Culture, direct mail, Media, Science, Thank You, USPS

You Are Still On My List

A written card, delivered by mail. Old fashioned, and meaningful.

This morning, CBS Sunday Morning with Jane Pauly featured the story of a father in Valdosta, Georgia who has sent over 20,000 post cards to his kids since 1995. The kids have saved every one, and their bookshelves are packed with volumes of fatherly words to his children.

As a devout postal fan, I was intrigued and pleased that there was a fellow writer who still believed in sending cards and letters.  Indeed a while back I wrote about the beauty of the written thank you note.

It drove me to look at the latest USPS Revenues Pieces and Weights report that measures the postal pulse of the nation. What I found was both disturbing, and a little puzzling.

Direct mail surrendered some market share to the web.

We know that mail volumes have conceded their dominance to email and online transactions. Even direct mail, which is a vibrant, robust medium has also given up share to the web.

But what was revealing about our culture are the declining totals of personal mail for the last three months, from October to December, 2017.

Simply put, we stopped writing.

Year over year, the Q4 volume of “single” letters slipped 5.9%. A blip? No, because single letters had dropped 5.1% the previous Q4 as well.  A single letter is typically a bill payment, a business letter, or a personal letter.  Or perhaps a greeting card.

The Greeting Card Association reports 7 billion cards are produced every year.

Percentages don’t really tell the story though. This past quarter, the single letter volume dropped 313,044,000 pieces.

To put that into terms we understand, I remind you that every Q4 we celebrate Halloween, Remembrance or Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and approximately 75,000,000 birthdays.

The USPS counter selection is not encyclopedic, but it is enough to trigger the impulse.

The Greeting Card Association reports that we purchase over 7 billion greeting cards every year.  And it turns out that the USPS delivered 17.5 billion single letters in 2017.   Maybe the remaining 10.5 billion single letters are just business and bill payments.  So, did we stop sending personal letters, or did we stop paying our bills?

The answer again pops up in the USPS reports.  In 2017, Presort First Class letters, aka, bulk business letters dropped over 5%: 787 million fewer bills and statements going out; fewer checks coming back.

It further develops, according to the USPS 2016 Householder Diary that Americans sent 3.6 billion letters “household to household”.

Conclusion: consumers are doing their business online, receiving and paying their bills electronically.

This is a huge relief to me, because it means that we are still writing personal cards and letters…I think.

For certain, the volume will never drop to zero, because of the persistent efforts of a father in Valdosta who still writes his kids every day.

How often do you?

Thanks for sharing!  If you would like to see the USPS reports for yourself, click here!

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direct mail, Fundraising, Marketing

Beans, Trees, Socks, Calculators: All Into The Funnel

DAV has granted me membership to the Commanders Club.

The fundamental logic of customer acquisition mail is like starting my snowblower this morning. Gas up, pull out the choke, prime the cylinder and yank the cord. After a moment’s belch of smoke, I can turn off the choke, and the machine settles into a nice, steady RPM.

In direct mail, the sales funnel is a similar process: first overwhelm your prospect, at some expense, then convert them to a repeat with a follow up, and then funnel them into a steady revenue stream.

So I have kept track of my personal response funnel with a few regulars.

Arbor Day will reforest my yard, many times over.

Arbor Day
They are looking for a conversion. Last time I wrote, I reported to you that I had giddily responded to their acquisition piece, ordering 10 spruce trees, and 2 lilacs, with the hope of getting a year’s supply of coffee beans. Well, the coffee beans got me, but I didn’t get them. However, I did get a follow-up mailing, profusely thanking me for the spruce and lilac order. In this mailing they furnish a colorful mail order tree catalog, a newsletter, member card and a free red maple tree with my order.
The tree is 3-4 feet high.
I haven’t the heart to explain I have 17 trees on the lot now. I am still wondering where to put the spruces and lilacs.

Paralyzed Vets sees me bagging my groceries at attention.

Paralyzed Veterans of America
This should be a win back. I haven’t responded to them in the last few years, so they are gracing me with a patriotic tote bag. Actually, they have forgotten who I am, or was, and are introducing themselves. This is a gap in their database. The tote is enclosed, shrink-wrapped.

American Legion’s zip strip. A lesson here: it tears best when with, not across the grain of the paper envelope.

American Legion
This is a win back, delivered as a questionnaire. It comes in a large orange flat, 10″ x 13″, opens with a ‘zip strip’ and presents a set of rhetorical opinion questions which are, as designed, hard to say ‘no’ to. I haven’t given to the Legion in a couple of years. The labels they offer as a freemium unfortunately misspell my name.

A modest, business-like presentation from the VFW. The solar calculator works to 7 decimal places.

Veterans of Foreign Wars
This is a conversion kit, and I am flattered that they have already made me a Gold Circle member. I don’t think I quite deserve that. However, they do, and have sent me a 12″ x 14-1/2″ flat containing a monogrammed desktop calculator, pen and notepad. The calculator works, and my traditional test is ‘PI‘, 22/7 = 3.1428571 which goes to the 7th decimal place. With PI, that’s far enough. They optimistically ask our mailman to deliver to our front door. Good luck with that!

DVNA equips my office with everything but a lawyer.

Disabled Veterans National Foundation
This 12″ x 14-1/2″ faux kraft flat is like a postal trunk sale. It is an acquisition piece. Inside I get the motherlode: a pocket calculator in its own wallet–goes to the 7th decimal place– two pens, a monogrammed 15 month calendar, with silver-edged pages, three greeting cards and envelopes, and a check made out to me drawn on the Bank of America for $2.50. I am verklempt.

DAV’s renewal kit bespeaks lower cost. They have me now.

Disabled American Veterans
This is a renewal notice to the DAV’s Commanders Club. A kraft #9 stuffed with a member card, a small note pad, some tastefully designed stickers, a prayer card, and a certificate stating I am an Illinois Silver member. The preferred ‘ask’ is $50. This kit is confidently on cruise control.

Father Flanagan’s “Acknowledgement”: I envision Spencer Tracy suggesting I try a little harder.

Father Flanagan’s Boys Home “Boystown”
This 8-1/2″ x 12″ kit is as thick as a breadboard. It is not an acquisition piece, because I am a repeat donor, so I put it up to their attempts to get a bigger gift from me, like $60. They send along a wall calendar of the cosiest Sam Trimm bird paintings I have ever witnessed, plus a 30-page puzzle book–21 games, answers on the back page–, a pocket calendar, a one-page, at-a-glance calendar, a 16-page daily planner, a Certificate of Acknowledgement–which I don’t want to over analyze, but I think it really means ‘you can do better’– a second 2018 calendar, with a personalized street sign, two sheets of address stickers, and of course, a letter displaying some gift certificates worth $60 that I should fund.

My Aunt Betty would have liked these.

Father Flanagan..Again
I did not respond quickly enough to the kit above, so Father Flanagan sent me a 6 x 9 reminder stuffed with blank greeting cards. I should point out to the folks at Boystown that these cards are pretty close to what my sadly belated great aunt would have mailed upon occasion, rest her soul. They have hearts, flowers, birds, and butterflies. Again, I should not over-think this, but it’s possible Father F believes I am my aunt.

Lakota designed hosiery. We all need socks.

St Joseph’s Indian School
I have difficulty thinking I am not a “renewal” with these folks. But darn it, they are still working me up with a shiny, red-foiled, hard sell on a ‘triple-up’ mailing. An anonymous benefactor will triple my gift. They would like $25 which will balloon to $75. While this is reminiscent of the stock market, up until last Monday, I am even more impressed by the very snazzy pair of socks which they have included for me. Many may have lost their shirt on the Dow Jones this week, but by golly, I have my socks.

I have to return to snow blowing.  My feet are warm.

Thanks for reading!  If you are interested in these organizations, especially their financial efficiency and clarity, you can check them out at Charity Navigator, Give.org or at their website:

Arbor Day, The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign wars, Disabled Veterans National Foundation, Father Flanagan’s, St. Joseph’s Indian School.

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Culture, direct mail, Environment, Government, Marketing

Don’t Leave The Lights On

Got a light?

Just a few days ago we received a handy tool from ComEd, our power supplier. We have a light bulb guide.

ComEd’s 3 steps to lighting your home.

What seems like 10 years back, somebody governmental decided unilaterally that we should do away with those high-energy-consuming incandescent bulbs which we have been using since Edison. No longer would we squint in the warm glow of a 60-watt bulb while reading the newspaper.

This was because someone, probably in Shanghai Xiangshan, thought we were better off screwing mini-helical fluorescent bulbs into our light sockets. Touted as energy-saving devices, the ‘cool light’ replacements would use less electricity, and last 5 times longer. Incandescents all but left the market, unless you looked in an old variety store off a back road.

So we were prodded into changing out all the old bulbs.

The bright idea: mercury infused fluorescence!

Once all the houses in America were transitioned over to the helix models, then the mercury sleuths woke up, and said we could not dispose of the bulbs. Because after all, they do burn out eventually, and to my disappointment, faster than claimed. But who’s going to China to file a complaint?

Terrific!

So now the incandescents have returned, like swallows to Capistrano.

From watts to lumens. At the speed of light.

But at the same time, another Edison protege has risen, to suggest disposing again of all incandescents in favor of LED bulbs.  The light-emitting-diode bulbs are very efficient indeed.  Not only do they use less power, but they are also blindingly brilliant.

ComEd has taken the initiative in nudging the switch along by mailing us a helpful little card.  On one side, it converts incandescent strengths to LED, which is like shrinking a bagel to a Cheerio.

It goes from watts… remember him? ..to lumens, which is like from energy consumed to instead, brightness delivered.

A Canadian bookmark for the 1970s, still in use today.

But before I go any further, I just want you to consider a similar transition from ancient Canadian history.  Back in 1973 the federal government, of course, decided to change from Imperial measure…remember the Queen?… to metric.   This was purportedly to rationalize and expand Canadian exports to the non-U.S. metric world of commerce.

I think the real reason was to hoodwink the car-owning public.  We shifted gas prices from 45 cents a gallon to 15 cents a liter overnight– without a shred of understanding.  To further bamboozle the public, the government then commanded that car fuel efficiency should shift from mpg, miles per gallon to… kilometers per liter?….no wait for it,  liters per 100 kilometers!

What the heck is that?

Lenticular: lighting your home, as Kelvin would like it.

Not un-coincidentally, while this huge shell game was in process, the Feds decided to start a government-owned company called Petrocan to sell us gas for our cars!  They bought up all the Sunoco stations, changed the signs, and raised the prices like great Caesar’s ghost.  We didn’t have a clue.

So back to ComEd, which so far is not a government entity.

Lord Kelvin

The other side of the ComEd lightbulb card is a lenticular lens which shows you what your home will look like using LED lighting.  It’s pretty clever, and a great device for direct mailers to use.  When you wiggle the card, it changes the brightness of the living room pictured on the card.

You have three exposures: DAYLIGHT, SOFT LIGHT and BRIGHT WHITE.  Below each setting a number tells you what the bulb’s color temperature is, in…Kelvin?…remember him?

Of course you do.  Water freezes at 32′ Fahrenheit, or 0′ Celsius, or 273Kelvin.

Anyway, we now have a card to buy the right bulbs, defined by lumens and Kelvins.

The only remaining question, how many civil servants does it take to change a light bulb?

 

Thanks for reading!  Please illuminate your friends by sharing!

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Agriculture, Culture, direct mail, Fundraising, Wildlife

The Forest, The Trees, Or The Beans?

It’s not a secret any more that I enjoy reading direct mail. Not much of a life, you might suggest. Still, it guarantees a walk to the mailbox everyday, and a chat with our favorite USPS mail carrier.

My current discovery revolves around the offer I could not refuse, straight from the Arbor Day Foundation.

These good folks in Nebraska City, Nebraska are on a mission to blanket the country in a thick, variegated quilt of forests.  So when they selected me to represent a small portion of the people in Illinois, I was hard pressed to decline.

Why?

Premiums often trump the original product offer for appeal.

It is a fact that in many successful direct mail offers, it is not the product that gets the sale, but the premiums which come along with good behavior.  Good behavior in this case is responding quickly, and munificently.  In other words, pay up, fast.

The survey is a powerful engagement device, selling all the way.

In return for my promptness, albeit somewhat stingy in retrospect, I might receive Arbor Day’s special rainforest, cool-shade-grown coffee for a year.  Wow!  I am supporting Starbucks right now, but I can be swayed.

It was with this initial buzz on my coffee nodes that I rushed to complete the Arbor Day Tree Survey, carelessly pushing aside any concerns about what would happen next.

The Arbor Day Tree Survey for Illinois is an excellent example of powerful sales rhetoric.

It helps that I am a tree lover.  We live on a third of an acre, and have 17 trees.  I feel rich, and enjoy the annual blooms, the blossoms, the pollen, the seed drops, and the mounds of leaves I rake.

Arbor Day is celebrated nation-wide, thanks to the Foundation’s efforts.

I think the survey deftly gets all the right answers from me.  It lulls me into a positive frame of mind.  I race through the harmless queries.

They ask, ‘have you ever climbed a tree?…when you were a child, did you ever play under or amongst the trees?… did you ever collect leaves, acorns, or pine cones for a school project–or just for fun?’

These questions are softballs, and I hit them all out of the park.  “Yes!  I climbed a tree!  I lived in a tree!…I built a small condominium in a tree!..Yes! I played under a giant Beech as a child!…Yes! I just finished a vast collection of leaves with my grandson!  Yes!  Yes! I did all of that!”

Sophie’s Choice: pick one. But how?

These are soothing thoughts.  For a moment, I slip into a gauzy reminiscence of TV’s defense lawyer Ben Matlock, asking woodsy questions in his unassuming, folksy manner.

But that reverie is smoothly swept aside by a troubling vision of Patrick Jane, the thoughtful, boyish, enigmatic Citroen-driving sleuth in CBS’s TV show, “The Mentalist”.

The questionnaire asks,  ‘Which ONE of the following is the single most important function of trees:    Providing shade?  Providing oxygen? Being a source of beauty?  Absorbing carbon dioxide?  Filtering water? Saving energy by cooling our homes? Providing habitats for birds and animals?’

Like, how to choose?  This is some kind of arboreal Sophie’s Choice, with the bark left off.

The motherlode of premiums: plant your own forest!

Really, the questionnaire does focus the reader to the countless benefits provided by a our forests, here and around the world.  So kudos to Arbor Day for the survey approach.  It segue’s to some opinion questions, and then asks for a donation which opens the gates for premiums.  Big premiums.

Because I have asked for them, I will be receiving 10 Norway Spruce Trees, 2 Fragrant Purple Lilacs, a copy of The Tree Book, and a Rainforest Rescue Calendar.

And the coffee, for a year, I hope.

It turns out that the coffee offer is part of a sweepstakes.  The fine print is found on the inside of the envelope.  500+ words in 10-point sans serif type, arranged in block paragraphs with no indents.  My hopes of those rainforest-cool-shaded coffee beans are evaporating like dew drops on a hot car hood in July.

The 10 x 14 envelope costs extra, but its impact, complete with faux label does the job: it gets opened.

Speaking of envelopes however… I do applaud the package.  It measured 10×14 inches, for no good reason other than to dominate the mail box, and to get my attention.  It was printed to look like brown kraft.  A knockout on the face presents the image of a label, but looking closely I find it is a varnish over the original white stock, masterfully done.  This kit looks impressive, official, and urgent.

The power of data-driven variable imaging: customization.

Inside, there is a personalized letter, and it has a personal note referring to the spruce trees, just right for Libertyville, IL.

Alongside, I find a set of address labels, which are pretty much table stakes in fundraising, but they are optimistically entitled, “Arbor Day Foundation, 2018 Supporter”.  That must be me!  Their 2018 calendar further alerts me to Illinois’ Arbor Day being April 27th.

The mandatory address labels of fundraising, but tastefully designed.

So, I wait.  The trees are coming next spring.  The book and calendar, who knows?  The coffee, fearfully a long shot.  What I do know is that with every delivery, there will be a further prodding and arm-twisting for a gift.

While I am desperately trying to find a place to plant those trees, I’ll give it a thought.

Thanks for reading! If you would like the full appraisal of the Arbor Day Foundation, it is available here, at Charity Navigator.

 

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direct mail, Government, Marketing, Media, Thank You, USPS

Their Appointed Rounds

The United States Postal Service closed out their fiscal year September 30.  Never mind that the rest of the world goes by the annual calendar; the USPS wanted to beat the Christmas rush.

All in, the giant continues to perform well, within the confines of its quasi-government walls.  I wish the rest of the Federal government departments spent as much time looking after their own performance and expenses as does the USPS.

But from the latest Revenues Pieces And Weights report, here are a few glimmers of surprise and excitement.

  1.  It is a $69.6 billion dollar enterprise.  In the Fortune 500 list, it hovers around #37, bigger than Target, and smaller than Procter & Gamble, both good neighbors.  Like both of these companies, the USPS is an indicator of the USA’s pulse rate, though we will admit that it has slipped a bit.
  2. In 2017, the USPS revenues fell $1.8 billion.  We know why.  The Web, social media, email have all disenfranchised much of the USPS core business: first class mail and standard mail.
  3. First class mail continues to fall, $1.9 billion.  Compared to last year, it delivered 2.5 billion fewer pieces of mail, a drop of 4.1%.  Why? Because we receive our invoices, checks and statements electronically.  We pay electronically too.
  4. Standard Mail, now called Marketing Mail, dropped 2.6 billion pieces, about 3.2%.  Why?  Last year was a mail-infused election year.  It was distinguished by huge volumes of mail, from you know who, despite his predilection for Twitter.
  5. Overall, in its market dominant categories, that is, where it holds monopoly rights, revenues fell just over $4.0 billion.
  6. In the open competitive markets, ie., parcels and packages, revenues were UP over $2.2 billion, a 12.5% increase.  Wow! Who knew?

The Web Taketh, And It Giveth

Here’s what I find impressive about the USPS.  Despite the constant nagging of the digital futurists who want to write the Obit for the post office, it continues to hold its own.  In an environment where Internet media are running rampant, the USPS has found a broad new niche: parcel delivery, a $20 billion business.  If anyone should be worried, it will be the brick and mortar retail stores. Ask Sears.  Ask Toys R Us.  Ask Amazon.

American consumers have taken to the Web in all respects, but at day’s end, they need physical product delivery, and the USPS has risen to serving that need.  After all, they were coming by our house anyway.  Their two main competitors are UPS and Fedex, the latter using the postal carrier to make the “last mile” delivery.

Neither Rain, Nor Snow, Nor Gloom of Night…

Postal carriers are the only American entity which visit 157,000,000 addresses every day.  They delivered, all in, 149 billion items in 2017.  They lifted 24 billion pounds, or 12 million tons, of physical product: mail, checks, magazines, parcels and yes, live bees and plants. The USPS has over 500,000 career employees and another 140,000 part-timers.  While this may seem like a wildly aggressive employer, I put it to you that the postal employee actually delivers, a claim many can’t make for other government institutions.

So hats off to the USPS.  It continues to fight the currents, and with astonishingly little help from its political friends, it far surpasses its governmental cousins.

Thanks for reading! If you would like to take a look at the USPS 10-K for 2017, click here!

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direct mail, Economics, Education, Fundraising

What It Takes To Raise A Buck

The Dream Catcher: the ultimate gift.

It may be a function of age, but we receive a fair share of fundraising direct mail. Occasionally we get kits that amaze us for their content, with the underlying question, how can this possibly make money?

St. Joseph’s Indian School uses a donor acquisition package that pushes the boundaries, but based on their frequent use, this kit makes money. But it still amazes.

A personalized lift note accompanies the letter.

The key to powerful direct mail is rolled up in this slogan: List-Offer-Format-Copy. You can figure it out. But a subset of “Format” is fundamental to understanding good design: Size-Cards-Labels-Diecuts-Personalization.

Take a look at St. Joe’s and how they go beyond the formula.

The 9×9-1/2 Flat kit is hard to ignore.

Size
The envelope is 9×9-1/2. No wait, it’s not an envelope. It’s more like a bag, a catch all, and it’s a half inch thick. Not normal! Right away, we are talking a Flat, not a letter. Odds are it weighs more than 3.3 ounces, so no kidding, this is a small trunk in the donor’s mailbox. Despite its bulkiness, it is still machinable, but I’ll bet the USPS would love to be rid of this mini-parcel bouncing through their multi-million dollar sorters. Remember, in direct mail, size counts.

The calendar is one of 8 personalized pieces.

The perfed donor form highlights what your donation will buy.

Cards
Many successful kits provide a card. It’s personalized, perhaps laminated or plasticized, embossed, and maybe delivered in pairs. Very common in retail, insurance, service and association mailings, cards convey belonging and entitlement. While St. Joe’s doesn’t have a card per se, they do include personalized memorabilia like calendar cards, and gift certificates.

27 address stickers, enough for every utensil in the kitchen drawer.

Labels
Do we have enough address labels? Maybe, maybe not. Until you have labeled all your electronic gear, computers, cell phones, 14 golf clubs, CDs, Vinyl, USBs, chargers, staplers, umbrellas, Christmas cards, 3-hole punch and entire library of Clive Cussler books on loan, you aren’t done. And beside labels, anything that is pressure sensitive, like Post-it notes, velcro and magnets counts as an involvement device that draws your reader in a tactile way to your mailing. St. Joe’s goes over the top to provide stickers and labels for the donor, their children and the next door neighbor’s cat.

Mood aubergine: more labels for every occasion.

Die-Cuts
Really a technical obsession for printers and origami artists, the die-cut is a subtle paper carving that uses perforations, kiss-cuts, windows and trimming to create a 3-dimensional or engineered aspect to your kit. The recipient will work those die-cuts intuitively, without thinking, to unfold and self administer a little presentation for their personal viewing. Again die-cuts precipitate movement and finger work, which is involving your reader.

The Post-it note doubles down on the ask.

Personalization
St. Joe’s knows how to attract the eye, and that starts with calling out to the reader repeatedly. 8 times in fact. Envelope, letter, donor form, certificates, address labels, stickers, calendar, lift note…no matter your persuasion, it is hard to casually throw out a piece of paper that has your name on it.

I offer an additional element that may trump the 5 attributes above–

A 24-page calendar with original art makes this kit indispensible.

Indispensibility
Above and beyond the formula I gave you, the appeal of the St. Joe’s piece is that you just can’t throw it out. Why? Because in addition to all of the features, the envelope is packed with gifts, and useful items: three shrunk-wrapped greeting cards, a note pad, a 24-page calendar with art, the stickers or course, and the piece de resistance: the Dream Catcher. Not to mention the 3 penny stamps affixed to the reply envelope. Almost impossible to throw in the bin…just can’t do it. Arrrgh!

So there you have a fully loaded kit.   But can it pay for itself?

The first rule of fundraising: donors don’t come free. So management knows they must develop their donor files, which is what this kit is for.

The note pad’s backer explains the mission and prayer of the Lakota community.

It’s a bit of a guess, but based on a nickel a page, this kit probably cost around $2.50 to print and assemble, plus the Dream Catcher…, maybe $3.00. Postage will be around 50-55 cents, based on a 6.4 ounce kit, automation rate, non profit.  Add in the lists, freight and data processing and it has to be $4.00 a kit.

Wow!  “Who has that kind of money?” fret the accountants, and by the way, a lot of donors, too.

But here’s the thing, because of its impact, its stopping power, this piece could have a 5-8% response rate.  Let’s say 7%.

Three tastefully designed greeting cards, individually wrapped, are an extra push for donation.

Then $4.00/7% = $57.00 cost per response.  And what is the average gift? They are asking between $8-$70.  Again say it’s $30.  So the net cost is $27 to get a new donor.  That donor will have a longstanding, profitable relationship with St. Joe’s and looking at the financial statement, there is about a 10% chance that the donor may make a final bequest in their will to the organization.

Overall, St. Joe’s has a fundraising efficiency of about 31%, according to their financial statement. 31 cents to raise a dollar.

This may seem higher than some of the nation’s largest, more well known non-profits.  But keep in mind that those have strong, pervasive brands, high impact causes like hurricanes and disease, and oodles of corporate in-kind support, too.

Thanks for reading!  Please share!

 

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direct mail, Marketing, USPS

Finally Closing The Mail Gap

Out of town, or at the office, consumers can check their mailbox.

The USPS may be experiencing the continuing shrinkage in mail volumes, especially after the election season spike of 2016. But despite the trend to digital, the folks at L’Enfant Plaza, DC 20590 have come up with a winning service, “Informed Delivery”.

Householders and businesses can receive emails daily reporting what letters have been mailed to them.

You may have thought that Facebook or Instagram are the leading purveyors of new photography– the daily delivery of selfies, restaurant plates, goofy pets and family outings. In fact, it’s the USPS.  It takes approximately 411,000,000 new pictures every day.

The images are emailed, and also displayed on the user’s web portal.

The automated sorting process for letters relies on instantaneous scanning of a bar code, or a ZIP code. In 2016, Americans dropped 150 billion pieces into the USPS mail stream, and the sortation machinery looked at every one of those pieces and took a quick picture of the bar code or ZIP.

Until recently, those images were probably trashed a nano-second later. But then someone, a marketer, an engineer, a postal clerk, thought, “Hey, we took a picture, let’s post it!” Pardon the pun.

Automation machinery scans the incoming letter-sized mail.

Thus, the invention of Informed Delivery.

Every day, we at our household, receive an email from the USPS advising us of letter-sized mail making its way to us. The email includes an individual JPG of each piece, in black and white.

Now, you may feel that this is a weak attempt, a grasping at straws by a struggling old school business attempting to fight the digital tides. To me, it is enlightened genius. In a move that is worthy of a jiu jitsu artist’s praise, the USPS is using the power of digital to elevate its analog medium.

Every day a USPS email sends a photo album of coming mail.

Christmas Comes Early
For people at home, Informed Delivery may eliminate the excitement and anticipation of walking to the mailbox. ‘Kind of like peeking at your Christmas presents under the tree a few days before the event. Still, the service lets you know that a letter, check or invoice you are waiting for is definitely on the way. It also allows you to look at your mailbox, or mail-on-hold while you are out of town. ‘Kind of like scanning your voice mail–and you know you do that.

Many Happy Returns
Direct marketers will love Informed Delivery. Rather than waiting for the physical replies to show up from their latest mailing, they can see the reply envelopes as soon as the consumer drops it back in the mail. Admittedly, marketers can get digital reports now of bar coded reply mail, but Informed Delivery shows which replies, as there may be many outgoing mailings occurring simultaneously.

The USPS harnesses a digital app…who knew??

A Stronger Pitch
Every marketer considers the orchestration of messaging. We want to integrate email, social media and direct mail to complement a retail sales event. Informed Delivery alerts consumers by email of a coming promotion. The front of the envelope is the ideal canvas for the first tease of the event.

Intelligence At HQ
It should be pointed out, that if I have a dashboard of my incoming mail, so does the USPS. While you may worry that the USPS knows what I get by mail, I don’t. But if postal reform ever does get passed, the USPS may be able to offer user privileges to recipients based on the volumes of mail received. After all, if you do receive a lot of mail, you are a likely advocate of mail delivery, and to the USPS, that’s a high-five.

Kudos to the USPS on this latest innovation.  My bet is that as it takes hold, it will be leveraged, much to the benefit of one of America’s oldest and revered institutions.

Thanks for reading and sharing! If you want to see the Informed Delivery package, click on this!

(All pictures shamelessly taken from the USPS email and my personal portal.)

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