Postal Promotions: Reduce Postage Costs and Improve Response Rates

For several years, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has offered promotions to encourage marketers to integrate mail with new technologies and help increase customer engagement — enabling incentives to see how direct mail can best be deployed in an increasingly mobile and digital nation. The six USPS promotions for 2017 and their promotion periods are:

This week, I’m away on vacation, but blog readers have a special treat — an expert opinion from GrayHair Advisors’ Jody Berenblatt on postal savings in the offing for 2017 calendar year, courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service and its plans for postage promotions. Plan and save! — Chet Dalzell

USPS postal promotions 2017For several years, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has offered promotions to encourage marketers to integrate mail with new technologies and help increase customer engagement — enabling incentives to see how direct mail can best be deployed in an increasingly mobile and digital nation.

The six USPS promotions for 2017 and their promotion periods are:

1. Earned Value Reply Mail Promotion: January – June 2017

The Earned Value Reply Mail Promotion enables the USPS to automate the reply mail accounting process. At $0.05 credit per mail piece, this promotion is the easiest postage credit to earn. To qualify, you must use an Intelligent Mail barcode on the reply device for postage paid by the customer (courtesy reply mail) or postage paid by the business (aka business reply mail).

2. Tactile, Sensory and Interactive Mail Piece Engagement Promotion: February – July 2017

What could make mail irresistible? The tactile, sensory and interactive mail piece engagement program encourages marketers to invest in the experiential aspect of mail (textures, scents) to earn a 2 percent postage credit on future Standard mailings. The USPS recently won a ‘Webby’ Award for its own “irresistible” catalog.

3. Emerging and Advanced Technology Promotion: March – August 2017

To connect mail with mobile, the emerging and advanced technology promotion creates an opportunity for marketers to experiment with augmented reality, virtual reality, near-field communications, beacon technology and earn a 2 percent postage credit on both First-Class and Standard Mail.

4. Direct Mail Starter Promotion: May – July 2017

The Direct Mail Starter Promotion is aimed at digital marketers and newbies to advertising mail; earn a 5 percent postage credit on Standard mailings of 10,000 or less.

5. Personalized Color Transpromo Promotion: July – December 2017

The Personalized Color Transpromo Promotion encourages businesses to transform statements with colorful, personalized, targeted marketing to earn a 2 percent credit on First-Class Mail.

6. Mobile Shopping Promotion: August – December 2017

To earn this 2 percent credit for Standard mailings, marketers must create a call to action that allows the mail recipient to take action with his or her mobile phone. Easy.

For the balance of 2016, marketers also can enroll in both the Personalized Color Transpromo and the Mobile Shopping promotion. Simply register before the mailing enters the mail stream in order to qualify for either promotion.   For more information about the promotions and, importantly, program requirements, click here.

These savings are significant — so they are very much worth planning for and participating.

The Power of Focused Direct Mail

Direct mail can be a great way to generate sales for both B-to-B and B-to-C companies — when it’s done the right way. All too often, however, it’s not done right. From overcrowded postcards to too-much-information self-mailers, the vast array of bad direct mail is disappointing. True focus is the key to direct mail success. Here are four key areas to focus on:

focused direct mailDirect mail can be a great way to generate sales for both B-to-B and B-to-C companies when it’s done the right way. All too often, however, it’s not done right. From overcrowded postcards to too-much-information self-mailers, the vast array of bad direct mail is disappointing. Don’t let your next direct mail campaign fall into the bad category. Start your planning now.

Direct mail used to be pretty simple — just send a piece to everyone! However, nowadays it requires much more planning to be effective. Too many times we see direct mail pieces that have scattered messaging — that’s just a confusing piece is trash. Don’t waste your money on trash!

True focus is the key to direct mail success. Here are four key areas to focus on:

1. Targeted

Your product or service is not right for everyone. Don’t waste your money sending to people who will not respond. Take the time to find the right people for each campaign. You will not only save money, but decrease the frustration level of people who didn’t want your offer.

2. Personalized

Start by identifying the key pain points of your customers and prospects, then design your offers to address those points in order to increase responses. When you can solve a problem for them with your product or service, your offer has more value to the recipients. It becomes a requirement for them to respond to you.

3. Message/Offer

You must be clear and concise with your message/offer. Start by writing out everything you want to say. Then pick only the most important thing. Build your text around that one thing with the use of bullet points to highlight only the key information. Then use bold to draw attention to important words the reader needs to know. Your offer needs to be easy to understand, short and appealing. Usually the message/offer planning will take the most time — it’s very important that you build that time into your schedule. You should also enlist the help of someone outside your organization to make sure the messaging is understood the way you intended it to be.

4. Graphics/Images

The best use of graphics and images we’ve seen have been able to convey the message without anyone actually reading the words. This is very hard, and in some cases, impossible. However, your graphics and images must support and enhance your message to be effective. This focused approach will give the reader reassurance that you understand their problem and you can easily solve it. The selection process can take time, so build that into your schedule as well. One pitfall can be when images are able to be interpreted in more than one way. Make sure to consider any unintended references before you use an image.

When you create a direct mail piece where all 4 elements above are synchronized, that is powerfully focused direct mail. It draws attention and elicits a response. So many times we see poor planning lead to bad direct mail — don’t fall into that trap. It is better to have your campaign mailed later than you wanted with your focused message, rather than to mail a bad mail piece on time.

One more important consideration when designing your mail pieces is postal regulations. Postage is your biggest expense, so making sure a design meets the USPS requirements before you print will ensure that you do not pay any more postage than is necessary. Penalties can be two or more times your original postage amount and in some cases you may not be able to mail at all. Your mail service provider can help you spot any problems that may cost you more money.

Direct Mail: Us vs. Them

So many times, poorly executed direct mail campaigns come down to how we wanted to send it vs. how recipients wanted to receive it. This can and should be avoided. Direct mail is not a one size fits all. Let me repeat that, direct mail is not a one-size-fits-all!

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 11.10.18 AMSo many times, poorly executed direct mail campaigns come down to how we wanted to send it vs. how recipients wanted to receive it. This can and should be avoided. Just because we went to a seminar on the latest direct mail trends that taught us all the things we need to be doing doesn’t mean that they will go over well with our audience. Direct mail is not a one size fits all. Let me repeat that, direct mail is not a one-size-fits-all!

In order to get a good response from your direct mail, you need to know what your recipients want. Yes, this means that you will have several different messages, offers, designs, etc. in your campaign. That’s a good thing. This can seem a bit daunting, when faced with several segments, to figure out what to do for each one. However, if you take this one step at a time it’s really not that difficult.

3 Step Plan:

1. Who

Who are the people you want to send your direct mail to? What are their preferences? What have they bought from you in the past or what have they shown an interest in?

2. What

Based on the above information, what offer will they most likely respond to?

3. How

Based on both who and what above, how can you design a direct mail piece that will allow you to be consistent with your brand and drop in the variable information for the offer and message?

For your direct mail to work, it needs to be all about them (recipients) not us (senders). Yes, we create the pieces, but they aren’t meant to be shoved down someone’s throat — they are meant to entice them to purchase. Keep in mind that sending a direct mail piece that has multiple offers on it so that you can send the same piece to your entire list is a bad idea. Here are a few tips on how to be more “them” than “us”:

Offer — Limit the number of offers on your direct mail piece. If you are targeting correctly, you only need one offer. The more choices you offer, the harder it is for the recipient to make a decision and, therefore, they will choose nothing.

Images — Use eye catching images that enhance your message. People like to look at images. These can be variable based on the recipient.

Simple — Keep your copy simple. Use a bullet list of key points. The copy should be about what is in it for them.

Tell — You need to tell the recipient what to do. How can they respond?

Expectations — Set expectations for the recipients — What will they get when they respond? How soon should they expect it?

Direct mail should court recipient attention and drive response. In order to do that, you need to see your product or service from their perspective. Why do they need it? What is so great? When your mail piece is well targeted and your message resonates, it’s desired direct mail. When you create mail pieces that aren’t about them and aren’t targeted, you create junk mail and it will be tossed into the trash. Have you received mail pieces recently that were poorly thought out, not something you would want or need? What could they have done to make the pieces more about you?

Exigency Is Gone, But Where Is Reform?

The bone chill of Sunday, April 10 in the Northeast may have reminded us how winter just wants to hold on, long after its calendar passing. However on that same day, a 4.3 percent exigency on U.S. postal rates was lifted — it felt warm for a moment, but deceptively so.

USPS default imageThe bone chill of Sunday, April 10 in the Northeast may have reminded us how winter just wants to hold on, long after its calendar passing. However on that same day, a 4.3 percent exigency on U.S. postal rates was lifted — it felt warm for a moment, but deceptively so.

While many mail and marketing groups have lauded exigency’s end, DMA among them, the one reality remains: Postal finances are a mess, and our very inactive Congress — not for lack of some leaders trying — has the keys to fix it.

Bouncing from crisis to crisis and kicking the can seems to be the Congressional leadership position of the past “count-them” 10 years. And none of the crises — defaults, exigencies and otherwise — seems to muster any amount of attention, unless of course, a local postal facility is slated to close. It’s really a travesty that microeconomics (and micromanaging), not macroeconomics, is the only motivation that some elected officials (not all) appear to have on this Constitution protection of mail delivery.

Will Congress act on our continued cry for postal reform? Probably not in an election year.

Yet Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) is pushing for his iPOST bill, with some GOP support, with the marketer-disliked exigency likely to be reinserted alongside very much needed reforms (healthcare, plus). Hence, a compromise that perhaps — just perhaps — we can move ahead with one tweak or another? I’ll let our trade associations handle the maneuvering and wisdom of the bill alongside other USPS stakeholders.

Winter hanging on? Maybe waiting for postal reform was just too bitterly cold for the models of the Victoria’s Secret catalog.

Why Your Postage Rates Could Go Down in April

Since postage is the most expensive part of direct mail marketing, any postal rates changes are big news. Usually, the USPS announces a pending rate increase. On Feb. 25 the USPS filed a notice with the Postal Regulatory Commission that would reduce postage rates.

direct mail postalSince postage is the most expensive part of direct mail marketing, any postal rates changes are big news. Usually, the USPS announces a pending rate increase. On Feb. 25 the USPS filed a notice with the Postal Regulatory Commission that would reduce postage rates. Within the filing, the USPS stated:

“… It intends to remove the exigent surcharge on Sunday, April 10, absent action by Congress or the courts to make the existing exigent surcharge for Market Dominant Products and Services part of the rate base or to otherwise extend it.”

In this filing, the USPS also noted that while it “… recognizes that daily revenue fluctuations could result in a one or two day variation on when the revenue limitation is reached, our current estimate is that the revenue limitation will be reached some time on Saturday, April 9, 2016.”

The end of the 4.3 percent increase surcharge has been anticipated for some time, though the rate of collection left the actual date hard to determine. The reason there was a 4.3 percent increase was because the post office was granted an exigency rate case that allowed it to try to recoup some of the funds lost during the great recession. The court ruled that the rates could not be permanent and must be rolled back after the allotted amount was reached. That means that on April 10 we will see an overall decrease in postage by 4.3 percent.

The post office has been hoping for either legislation or court action to allow the higher rates in order to help offset the losses the post office has suffered for the past several years. The Postal Service worries how it will replace the 4.3 percent of revenue that’s been essential to keeping it in the black for the past two years. These rates have been in place since January 26, 2014, so it will be good for marketing budgets to have more money for the rest of 2016.

So let’s take a look at what some of the most common new postage rates will be:

  • First class single piece letter = $0.47
  • First class single piece postcard = $0.34
  • First class single piece flat = $0.94
  • Presorted automation first class letter mixed rate = $0.419
  • Presorted automation first class postcard mixed rate = $0.272
  • Presorted automation first class flat mixed rate = $0.75
  • Presorted automation standard letter mixed rate = $0.291
  • Presorted automation standard flat mixed rate = $0.539
  • Presorted automation nonprofit letter mixed rate = $0.176
  • Presorted automation nonprofit flat mixed rate = $0.40

As you can see, these amounts will add up over time to marketer’s postage savings. This means you may be able to mail more pieces or add additional design elements that would not have been affordable under the current postage rates. There is still a chance that action could be taken by either the courts or Congress to change the rates, but as of now, it does appear that we will have a postage reduction starting on April 10. What will you do with your postage savings?

Do the Unexpected in Direct Mail: The Opposite

Marketers often ask me if there any new tactics or creative approaches in their specific industry’s direct mail or email. That’s a tough one to answer, even with what I know about each sector. So, I sometimes recommend that they carefully evaluate what their competition does, and then do the opposite.

Marketers often ask me if there any new tactics or creative approaches in their specific industry’s direct mail or email. That’s a tough one to answer, even with what I know about each sector. So, I sometimes recommend that they carefully evaluate what their competition does, and then do the opposite.

Let me explain.

If you were a fan of the classic TV series “Seinfeld,” you’ll remember that advice was the premise for an episode called “The Opposite.”

GeoOppPerennial loser George Costanza turns his life around and finds success — at least for a while — by “doing the opposite” of every instinct in his body.

The whole premise of Who’s Mailing What! is to see what others are doing in direct mail and email, then “steal smart.” But you can be just as smart by not following the crowd.

Here’s a great “opposite” design tactic that I’ve seen:

GraphicsAm_01Usually, most conference and seminar marketers promote a show or workshop using self-mailers with lots of grids, blocks upon blocks of copy, pages of bullet-pointed benefits … and that’s pretty much it.

But conventions by definition are where people get together.

A mailing like this from the Printing Association of Florida – for the Graphics of the Americas show — is the opposite of what most other marketers do in that vertical.

This spread has lots of photos that show people learning, buying and selling, and engaging. You know — all of the things you do at an actual trade show or conference. The photos can be a bit unpolished, unposed … because they’re real and authentic.

And here’s a control from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine with a great teaser on the front above an image of a beautiful Dalmatian mix:

PCRM_01“She is suffering … And mailing you a nickel won’t help.”

The letter inside picks up the theme.  “Some groups will mail a nickel to their letters to get your attention … we’d rather use that nickel to save a dog like Queenie.”

It makes a case for support without offering premiums, either on the front end or back end. In other words, it’s the opposite of what many other nonprofits rely on in their direct mail to build membership and drive donor acquisition.

This isn’t all that radical a concept for this vertical. Oxfam America has had an appeal in the mail for over 10 years — one of our Grand Controls — that says the same thing once you get to the letter.

Think through your marketing. Do you really want to your direct mail to be thrown immediately into recycling because it looks and reads just like your competitors? Or can you stand out by being really different?

A Welcome to the 74th Postmaster General and CEO Megan Brennan

Happy President’s Day, and a warm welcome to the new USPS Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer Megan Brennan. In a recent letter to USPS employees, upon her term of service beginning February 1, Brennan shared these statements, which I thought would be noteworthy enough to share here.

Happy President’s Day, and a warm welcome to the new USPS Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer Megan Brennan.

In a recent letter to USPS employees, upon her term of service beginning February 1, Brennan shared these statements, which I thought noteworthy to share here:

  • We will invest in the future of the Postal Service. Investing in our future means creating the best opportunities for long-term growth and profitability.
  • We will speed the pace of innovation. The coming years will see greater focus on innovation, with pilot projects designed to test new delivery offerings, new tools to better meet the digital and mobile expectations of our customers, and new offerings designed for America’s small businesses.
  • We will develop strategies to better engage and empower employees.
  • We will also build the most efficient and productive network to support our growth products.
  • We have made tremendous progress streamlining our operation footprint in recent years—allowing us to keep our products and services affordable.

Updates to the USPS five-year business plan and strategic initiatives are certain to follow.

From a USPS customer perspective, it’s hard to argue about any one of these objectives, and it’s tempting to say she has put emphases exactly where they need to be: innovation, investment, productivity, affordability, engagement and infrastructure.

While Postal Service customers are not called out directly here in this excerpt—all of these goals speak to keeping the Postal Service attractive, accessible and responsive to marketplace needs and realities. The PMG also stated in her letter, “Your commitment to our public service mission and to delivering for our customers defines who we are as an organization and is the bedrock of all of our successes.”

There are certainly challenges ahead: Marketing organizations are well aware of the difficulty of working with a quasi-independent governmental entity that does not have total control over its finances, and taps the business sector unpredictably as a result. The whole rationale of past postal reforms was to instill predictability, manageability, cost controls and some semblance of logic. We can say with certainty that that most recent postal reform law fell short, and created huge liabilities in funding that clearly were not sustainable, nor grounded in logic, which brought on USPS default and financial uncertainty. And I’m not talking about the crown jewel in that law, from mailers’ perspective: the CPI-indexed annual rate cap. But rather Congressional mandates for pre-funding certain civil service and retiree benefits, and we’re still awaiting the collective political will to fix these mandates.

Thankfully, the PMG is inheriting a growing US economy which helps USPS financials, but the fix-its still need to happen on The Hill. Let’s make sure some of this needed emphasis and impetus can find its way into the Postal Service’s working more closely with the business community, engaging USPS employees too, for these legislative changes to happen very soon.

I’d love to hear some positive developments here by the time the PMG addresses the National Postal Forum in May.

A Postal Wish List for 2015 – I Wish I Could Say I Am Thankful

We are amid the Holiday 2014 mailing season, based on my home address catalog count of 33 so far (since Nov. 1). In the batch, I have just one duplicate, a J. Peterman catalog that I don’t mind receiving twice since the copywriting is so entertaining—so I keep one at home, and take one for the road.

We are amid the Holiday 2014 mailing season, based on my home address catalog count of 33 so far (since Nov. 1). In the batch, I have just one duplicate, a J. Peterman catalog that I don’t mind receiving twice since the copywriting is so entertaining—I keep one at home, and take one for the road.

So it’s time to write to the North Pole—and I assume with USPS Network Rationalization my letter to Santa will still get there with plenty of time to make all my postal dreams come true.

Here’s what I’m asking—and feel free to add to my list…

10. Somehow, someway, USPS Standard Mail volume actually increased last year by more than 1 billion pieces. A trend? A repeat performance in 2015 will help.

9. Congress will stay out of the way on postal facility consolidation, correct that, right-sizing the delivery infrastructure. We have 82 more facilities slated to close in 39 states in the USPS plan—yes, we need to monitor performance closely in the face of consolidation, but no more Congressional moratoriums on closures where delivery performance is little or not affected.

8. But we do need Congress and the White House elsewhere. USPS management, labor and marketers—and Republicans and Democrats… Can we find common ground on a postal reform bill in the new Congress? We’re almost there… Let’s support each other to get our Postal Service humming for the 21st Century. Compromise is never easy…

7. E-commerce is booming, and USPS will continue to innovate as a competitive fulfillment provider, teaming up with partners and even competitors where needed to bring U.S. households outstanding customer services. It’s very impressive to see what USPS has been able to achieve here (read, no monopoly).

6. If a magnificent postal reform bill isn’t immediately forthcoming, maybe a budget bill can carry an amendment to permit the Postal Service to manage its own healthcare plan and return pre-funded monies that don’t reflect realistic future trends. USPS customers have overpaid billions into the current healthcare program, yes overpaid, and it’s only serving to fuel year-after-year deficits which is taxing all of us and restricting innovation.

5. Since all hell broke loose after the USPS 2006 rate increase, digital migration and the Great Recession in 2008-2010, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe still managed to generate $15 billion in savings. Leaner is the day, and we have also to thank USPS COO Megan Brennan, the 74th Postmaster General-designate. Her skills and continued leadership are welcomed, and needed—if Congress can enable financial reforms.

4. No CPI rate increase in January 2015—but timing and the pending court decision on exigency makes a rate hike some time later in 2015 more likely. According to Charley Howard at Harte Hanks in October, had a January hike been proposed, it would have been in the 1.5-percent range, but inflation could speed up or slow down as we enter the New Year—and who knows if and when exigency goes away? The uncertainty is tough for marketers to manage—if only the Postal Service would respect CPI indexing as the 2006 legislation intended. Then maybe so many ad dollars wouldn’t go (so quickly) elsewhere. Return to CPI methodology and discipline. Give marketers predictability that’s so sorely still not there.

3. Direct mail advertising: If you’re a brand manager, you’ve got to love it. All those 5000+ ad messages per day—and only a precious few are in the mailbox. You touch it. You read it. You set it aside for later reading. You “process” it. How many branded touches a day get that kind of consideration, particularly in a digital age? Let integrated marketing integrate media wisely, and find the mail “moments” for your brand.

2. Delivery points keep increasing—but USPS productivity increases faster. In fact, USPS achieved record productivity by its own measure in 2013. This is an achievement beyond revenue and volume measures, which collectively go to show what could be achieved if postal, fiscal and operational reforms were allowed to happen.

1. Congress does something that’s postal and productive. I haven’t been too naughty this year—so can Santa make Congress and The White House actually get something done?

Next Thanksgiving, I promise that I’ll be more thankful.

USPS Exigency Becomes a Political Toss – and a Punishing Farce

With the sole exception of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) swinging for the United States Postal Service ratepayer (you and me), January 2014 was a dismal month for those who advocate direct mail in the marketing mix … and in February, I’m definitely looking for some love. Will we find it?

With the sole exception of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) swinging for the United States Postal Service ratepayer (you and me), January 2014 was a dismal month for those who advocate direct mail in the marketing mix … and in February, I’m definitely looking for some love. Will we find it?

First, there was January 26 … the day new postal rates took effect, full-on. “The 6.0 percent postage increase—three times the rate of inflation—will not help the Postal Service shore up its financial base,” said Peggy Hudson, senior vice president, government affairs, Direct Marketing Association, part of a coalition which filed a court appeal to halt the exigency portion of the rate hike, 4.3 percent. “It will simply drive mail from the system, which harms the financial viability of both the Postal Service and its business customers. It is a lose-lose proposition.”

Then, there is an unpalatable compromise brewing in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. (Compromise always deals with some distaste, or else it wouldn’t be a compromise.) On our behalf, Sen. Baldwin was attempting to strip “offensive” Section 301 from the legislation, which would have abandoned the inflation consumer-price-index peg for annual postal rate increases, and replace it with a new CPI+1 percent index—adding potentially 10-percent higher rates over a decade than would happen under existing law.

Last week, one of the primary sponsors of the current postal reform bill—Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)—offered a deal: Essentially, Carper would keep the CPI index mailers crave in place but, in return, the exigency (4.3 percent hike) would be included in the baseline for future annual hikes—thereby removing the 2-year limit on the exigency imposed by the Postal Regulatory Commission in its oversight of the rate hike and making the exigency permanent. Further, the PRC’s oversight role on postal rate changes would be kept intact—something the current language of the bill is attempting to strip. Sen. Baldwin asked for a mark-up delay, no doubt to consider the offer with her constituents.

What a farce: An exigency made permanent? Now that’s a paradox—and an audacious one at that. We can see the Postal Service getting much of the would-be CPI+1 back over the next 10 years, assuming there’s no more crises forcing USPS management, the mailing community or both clamoring for another postal reform bill within 10 years’ time.

Is keeping the CPI index so important to us now that we’ll hold our noses on this compromise? A mark-up on the bill—a Committee vote—has been moved to February 6 As of January 31, DMA is still asking its members to weigh in here to get Section 301 tossed.

There is a disturbing pattern here. The Postal Service is our business partner, for sure—and there’s nearly universal support for that partnership across the board. But if it (USPS management, USPS labor, and the both of them) keeps fighting its customers with higher postal rates, and running to Congress with mock exigencies or new rate-setting formulae that undermine fiscal discipline, then the financial reality of that partnership gets sadder by the day. Lose-lose ignites a dying cycle.

Mailers have suffered through recession. Marketers deal with digital migration. They have had to endure cost-cutting, price-cutting and layoffs to make it to 2014—and they’ve relied on invention to survive and thrive. What they have not been able to do is take their customers for granted, by passing along hardships in higher prices.

“Business-like” USPS policy and operations remain marred in politics—exigency is another sadly perfect example.

Assessing the USPS January Rate Hike – Start the Clock

While we still wait for the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee to move forward with a meaningful postal reform bill (the vote to mark it up has been postponed), the Postal Regulatory Commission provided some very tough news for mailers to swallow just ahead of Christmas Day

While we still wait for the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee to move forward with a meaningful postal reform bill (the vote to mark it up has been postponed), the Postal Regulatory Commission provided some very tough news for mailers to swallow just ahead of Christmas Day.

By a two-to-one decision, the PRC concluded that the United States Postal Service, on its second attempt to do so, did offer enough evidence that the Great Recession (2007-2009) did help generate two years of financial losses to create an “exigency” scenario—and protestations and counter evidence that volume and revenue decreases were created by other means (digital migration, Congressional mandates and such) were not enough by mailer and business groups to prevail and reject the exigency claim. Now mailers will have to suck it up—or go elsewhere with their marketing dollars, come January 25. That is when the annual Consumer Price Index-capped increase plus the exigency increase in postage is slated to take effect. Ouch!

Well, due process and due diligence had its day—a dismal one for mailers—and now a real-life experiment will happen. What will the two-year “exigency” rate hike of 4.3 percent—three times the rate of inflation when added to the already-slated CPI hike—do to marketing mail trends this time around?

When the 2007 postage increase took effect, the results were devastating for flats mailers, who endured an unexpected punishing increase.

“The 2007 rate increase was the real culprit for flats volume declines,” said Hamilton Davison, president and executive director of the American Catalogers Mailers Association, recently. “The recession didn’t help either, but the pullback in volume from catalog mailers, for one, was dramatic. Some of our wounds in growing our own businesses have been self-inflicted. Typically mail order businesses have 40 percent to 70 percent of their total mail volume dedicated to new customer prospecting. After the 2007 rate hike, that was cut to near zero. When you stop prospecting, sooner or later your own house file of customers deteriorates due to attrition. But by that time, a vicious cycle occurs, where there are too few new names to mail. The universe of mailable names has declined, and that is hurting the catalog industry just as the economy has been improving.”

Will such a similar outcome happen now that First-Class and Standard Mailers are facing a total, and unexpected, rate hike of 6% in less than 30 days? Like it or not, the clock starts now and we shall see. For some marketers, I fear, enough is enough. And meaningful postal reform still waits in the wings.