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.

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.

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.



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.

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?


COVID-19’s Effect on the USPS and Direct Mail Marketing

We’ve heard a lot on the news about essential businesses during COVID-19, but one we all count on that is not mentioned much is the USPS. The Postal Service, like many of us, have been greatly impacted by this crisis, and so has direct mail marketing in general.

What strange times we are living in right now as individuals and businesses. In 29 years of working with direct mail, I have never seen anything like this. We’ve heard a lot on the news about essential businesses during COVID-19, but one we all count on that is not mentioned much is the USPS. The Postal Service, like many of us, have been greatly impacted by this crisis, and so has direct mail marketing in general.

First there has been a dramatic drop in marketing mail with numerous events canceled and businesses shuttered, causing a need to send fewer mail pieces. Second, the USPS must maintain facilities and personnel based on CDC guidelines, which can be very difficult in a processing facility. For more details on that, you can read the statement that was issued to address this. And third, the USPS was already having financial troubles before the crisis without congressional action.

To address the drop in marketing mail, Mailers Hub along with several other industry associations have sent a letter to Postmaster General Megan Brennan and Robert Taub, chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) to express concern about marketing mail volumes.

They offered suggestions like a per-piece discount, deferring collections, extending or adding promotions and incentives, and deferring planned price changes for international mail.

As the letter stated, “Now is the time for action from the Postal Service and the PRC to keep businesses using the mail.” While the USPS may understand this, the challenge will be to find a “stimulus” for mailers that is within the limitations of the CPI cap and the rate setting process that the PRC is charged with enforcing. What the USPS may want to do to help mailers and what the law allows them to do may be very different.

So, one would think that when Congress is working on legislation to help businesses and individuals through this crisis that there would be some help for the post office as well. Check out what Leo Raymond, Managing Director of Mailers Hub wrote in the last newsletter issue:

“By voice votes in the Senate on March 26 and the House on March 27, Congress last week passed HR 748, the Middle-Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act of 2019, a $2.2 trillion program to help the nation’s economy and citizens deal with, and recover from the consequences of the ongoing virus-related crisis. Conspicuously missing was any aid for the Postal Service.

Instead, the bill only allowed it to borrow another $10 billion from the Treasury, going even deeper in debt. The final version of the bill was a dark disappointment for many in the mailing industry as well as the postal unions and their allies, who’d hoped Congress would use the occasion to lift some of the Postal Service’s burden of debt – not make it worse.”

From Target Marketing’s sister brand, Printing Impressions, Lisbeth A. Lyons VP, Government and External Affairs of the Printing Industries of America (PIA) shared additional thoughts about the $10 billion line of credit, and what PIA is looking to do in regard to the situation:

“This is a short-term victory as it throws a lifeline to USPS, which is reporting an 18-percent drop in entered mail this week as compared to the same week last year. However, simply extending more credit is not the best solution to what could be an impact to USPS greater than that of lost volume and revenue post-9/11 or post-2008 financial crisis. PIA is redoubling efforts to achieve more structural changes and financial stabilization such as full repeal of the onerous pre-funding of retiree health benefits requirement in the next phase of Congressional response to COVID-19.”

This crisis is going to go on for a while and those of us that send direct mail could use some relief in order to get marketing mail numbers back up. We have seen movement in the B2C mail stream as many people are now stuck at home; well-designed and executed direct mail is something they look forward to getting.

Sending Direct Mail During COVID-19

If you are a B2C marketer, you should take advantage of this situation and provide good quality direct mail offers that your customers can use. On the other hand, the B2B market is a whole other story. With many companies closed and employees working from home, your direct mail may not get to the right person. For now, you should plan to hold your mail pieces until your customers return to the office, and consider other channels that may be more appropriate for reaching your B2B customers.

As we continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic and get closer to reopening the country fully, you can expect marketers to be planning and executing as many relevant marketing campaigns as possible to help get our economy moving again. What has been happening in your area? Do you have any bright spots to share? Let us know in the comments!

Why Marketers Should Incorporate Emerging Technology in Direct Mail

Technology can be a great way to engage your customers and prospects with your direct mail pieces, connecting offline to online marketing efforts. I previously shared the USPS’s 2020 Tactile, Sensory, and Mail promotion, and today want to highlight another promotion that can save marketers using direct mail some money, as well as encourage them to embrace new tech.

Technology can be a great way to engage your customers and prospects with your direct mail pieces, connecting offline to online marketing efforts. I previously shared the USPS’s 2020 Tactile, Sensory, and Mail promotion, and today want to highlight another promotion that can save marketers using direct mail some money, as well as encourage them to embrace new tech.

The 2020 Emerging and Advanced Technology promotion from the USPS runs March 1 through Aug. 31 this year, and encourages mailers to incorporate technologies such as “enhanced” augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, Near Field Communication (NFC), video in print (ViP) featuring shoppable video, integration with voice assistants, and digital into direct mail campaigns. You can create really fun and unique experiences while getting a 2% postage discount for eligible pieces.

For this promotion, you can use presorted first class, standard and nonprofit letters or flats, but please not that you cannot use it for periodicals, bound printed matter, or Media Mail. You must meet automation requirements for letter or flat size pieces.

Since there are quite a number of emerging technologies available for this promotion, let’s take a look at them:

  • Mixed Reality: This combines both augmented and virtual experiences through a combined immersive technology that can include sight, sound, and touch.
  • Virtual Reality (VR): VR is commonly defined as a computer technology that creates replicas of an environment, real or simulated, that includes a user’s physical presence to allow for user interaction. Virtual realities artificially create sensory experiences, which can include sight, touch and hearing.
  • Digital to Direct Mail: This is also known as automated or re-targeted direct mail. It encourages mailers to produce mail pieces that create a greater connection and elicit a higher response from consumers by using dynamically printed, personalized messaging that is automatically triggered based on a digital interaction. Unlike other options in this one starts with digital behavior such as a form filled out on your website that then creates customized mail pieces that get sent to them.
  • Near Field Communication (NFC): NFC technology generally consists of embedding a small chip into a mail piece that can be recognized by a NFC enabled device such as smartphones or tablets. The interaction is initiated by touching the mobile device on the NFC embedded item or by placing the device within close proximity to it. No app or download is needed to launch this technology so it is seamless for your prospects and customers.
  • “Enhanced” Augmented Reality (AR): “Enhanced” AR provides robust features that allow consumers to engage in experiences using the technology. “Enhanced” AR also includes video animation and 3D interactive graphics playing in front of or over physical objects so they appear to be interacting with the physical object. The “enhanced” experience can also use gamification or mobile game play. Think of the popular Pokémon Go game, this can be really fun for people to play around with.
  • Video in Print (ViP): ViP is video advertising that integrated into a printed mail piece. ViP can be integrated into a printed piece in several ways including, but not limited to Integrated video screen within a printed, mail piece, Integrated Video/Picture utilizing translucent paper, Personalized Interactive Video, or Shoppable Video. These are pretty cool, but they can be very expensive so make sure if you use this you are selling high end items that make it worth the investment.
  • Integration With Voice Assistants: Direct mail can be an effective way to educate recipients about the benefits of voice branding and how to interact with voice assistants such as Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Google Home and Nest. This should allow for the purchase of a particular product, provides a business related “tip of the day,” etc. with the assistant.

Each of these technologies gives you a different way to draw your prospects and customers into interactive experiences that not only have a wow factor, but work to generate more business for you and increase your response rates. Of course, be sure to refer to the USPS program document once you’ve thought about what you’re interested in experimenting with, especially to review the specific requirements of each technology. Are you ready to get started?

The Benefits of the USPS 2020 Tactile, Sensory, & Interactive Mail Promotion

Do you want to create awesome direct mail pieces that stand out and get results? Well now you can do that, and save 2% on your postage! The purpose of this promotion is to encourage sensory engagement with physical mail pieces, and it’s my favorite promotion the USPS is running this year.

Do you want to create awesome direct mail pieces that stand out and get results? Well now you can do that, and save 2% on your postage! This USPS promotion runs from Feb. 1, 2020 through July 31, 2020, and all eligible pieces can claim the discount. The purpose of this promotion is to encourage sensory engagement with physical mail pieces, and it’s my favorite promotion the USPS is running this year. Why? Because only direct mail can provide a tactile experience — no other marketing channel can do this.

There are three featured categories in this promotion:

Specialty Inks

Qualifying inks may include but are not limited to:

  • Conductive inks: Inks with a circuit that can be used to activate an electronic device. Users press a “button” to activate lights, sound chips, or other electronic sensors and components.
  • Leuco Dyes/Thermochromics: Heat sensitive dyes or inks change color in variation in temperature.
  • Photochromic: Changes color with UV light exposure.
  • Optically Variable Ink: Contains metallic materials that change appearance when viewed from different angles.
  • Piezochromic: Change appearance under pressure.
  • Hydro chromic: Change appearance when exposed to water or liquids.

Each of these inks are very unique and interactive. They can make your mail piece fun for your customers and prospects.

Specialty Paper

The specialty paper must have one or more treatments such as scent, sound, taste, visual and/or textural. They must be connected to the marketing message on the piece.

  • Scent: Paper infused with scent such as catnip, fresh bread, or bubble gum, and grass.
  • Sound: Paper that incorporates sound chip or speakers.
  • Taste: Paper that incorporates edible components.
  • Visual: Paper that incorporates special effects such as filters, holographic, or lenticular.
  • Textural: Paper that incorporates textural treatments. Paper surfaces may be coated, or made of unique materials or incorporate techniques such as embossing or other surface treatments like sandpaper or soft touch.

I don’t think that using taste on a self-mailer is a good idea, but if you have a message that is best conveyed with taste you can enclose the piece in an envelope to keep it clean. On the other hand, I really love soft touch, I can’t help but to keep petting the mail piece. There are so many coating you can use for a wide range of different experiences.

Interactive Elements

The mail piece must include an experience that engages the recipient and adds dynamic effects in order to benefit from the promotion. Some examples are:

  • Infinite Folds: These fun folds provide a message at each turn of the fold and are usually folded through at least twice as they drive curiosity. Check out an example.
  • 3-Dimensional: These can be really unique and drive interest. As they are not flat pieces of paper but all kinds of things in boxes or tubes. Check out some examples.
  • Pop-ups: These mailers are fun and a little scary. They deliver flat and when you open them the pop up into a form. Check some out examples.

My two favorites from this group are the infinite folds and pop-ups. There are so many ways you can create interactive mail pieces.

You are only able to claim this discount for presorted standard and nonprofit letters and flats First class, presorted first class, bound printed matter, periodicals, and media mail do not qualify. All mail pieces must be submitted via USPS mail to the TSI Promotion Office for review and approval no later than one week prior to the mailing date. You can get all the requirements here.

Are you ready to get started?

Direct Mail Informed Delivery Enhances Your Campaigns

Are you ready to get more out of your direct mail campaigns? Direct mail is a very powerful marketing channel that can be enhanced by adding Informed Delivery.

Are you ready to get more out of your direct mail campaigns? Direct mail is a very powerful marketing channel that can be enhanced by adding Informed Delivery.

What is Informed Delivery? Basically, you provide to your customers and prospects with more touchpoints, more impressions and, therefore, create more impact. The USPS offers a free service to subscribers, which sends an email to them with an image of that day’s mail.

The default images are not in color, because they are scanned on postal equipment. When you participate in an Informed Delivery campaign, you can replace that image with a color image and even add a web link for quick purchasing or information about your product or service.

How Does Informed Delivery Enhance Your Mailing Results?

  • The USPS has a 72.5% email open rate. People will see your ad.
  • It has a 4.92% clickthrough rate on ads. People do click on the ads.
  • It encourages faster response rates, with the easy link.
  • It provides an easy way to have multiple touchpoints with clients and prospects.

Is It Complicated?

No, and that is the best part. Once you design your mail piece, you should design an image for Informed Delivery and also create a ride along ad. Both will then be sent with the landing page information to the post office, along with a mail.dat file so the post office knows who gets the mail and the ads. When the post office scans the mail piece for delivery, it will send the email to your customer or prospect with that day’s mail. Your color image with the ad and web page will be in that email.

How Can You Measure Results?

You will use your normal measuring tools for your direct mail results, plus the added Informed Delivery results. The best way to do this is to create a special landing page for your Informed Delivery ad and coupon code recipients enter at purchase. This will allow you to track how many hits come to the page, as well as how many purchases are made from the Informed Delivery portion. Your responses from the mail piece will go to a different landing page; they can also come in based on other response mechanisms, like phone or email, depending on what you provide.

Why Use Informed Delivery?

In 2019, there is a very good reason to try it out. Why? Because the post office is having a promotion for Informed Delivery. You can save 2% on your postage just for trying it out. The promotion period is Sept. 1 to Nov. 30. Over 14 million people have registered to receive these emails from the post office and that continues to grow daily. Many marketers are looking at new ways to use direct mail and Informed Delivery can help you grow your ROI. Are you ready to get started?

Postal Rates and Internet Sales Tax Present Perfect Storm of Marketing Woes

This week I’m turning the blog over to some old friends at the ACMA. For anyone who uses direct mail, there’s a good chance postage will be going up dramatically soon. Whether you’re aware of that or not, this week’s post will bring you up to speed on the issues and how you can get involved in protecting your postage rates.

Note: This week I’m turning the blog over to some old friends at the American Catalog Mailers Association (ACMA). For anyone who uses direct mail, there’s a good chance postage will be going up dramatically soon. Whether you’re aware of that or not, this week ACMA’s Hamilton Davison and Paul Miller (former editor of our sister magazine “Catalog Success”) will bring you up to speed on the issues and how you can get involved in protecting your postal rates.

A Perfect Storm Headed Our Way

By Hamilton Davison & Paul Miller

Had enough snow-sleet-rain-wind-fire this past winter? Spring and summer could see even far worse storms in Washington, DC, that will affect all remote sellers — catalogers, publishers and e-commerce companies — for decades. Unless a strong industry push back is made, the resulting consequences will undermine your company’s profitability and add new complexity for both you and your customers.

These two major industry issues should have everyone’s attention:

  1. A potentially significant change (not for the better) in how future postal rates are to be set;
  2. The ramifications of a forthcoming Supreme Court ruling on the future of remote/internet sales taxes that could overturn over 50 years of precedent businesses nationwide have relied upon.

Our industry must mobilize to take action to respond to these industry-wide threats! The time to do so is right now. Inattention will be costly. Without a concerted, coordinated response, the outcome for both will be dire.

In each matter, it will remain with Congress to provide a solution. Moving bills through Congress is a challenge even in the best of times, but at this point in our political history, with charges and counter charges, with facts and fiction being obscured, even more effort is necessary. There are 535 different members of the federal legislature. Members of Congress respond best to the people that vote for them. So we need immediate constituent pressure on every member of Congress to let them know an important sector of the economy in their home jurisdiction is at risk.

ACMA is calling on every company with interests in remote selling, including all industry suppliers and other service providers, trade media to get engaged and help mitigate these very real threats facing our industry today. Whether with ACMA or some other trade group, history shows that professional associations are the best means to coordinate an industry response. Moreover, whether you are an AMCA member or not, ACMA will help you get connected to Congress. It is that important!

Let’s now examine these issues, explore where and how we go from here, and what must be done.

Postal Rates Going Up

A big change is in store for the postal rates-making process that may well lead to enormous rate hikes very soon. Here is how it happened:

  • The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, passed in 2006, called for postal rate increases to be capped annually at the consumer price index rate.
  • The system has worked well for most types of mailers since; postage rises only with inflationary pressure, something widely available and understood.
  • But the law called for the USPS’s oversight body (the Postal Regulatory Commission – PRC) to conduct a comprehensive review of the rate-setting system after 10 years.
  • Released this past December, the PRC review determined the price cap system hasn’t quite worked out as well as originally hoped. Medium- and long-term financial stability is allegedly not being achieved. In fact, the PRC proposed a significant change in which catalog postage rates will increase approximately 7% for Marketing Mail Flats and 5% for Carrier Route each year over the next five years. All mail will face significant increases.
  • The following five years, the PRC may elect to continue above-CPI increases or return to a CPI-capped maximum.
  • Assuming a level 2% CPI rate, this amounts to a cumulative 40% increase over the first five years (28% for carrier route) and upwards of 56% over the next decade (42% for carrier route). If inflation rises above 2% annually, total postage increases will be even higher.

The estimated percentage increases listed above primarily apply to mailers of catalogs and periodicals, because portions of these parts the postal system are considered to be “underwater.” Based on questionable data, some claim the Postal Service loses money in delivering such mail. But without question, the reported costs for flat shaped mail have risen rapidly since the purchase of the colossal Flats Sequencing System and now represents an existential threat to catalog and periodical mailers.

The PRC’s December review was termed a “proposal” and requested suggestions for alternatives. More than 100 commenters stepped up; the ACMA submitted four comments — one on its own, and three other joint comments with other industry groups. No time frame for a decision has been released, but the case is expected to be litigated.

Internet Sales Tax

Meanwhile, on April 17 the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) will deliberate for an overturn of its 1992 decision in Quill v. North Dakota, which held that businesses lacking a substantial nexus (or physical presence) in a state cannot be forced to adhere to their sales tax collection and remittance requirements. The case involves South Dakota’s 2017 suit against three online retailers: Wayfair, Newegg and Overstock.