envelope and then lets you put loose pieces together like when using a standard envelope.
    You can either address the materials on the inside of the bag or you can label the outside, both are acceptable as long as you are using USPS approved bags.

Your best bet is to design your flat and then send a pdf to your direct mail provider, to have them find any problems with the design. They can help to make sure you are automation compliant and save on postage. As you are going through the process, do not let it stop your creativity. It is the unique and creative pieces that get the recipients attention and increase your ROI. Do not let these regulations limit your design. There are plenty of ways to create self-mailers that standout and get attention! Contact your mail provider for samples and suggestions.

Is Every Door Direct Mail Right for You?

Every Door Direct Mail is a service designed by the USPS to help businesses reach every address in a neighborhood. With a simplified form of addressing that does not require an actual list of addresses, this is meant to make mailing easier and cheaper for individuals at a company

Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) is a service designed by the United States Postal Service (USPS) to help businesses reach every address in a neighborhood. With a simplified form of addressing that does not require an actual list of addresses, this is meant to make mailing easier and cheaper for individuals at a company.

When you mail with EDDM, you only need room for the EDDM indicia, endorsement and the address block (which would say postal customer and the city, state and zip code it is mailing to). All the rest of the area can contain your images and messaging. This leaves you with a lot of room for design. EDDM works best for retailers and service-based businesses in a local area, such as pizza restaurants, small neighborhood stores, dry cleaners, etc.

As with anything, EDDM has some drawbacks as well. One of the big ones is that you cannot personalize the mail. Everyone in a carrier route will get the same piece addressed to postal customer. That means that the imaging and messaging must be more generic in order to appeal to more people. Another drawback is that the size of the piece is larger for this program, so printing costs more and can eat away at any cost savings. Take the time to consider if EDDM is right for you. In many cases you will get a better return on your investment if you use a targeted list.

The following types of mail are allowable as EDDM (Every Door Direct Mail):

Flat: Mail size is between 6.126 x 11.51 to 12 x 15. A minimum of .009 thick and a maximum thickness of 3/4 inch.

Irregular Parcels: Must weigh less than 16 ounces and includes parcels such as:

  • Rolls and tubes up to 26 inches long and merchandise samples not individually addressed.
  • Unwrapped, paper-wrapped or sleeve-wrapped articles that are not letter-size or flat-size
  • Articles enclosed in envelopes that are not letter-size, flat-size or machinable parcels.

Periodicals: Periodicals consist of newspapers, magazines, journals or newsletters. To qualify for Periodicals prices, they must meet the following criteria and the publisher must be authorized.

  • The publication must be published in a serial format (such as volume 1 issue 1, volume 1 issue 2, volume 1 issue 3, etc.).
  • The publication must be published at least four times a year with a specified frequency.
  • The publisher must have a known office of publication. This office should be accessible to the public during business hours for conducting publication business.

Bound Printed Matter: An economical service for sending permanently bound materials, such as catalogs and phonebooks, up to 15 lbs in two to eight days. Sheets must be permanently bound by secure fastenings, such as staples, spiral binding, glue or stitching.

To get started with EDDM, go to this website:

  • Enter your desired ZIP code or codes.
  • Select if you want just residents or businesses, too.
  • Select the carrier routes you are interested in, or select them all.
  • There are also some general demographics for each route that you can choose from if you want to.
  • In order to process the request, you will need to set up an account.
  • Once you process the order, the website will furnish you with all the paperwork you need and the amount the postage will cost

There are two forms of EDDM: commercial (using a mail provider) or retail (you do all the work and take it to the post office). If you are using the retail version, you can only mail 5,000 pieces per ZIP code per day, and your postage rate will be $0.175 each. If you are doing commercial, there is no quantity limit and the postage is $0.157 each. If you need to mail more than 5,000, contact a service provider to help you. If you do not already have a provider you can find one near you here.

Why Can’t I Mail It? – Booklets

As you know from Part One of “Why Can’t I Mail It?” with postcards and Part Two with self-mailers, there are many times that a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues, here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign. Now let’s look at Booklets:

As you know from Part One of “Why Can’t I Mail It?” with postcards and Part Two with self-mailers, there are many times that a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues, here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign.

Now let’s look at Booklets:

  1. Booklet sizes are between 3.5 x 5 to 6 x 10.5. A booklet consists of multiple sheets or pages that are bound by saddle‐stitching, perfect binding, pressed glue or other binding method that creates a nearly uniformly thick mail piece. You also have the option of creating a top flap to fold over onto the opposite side of the mail panel so you can seal it with fugitive glue instead of tab.
    This category way created in 2009 and was driven by the USPS to curb the marketing industries use of smaller catalogs since flat-size catalogs were so much more expensive.
  2. Paper stock must be a minimum weight for the cover of between 40lb to 80lb book depending on the design.
    The USPS found that thinner stock on the covers tore off, and then they were not deliverable because the address is on the cover.
  3. Keep your aspect ratio between 1.3 and 2.5. In order to calculate the aspect ratio, you start by looking at the mail panel, then take the length of the booklet and divide it by the height.
    The USPS says that when pieces are too narrow the machines cannot feed them.
  4. There are two options for addressing a Booklet.
    Barcode in the address block
    : 4×2 clear area, no varnish, UV coating, text, or images for the address block. The block needs to be a minimum 0.5 inches from the right edge and 0.625 inches from bottom edge. The block can be no higher from the bottom of the mailer than 3.5 inches. Lastly, the address must remain at a minimum distance from graphics or text of 0.125 inches.
    Barcode clear zone addressing
    : The barcode clear zone is the bottom 5/8 of the postcard and must be free of all color, text and images. Next the address block must be a minimum 0.5 inches from the right edge and minimum of 0.625 inches from bottom edge. The block can be no higher from the bottom of the mailer than 3.5 inches. Lastly, the address must remain at a minimum distance from graphics or text of 0.125 inches.
    As you know from part one and two, these requirements are meant to keep the address in the OCR (Optical Character Reader) read area of the postal equipment. Honestly, the current equipment has more read area than this, but getting the post office to change rules is like pulling teeth!
  5. Binding requirements allow for two locations on the binding. You may either bind to the right of the mail panel or to the left of the mail panel. This is so that the machines feed the booklets with the least amount of jamming.
  6. Tabbing or Fugitive Glue:
    3 tabs are required
    with a minimum 1 ½ inch diameter and they may not be perforated. If binding is below mail panel, then two tabs are required to the right of the mail panel and 1 tab to the left. If the binding is to the right of the mail panel, then two tabs are required above the mail panel and one tab to the left.
    These are very large tabs—they need to be to hold the booklets closed—but be aware of the size when designing so they do not distract from your overall message.

    For Fugitive glue:
    Continuous glue line along flap or 1-inch glue spots within ¾ inch of right and left edges.
    The fugitive glue on the flap does look much nicer and is easier to open.
  7. Poly bag/envelope: If you use a poly bag or envelope, your mail will have to go at flat postage rates. You cannot use them with booklet letter size mail.
    The USPS tells us that they will not feed through the machines. So, we will have to use them only for flat size mail.

Your best bet is to design your booklet and then send a pdf to your direct mail provider, to have them find any problems with the design. They can help to make sure you are automation-compliant and save on postage.

As you are going through the process, do not let it stop your creativity. It is the unique and creative pieces that get recipients’ attention and increase your ROI. Do not let these regulations limit your design. There are plenty of ways to create self-mailers that standout and get attention! Contact your mail provider for samples and suggestions.

Why Can’t I Mail It? – Self-Mailers

As you know from part one of “Why Can’t I Mail It?” with postcards, there are many times that a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues, here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign. Now let’s look at Self-Mailers

As you know from part one of “Why Can’t I Mail It?” with postcards, there are many times that a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues, here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign.

Now let’s look at Self-Mailers:

  1. Self-Mailer size is 3.5 x 5 to 6 x 10.5, anything larger is not mailable in this category. A self-mailer is a single or multiple unbound sheets of paper that are folded together and sealed to form a letter-size mail piece.
    The USPS created this category in Jan. 2013 to stop jamming and tearing of mail pieces. To us it has been a pain to redesign sizing and folding. Why not just slow the machine down a little? But, alas, that is not the case.
  2. Paper stock must be a minimum of 70lb, as long as the weight is under an ounce. If the weight goes over 1 ounce, the minimum is 80lb. Anything less will need to go in an envelope.
    Our main issue with this one is how the heck will the postal clerks know what kind of paper stock was used? Are they really going to measure them all? We get it that thin equals floppy and floppy equals bad for machines, but it could have been addressed with a thickness of 0.009 or something along the usual guidelines.
  3. Keep your aspect ratio between 1.3 and 2.5. In order to calculate the aspect ratio, you start by looking at the mail panel, then take the length of the self-mailer and divide it by the height.
    We are told that the reason for this rule is machine compatibility, when the mailer is short and long it does not run through the equipment correctly, causing jams and again torn mailers. We don’t want that!
  4. There are two options for addressing a self-mailer.
    • Barcode in the address block: A 4 x 2 clear area, no varnish, UV coating, text or images for the address block. The block needs to be a minimum 0.5 inches from the right edge and 0.625 inches from bottom edge. The block can be no higher from the bottom of the mailer than 3.5 inches. Lastly the address must remain at a minimum distance from graphics or text of 0.125 inches.
    • Barcode clear zone addressing: The barcode clear zone is the bottom 5/8 of the postcard and must be free of all color, text and images. Next the address block must be a minimum 0.5 inches from the right edge and minimum of 0.625 inches from bottom edge. The block can be no higher from the bottom of the mailer than 3.5 inches. Lastly the address must remain at a minimum distance from graphics or text of 0.125 inches.
      These requirements are meant to keep the address in the OCR (Optical Character Reader) read area of the postal equipment. Honestly, the current equipment has more read area than this, but getting the post office to change rules in our favor does not happen!
  5. There are two kinds of folds: horizontal and vertical:
    • Horizontal folds: The final fold is below the mail panel. This can be an 8.5 x 11 half folded, an 11 x 17 half folded and half folded again and so on. If you use the 11 x 17 keep in mind that the first half fold needs to be to the right of the mail panel, the second below it.
    • Vertical folds: The final fold is to the right of the mail panel. Folding requirements are very strict so make sure to adhere to them.
      This rule was created so that mailers would have a fold in the two areas that most often cause machine jamming the bottom and lead edge. These seem a little stringent, but we do want the mailers to arrive looking nice!
  6. Tabbing or fugitive glue closures are required:
    • Tabbing: Up to 1 ounce mailer needs two 1 inch tabs, mailers over 1 ounce need two 1.5 inch tabs and if you are using perforations or inserts it needs two 2 inch tabs.
    • Fugitive gluing: use a continuous glue line of 1/8 inch wide or glue spots of 3/8 inch diameter, three to four spots or elongated glue lines 1/8 inch wide, three to four lines. As an example, on a horizontal fold you will have two tabs above the mail panel or two to the right and one to the left. On a vertical fold you will have one tab above the mail panel and one to the left, or two to the left.
      This one really hurts! With all these tabs and glue, the mailers are really hard to open and in a lot of cases they tear. Not really the presentation we are looking for!
  7. Poly bag/envelope: If you use a poly bag or envelope, your mail will have to go at flat postage rates. You cannot use them with self-mailer letter size mail.
    This is not too onerous, but it would be nice to be able to use the clear envelopes to keep the mailers looking nice and still be able to see them.

Your best bet is to design your self-mailer and then send a pdf to your direct mail provider, to have them find any problems with the design. They can help to make sure you are automation compliant and save on postage. As you are going through the process, do not let it stop your creativity. It is the unique and creative pieces that get the recipients attention and increase your ROI.

Do not let these regulations limit your design. There are plenty of ways to create self-mailers that standout and get attention! Contact your mail provider for samples and suggestions.

Why Can’t I Mail It? – Postcards

What do you mean the post office won’t let me mail it this way? Almost every day we get this question from a client. Since the post office has made mailing very complicated, there are many times that a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign. Let’s start this week, with Postcards

What do you mean the post office won’t let me mail it this way? Almost every day we get this question from a client. Since the post office has made mailing very complicated, there are many times that a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign.

Let’s start this week, with Postcards:

  1. Postcard size is 3.5 x 5 to 4.25 x 6, anything larger is considered to be in the letter category.
    Go figure! The post office saying that a 6 x9 postcard is not really a postcard, but a letter? Who thinks of these rules?
  2. Paper stock must be a minimum of .007 thick, anything less is not mailable unless you put it in an envelope.
    In this case, the rule makes
    sense. When the paper is too thin, the postal machines rip them up. Better to go with a thicker stock that won’t look like someone took a bite out of it before delivery.
  3. Keep your aspect ratio between 1.3 and 2.5. In order to calculate the aspect ratio, you start by looking at the mail panel, then take the length of the postcard and divide it by the height.
    We are told that the reason for this rule is machine compatibility, when the postcard is short and long, it does not run through the equipment correctly, causing jams and again torn postcards. We don’t want that!
  4. There are two options for addressing a postcard:
    • Barcode in the address block—4×2 clear area, no varnish, UV coating, text, or images for the address block. The block needs to be a minimum .5 inches from the right edge and .625 inches from bottom edge. The block can be no higher from the bottom of the mailer than 3.5 inches. Lastly, the address must remain at a minimum distance from graphics or text of .125 inches.
    • Barcode clear zone addressing—the barcode clear zone is the bottom 5/8 of the postcard and must be free of all color, text and images. Next the address block must be a minimum 0.5 inches from the right edge and minimum of 0.625 inches from bottom edge. The block can be no higher from the bottom of the mailer than 3.5 inches. Lastly the address must remain at a minimum distance from graphics or text of .125 inches.
      These requirements are meant to keep the address in the OCR (Optical Character Reader) read area of the postal equipment. Honestly, the current equipment has more read area than this, but getting the post office to change rules in our favor does not happen!

Your best bet is to design your postcard and then send a pdf to your direct mail provider, to have them find any problems with the design. They can help to make sure you are automation compliant and save on postage.

As you are going through the process, do not let it stop your creativity. It is the unique and creative pieces that get the recipients attention and increase your ROI. Do not let these regulations limit your design. There are plenty of ways to create postcards that standout and get attention! Contact your mail provider for samples and suggestions.

Have We Achieved ‘Peak Mail’?

In the energy industry, a couple of years ago, there was active discussion of “peak oil”—the very point where half the world’s known, proven oil reserves had been extracted and put to use, leaving less than half yet to be tapped or discovered.  In the U.S. mail industry, perhaps, too, we’ve reached “peak mail”—except there’s no extraction and no finite supply here: simply the notion that pricing, and changing use and acceptance of mail by consumers and businesses, is driving demand elsewhere, and that we’ve entered an era of post-peak mail in volume.

In the energy industry, a couple of years ago, there was active discussion of “peak oil”—the very point where half the world’s known, proven oil reserves had been extracted and put to use, leaving less than half yet to be tapped or discovered. The thought then was that oil still available would become more dear (read, expensive) because our unrelenting global appetite for the stuff would far outstrip supply.

Of course, conservation, increasing fuel efficiency, and alternate sources of power could mitigate demand in such a way that the pricing effects of past-peak oil could be less severe. What if the world, in fits and starts, simply transformed to an economy that relied on other, less expensive, sources of energy (nuclear, natural gas, hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, wind, biofuels and the like). Perhaps this scenario is happening now.

In the U.S. mail industry, perhaps, too, we’ve reached “peak mail”—except there’s no extraction and no finite supply here: simply the notion that pricing, and changing use and acceptance of mail by consumers and businesses, is driving demand elsewhere, and that we’ve entered an era of post-peak mail in volume.

In 2010, the Boston Consulting Group in its “Projecting U.S. Mail Volumes to 2020” report stated:

The U.S. Postal Service will experience profound declines in its volumes of mail and its net income over the next decade under its current business model, presenting a grave threat to its viability. Massive structural changes are required to avoid this outcome. We forecast U.S. postal volumes to decrease from 177B pieces in 2009 to around 150B pieces in 2020 under business-as-usual assumptions. Notably, volumes will not revisit the high-water-mark of 213B pieces in 2006 – on the contrary, the trajectory for the next 10 years is one of steady decline, which will not reverse even as the current recession abates. Expressing the decline in terms of pieces per delivery point highlights the challenge: we project pieces per household per day to fall from four pieces today to three in 2020 – driven by decreasing volumes delivered to an increasing number of addresses. We also project a rapid mix shift from very lucrative First-Class Mail to less-profitable Standard Mail. The volume decline and the mix shift, coupled with an increasing cost base, will cause profits to experience steep, unrelenting declines. Starting with the 2009 loss of $4B, we expect a steady string of increasing losses, culminating with an approximately $15B loss in 2020 (based on USPS and McKinsey cost forecasts). These declining volumes are unlikely to reverse.

So far—four years, and two years of data—toward 2020, this striking scenario is largely playing out: “USPS: A Decade of Facts and Figures.” (See the chart in the media player at right.)

None of this is to say there is a diminished role for direct mail in a post peak-mail digital age. Quite the contrary, the role of direct mail is simply changing, gaining efficiency in targeting, response and engagement—and learning its space and place in an omnichannel marketing environment. In its various postage promotions for 2014, the USPS is testing and encouraging such innovation and integration.

In a recent presentation to the Direct Marketing Club of New York, Bruce Biegel of The Winterberry Group, saw direct mail spending in 2013 actually grow by 1.2 percent, and is projecting another 1.1 percent uptick this year. (Postage hikes in 2013, and coming in 2014, well exceed both these growth percentages.) “Direct mail should be growing because it works,” Biegel said as he announced his findings and projections. “Digital doesn’t do enough in customer acquisition.” This is encouraging news following years of decline.

Volume, however, is not immune to increases in postage, paper and print costs, and to digital migration, and in this scenario, we are really in a situation where USPS infrastructure must continue to adjust to changing mail composition, shape, class and purpose—while continuing to serve all its stakeholders. First-Class Mail peaked in 2000, and Standard Mail in 2007—and we most likely never will return to such volumes ever again.

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.

Look Who’s Arguing for Higher Postage

It was a busy past week for postal reform followers, as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Oversight Committee convened a hearing on a bipartisan measure to implement various Postal reforms. Perhaps the most contentious part of the Senate’s current bipartisan proposal was the centerpiece of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act: The annual rate cap on postage increases tied to the Consumer Price Index.

Well, it was a busy past week for postal reform followers, as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Oversight Committee convened a hearing on a bipartisan measure to implement various reforms that would enable billions in necessary U.S. Postal Service (USPS) savings. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee already passed a postal reform measure earlier this year—without one vote of support from Democrats. Whatever bipartisan effort the Senate can put forward matters greatly, since votes of majority Democrats are needed in the Senate (and eventually the House) for passage, and also to garner White House support.

Perhaps the most contentious part of the Senate’s current bipartisan proposal, based on comments filed and testimonies given, was not five-day delivery or relief from funding mandates of pre-retirement of health benefits (though both of these have their own list of supporters and detractors), but rather the centerpiece of the now-in-effect 2006 postal reform law (Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act): The annual rate cap on postage increases tied to the Consumer Price Index.

Marketing mailers—USPS customers—insist that such a cap remaining in place.

It is this measure of fiscal discipline that acts as the single most important indicator to mailers that the Postal Service will operate within its means, and mailers will have predictable increases in postage that can be budgeted for with a high degree of certainty.

Uncertainty, on the other hand, is the specter that advertising mailers most fear—and one that channels ad dollars most formidably to other media. The 2007 rate hike (the last rate hike ahead of the 2006 law’s implementation) clearly showed what exorbitant and unexpected increases can do, such as the case of catalogers in that year.

Now we have postal unions (predictably), USPS management and the PMG (less predictably), the USPS Inspector General, and even a Senate Republican (now that’s a surprise) arguing for an emergency rate hike (a “last resort” allowed under the current 2006 law, if and when exigency is proven) or, as the Senate bipartisan bill would allow, the removal of the CPI cap altogether as the USPS looks to $20 billion in overall relief (much of which it has achieved already in its own cost-cutting to date) to balance the books.

Well, I have my own feelings about the negative effects of exigency—which I shared recently in a post. (I’m not an economist here, just a student of history.)

Yet, to do away with the CPI price cap stricture? That would make disappear the crowning achievement of the 2006 law that USPS customers fought so hard for. Getting rid of the cap means exigency, in practice, could be a permanent fixture in postage increases—and mailer flight to digital and other channels will be the “giant sucking sound” as uncertainty reigns again (my apologies to Ross Perot). As we know from the past: USPS management goodwill, Postal Regulatory Commission oversight, and mailers’ testimonies of warning in rate case hearings are not enough to stop punishing and unpredictable rate hikes. A law that keeps cost increases in postage within CPI, however, largely has halted such malaise.

The losses that the Postal Service is experiencing today have to do with Congressional mandates, not nimble efforts of USPS management and workforce to right-size the Postal Service and its infrastructure to USPS mail volume trends.

Mailers: Stay tuned—and be prepared to mobilize.

A Possible USPS ‘Exigent’ Rate Increase – Playing Politics on the Backs of Ratepayers?

There are rumors that the USPS may request another exigent rate increase. Why are we going through this again? Advertisers, marketers and the business community love certainty—and have a strong distaste for uncertainty. When one considers the financial situation of the U.S. Postal Service during the past couple of years, it’s enough to keep mailers at bay in planning their ad budgets, and keep them from devoting much to direct mail in the overall media mix.

There are rumors that the USPS may request another exigent rate increase. Why are we going through this again?

Advertisers, marketers and the business community love certainty—and have a strong distaste for uncertainty. When one considers the financial situation of the U.S. Postal Service during the past couple of years—from uncertain prospects of postal reform legislative efforts, to what any emerging postal reform effort might contain or not contain in cost savings, to short-term financial viability and this past year’s default—it’s enough to keep mailers at bay in planning their ad budgets, and keep them from devoting much to direct mail in the overall media mix.

Tying postage increases to the consumer price index and giving USPS the latitude to implement such increases annually (as is now the law) has helped give the business community certainty about postage costs, so they can plan and budget accordingly.

Allowing an “exigent” or additional postage increase to happen when there are extraordinary circumstances (as is also now the law) was intended as a “last resort” to make Postal Service finances whole. Let’s be honest: An extraordinary circumstance happens when there is an absence of postal reform efforts moving forward, and, possibly, when there is an absence of U.S. economic growth and an exhaustion of wise cost containment initiatives inside the Postal Service. All three of these latter scenarios don’t exist—so why even consider an exigent increase?

It’s a bad idea. First, USPS customers would detest such a rate hike, as they do. It’s an uncertainty.

Recently the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) in its Direct from Washington newsletter reported:

With reason to believe that the United States Postal Service (USPS) Board of Governors may vote on a potential exigency rate increase in early September, the Affordable Mail Alliance (AMA), including the DMA, sent a letter to the Governors voicing their opposition of such an increase. The letter expressed concern about the negative effects that would come with such an increase, especially for the mailing industry and its suppliers. The letter recognized the continued financial struggles that confront USPS, but also stated that an exigent rate increase is not the solution to those struggles. With recent progress toward comprehensive postal reform in Congress, along with steady improvement in the USPS balance sheet, the letter stated that an exigency filing ‘at this point would be premature.’ The letter additionally requested a meeting with the Board to discuss the issues at hand and to ensure that USPS is fully informed before making a decision of such great magnitude.

Second, if the architects of an exigent rate hike think that such a case is what is needed to convince lawmakers that postal finances are indeed a mess, and that a reform law—now in discussion—is desperately needed to fix them, then how dare play politics on the backs of ratepayers? An exigent rate hike is unlikely to move best-case legislation forward (and may even help move a bad bill, from customers’ perspective) and will saddle mailers with even higher costs than budgeted. Thus, there would be more uncertainty and more mail dollars flowing elsewhere in advertising.

As the Affordable Mail Alliance contends, any exigency scenarios are at best premature and, might I add, most likely non-existent. So USPS, please listen to your customers and just don’t go there.

Augmented Reality, Wearable Electronics and the Postal Service’s Future

In my previous blog post, I commented on the United States Postal Service and its announced plans for five-day delivery, discussing the importance of hard-copy communication and a commitment to deliver such communication on a daily basis. In extending this commentary, I claim no nostalgia for daily mail delivery, rather simply recognition that such communication has its unique position as a vehicle for superb brand engagement. The Postal Service is not standing still in the digital age.

In my previous blog post, I commented on the United States Postal Service and its announced plans for five-day delivery, discussing the importance of hard-copy communication and a commitment to deliver such communication on a daily basis. In extending this commentary, I claim no nostalgia for daily mail delivery, rather simply recognition that such communication has its unique position as a vehicle for superb brand engagement.

The Postal Service is not standing still in the digital age.

Last October, when the Postal Service announced its intention to raise rates this past January, it also announced its schedule for postage promotions through 2013. And in the mix is a bevy of technology-driven, multichannel “positioning” of direct mail that leverages mobile and interactive channels.

Discounts
Look at this selected line-up from the USPS promotion calendar:

  • March-April 2013: Mobile Coupon/Click-to-Call
    This promotion seeks to increase the value of direct mail by further highlighting the integration of mail with mobile technology in two specific ways. First, the promotion would encourage mailers to integrate hard-copy coupons in the mail with mobile-optimized platforms for redemption. Second, the promotion will drive consumer awareness, and increased usage, of mail containing mobile barcodes with “click-to-call” functionality.

    Provides a 2-percent discount on the qualifying postage for First-Class Mail and Standard Mail presort or automation letters, postcards and flats sent during the established program period that include a two dimensional mobile barcode inside or on the mailpiece. The barcode must either lead the recipient to a coupon that can be stored on a mobile device, or enable the recipient to connect by telephone to another person or call center via a mobile device.

  • August-September 2013: Emerging Technology
    This promotion is designed to build on the successes of past mobile barcode promotions by promoting awareness of how innovative technology—such as near-field communication, augmented reality and authentication—can be integrated with a direct mail strategy to enhance the value of direct mail.

    Provide a 2-percent discount on the qualifying postage for First-Class Mail and Standard Mail presort or automation letters, postcards, and flats that are sent during the established program period and include print that allows the recipient to engage in one of the following:

    • an augmented reality experience facilitated by a smartphone or computer,
    • authentication of the recipient’s identity, or
    • an experience facilitated via Near Field Communication.

To receive the discount, mailers must comply with the eligibility requirements of the program.

  • November-December 2013: Mobile Buy-it-Now
    This promotion will encourage mailers to adopt and invest in technologies that enhance how consumers interact and engage with mail, and demonstrate how direct mail can be a convenient method for consumers to do their holiday shopping.

    Provides a 2-percent discount on the qualifying postage for First-Class Mail and Standard Mail presort or automation letters, postcards, and flats which include a mobile barcode inside or on the mailpiece that facilitates a mobile optimized shopping experience. To receive the discount, the qualifying mail must be sent during the established program period by mailers that comply with the eligibility requirements of the program

Augmented Reality
Next, in January during the media-frenzy of Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, this Venture Beat post appeared, reporting on a USPS mobile app that uses “augmented reality” (subject of the August-September 2013 promotion) to integrate direct mail promotions with interactive programming on a mobile device and give recipients an enhanced digital experience with the mail piece. In augmented reality, a physical ad and an interactive ad comes together by way of an app, developed by Aurasma, rather than a QR Code. Augmented reality can be applied to any visual cues.

The apps keep coming. Associated Press then reported that Val-Pak, the company that sends blue envelopes stuffed with coupons, also wants consumer households to save money while driving. Valpak has partnered with Roximity, a Denver-based app developer, to bring coupons and deals to drivers of newer-model Fords and Lincolns who use the voice-controlled Sync AppLink connected to their mobile phone. The app allows people to hear about personalized deals from stores, restaurants and other businesses as they drive. The “coupon” appears on the driver’s smartphone and can be redeemed once the car is stopped.

Wearable Electronics
And how can you keep it all connected—the mail, the apps, the augmented reality, the mobile coupons? Why through wearable electronics, of course, article courtesy of The Atlantic Wire. The fashion verdict may be out, but the Postal Service is clearly thinking hard on how to keep mail relevant in an increasingly digital—and mobile—age.

I still maintain that the six or seven direct mail pieces I receive a day are precious real estate. They represent a tiny portion of the thousands of advertisements and brand “touches” I’m exposed to each and every day. Yet this is advertising that is largely targeted, and one with which I have a tactile experience—reading, responding, recycling as I deem appropriate. This is a powerful consideration, one that I certainly pay closer attention to. Will I be running to the app store to integrate this experience with my smartphone? Not anytime soon, but a hoodie for my iPod, ThinkPad and Samsung to tote and plug into would be nice.