direct mail, Economics, Fundraising, Marketing, USPS

The Mysterious Cost To Raise A Dollar

The tiny silver disc leapt from the shelf.

The convolution of three events today raised my antenna that there is a superior organizing force out there that is directing our path as we hurtle through space.

As I was cleaning off our bookshelf, a small battery dropped to the desk. These are the tiny nickel-cadmium dots that we find in cameras and calculators. Not the larger lithium incendiary bombs that we have in our laptops and hover boards.

The calculator that failed to light up.

The battery was all that was left of a calculator I tried to resuscitate a few months ago. When the machine didn’t light up, I undid about 9 tiny screws to retrieve the battery.  As I popped off the back, the entire calculator sprung into a hundred pieces of keys, buttons and circuit board.  Incalculable.   I saved the battery to take into the hardware store for a replacement, just in case the calculator could be reassembled.

The next thing that happened was while emptying out the washing machine, we discovered that I had left my Moleskine diary in my shirt pocket. We retrieved the diary cover, very soggy, and found the rest of its contents spread like a million flakes of oatmeal over all our clothes. So much for keeping notes on paper.

A misadventure, attempting to extract the battery for replacement.

As the morning progressed, Lonny the mailman came by, and stuffed our mailbox with lots of missives from people we don’t know, but asking for money. The largest piece in the delivery was a giant, lumpy, shiny, pebbled envelope from Disabled Veterans National Foundation.

The DVNF package was an exceptional “Flat”: 12″ x 15″.   So huge that all the other mail was folded in with it.

In direct mail, size counts.  So I opened it immediately to find, mirabile dictu––another calculator!  And—- another diary!  Wow.  I am completed.

The Mystery of Fundraising By Mail

After admitting that the USPS may be a supernatural force, most would ponder the imponderable: how does DVNF get away with sending out calculators, books and notepads, and expect to earn any money for their cause?

A “max flat” the 12 x 15 kit is shiny, pebbled and lumpy. It was folded to fit the mailbox.

That, dear reader, is one of the great mysteries of direct mail fundraising, and one that I will unravel for you now.  All you need to know is what the package really costs, response rate and average dollar gift amount.

To calculate the cost, I first took the kit down to the USPS post office for an official weighing.   Ranjit asked with a jaded smile on his face, “Why?  Do you intend to sue them?”

“No.  I want to calculate their postage, and how much this whole thing cost in the mail.”

Ranjit replied, “It’s non-profit, but don’t kid yourself, they are making money.”

I pulled out the new calculator and said, “Look at this!  That’s gotta cost a buck anyway…”

Ranjit smirked, “Nope.  Twenty cents.  About $2 dollars a pound. It’s from China.”  We weighed it: 3.3 ounces.  “That works out to 40 cents, ” I figured.  Ranjit countered, “OK so maybe $1 dollar a pound, that’s 20 cents.”

A new pocket diary, calculator, memo pad and pen, all personalized.

I stared at him as I pondered that number.  At the same time Ranjit extended his arm across the counter to flash a beautiful bejeweled wristwatch, sparkling in buttons, numbers, dials, and a bright yellow face.  “How much do you think this cost?”  He smiled.

“Uh, I don’t know.  Ten bucks?  A nickel?   79 cents?”

“Close.  It cost me $2 dollars.  Made in China. I bought 5 for $10 bucks, each a different color, for every day at work.”

Smitten with this new-found knowledge of international commerce, I bid him a good day and took my 20-cent calculator back to the car.

The whole mail kit, which included the calculator, the notebook, DVNF pen and some letters and envelopes weighed 9.1 ounces.  According to the USPS, this Flat was part of a 3-digit automation scheme, so I estimate the non-profit postage was about $0.59 a piece.

This pocket diary replaced the soggy Moleskine in a nick of time.

The envelope was made in China, as was the notebook.  Without asking, one can only guess that the components all assembled, shipping included, must have cost around $2 dollars.  Add another 50 cents for the 5-way match on name (envelope, calculator, notebook, donor form and notepad) and you have a kit that surely cost over $3 dollars to put in the mail.

And Now, Using The New Calculator:

That’s $3,000/m for you printers out there keeping score.

The donor form offers a $2.50 check as a tempting diversion. But they want $15-$25. Go figure.

When most mail kits ring in around $0.35 cents each, $3 dollars is a hefty challenge.   In their calculations DVNF finds a breakeven point by dividing the total cost of the kit by the average gift amount.   Looking at their donor card, they suggest a gift of $15-$25.  Taking the lower end, their breakeven response is $3/$15 = 20% response.  At the higher end, 12% response.

12% – 20% response is a steep hill.   This particular charity is known for its high fundraising costs.  According to Charity Navigator their fundraising efficiency is $0.71.  That means for every dollar raised, they spent 71 cents.

For this package, that translates to $3/.71 = $4.23 raised for every piece mailed.

If their average gift is $15, then their response rate would be $4.23/$15 = 28.2%.

And at $25, the response is 16.9%.

There’s no way to be certain, and DVNF is unlikely to share their response results.  But the package itself is a donor acquisition kit.  That is, a high pressure sales pitch to get a new donor.   If indeed it did generate a 28.2% response rate, with a gift of $15, the cost per new donor is:  ($4.23-$3.00)/28.2% = $4.36, which is pretty darn good, if not downright incredible.

It also follows that every new donor will be repeatedly contacted for further donations, which over time, leads to a real surplus, destined for program expenses that support the disabled veterans.

 

Thanks for grinding through these numbers with me!  Please note that Disabled Veterans National Foundation should not be confused with Disabled American Veterans.

 

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Culture, direct mail, Marketing

USPS: It’s Worth The Weight

Flipping through old photo albums is a fearsome task. We used to look better. The forces of gravity and time didn’t seem so obvious.

The post office isn’t immune from these effects either, but it is still eye-opening to see how direct mail has aged with some elegance.

Direct mail dropped 22% in the past ten years, but First Class dropped even more: 37%.

I took a moment to compare 2016 USPS results against 2006. If you are a USPS employee, a printer, or a person who lives by the mailbox, read on.  By the way, I converted these to a normal calendar year.

We all associate the USPS with letter mail: invoices, statements, and personal mail. This past year, the USPS delivered 62 billion First Class letters. Ten years ago– 98 billion letters…a 37% drop in personal mail.

On the other hand, direct mail only dropped 23 billion pieces, or 22%.

But here is where direct marketers have managed to carve out a path to serve some 150 million homes and businesses with advertising every day.

Direct mailers have managed to make a respectable living with the USPS by slimming down. While the rest of the world has acknowledged that our bodies are bigger than in the past, direct mail has successfully dropped a few sizes.

To wit: in 2006, the average piece of direct mail weighed 1.86 ounces.  By last year, that had slipped 15% to 1.55 ounces.

Direct Mail has slimmed down in the past decade.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it reveals a lot about the reading public.  Direct mail designers have essentially cut down on paper and ink.

Envelopes are smaller, and contain fewer pieces.  In fact, Flats, which are larger than 6-1/8″ by 11-1/2″, dropped a staggering 51% in the last 10 years, down from 13 billion pieces to 6.3 billion.

The landfill protesters and tree huggers have to be thrilled.  But despite their glee, most direct mail is entirely recyclable, and much of it is made from post consumer waste paper anyway.

The super-sized Flat, large enough to hold a placemat is fading.

The rapid weight loss has provided a financial dividend for the USPS.  In 2006, the revenue per ounce was $0.107.  Ten years later it is $0.139, which is 12 points better than the rate of inflation.

The irony of the slimmed-down direct mail piece is that the USPS charges the same postage for a 1-ounce letter as it does for 3-1/2 ounces.  This would be the same as your favorite airline designing all the seats for a 300-pound row mate.  You know that is not the case, but the USPS is much more generous.

Given that allowance, it would make sense for direct mail designers to plump up their product.  Postage is the highest proportion of the in-mail cost, yet it is not leveraged.  Instead, parsimonious design has cut out the frills and treats that used to adorn productive direct mail.

My trips to the mailbox are disappointing.  It’s all two-dimensional post cards.

New age designers have lost the urge to embellish the kit, forsaking the 3.5 ounce opportunity to “load it up” like these.

What you don’t see anymore are great works of art that pleased and intrigued the reader.

The stuffed envelopes have been flattened.  The labels and stickers are gone.  The samples are gone.  The origami is muted.  Member cards, scrapped.  The shiny foils no longer announce a prize.  The extra letters and testimonials are removed.  The textures are smooth and sterile.  Reply envelopes?  Naah….go to the website.  Brochure?  Website.   Buck slip?  Phifff–what’s a buck slip??

So direct mail has entered its age of demur elegance: slim, sleek and stylistically boring, but somehow pleasing to the agency head who doesn’t absorb sentences longer than a gnat’s breath.

An experienced designer once told me, “you will make more money by adding to a kit than you will by taking away.”  What would he think today?

But let’s give the contemporary designer their kudos.  They have won the war on weight, but they have lost their way on  beauty and bucks.

 

Thanks for reading!  Please share with your direct mail associates.   Just like people who have rediscovered the beauty of vinyl records, there will be a time when “gangbuster” direct mail will return. 

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direct mail, Marketing

The Roots of Customer Loyalty

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A 100-year-old brand backed by its owner.

We all have brand imprints that are part of our core. Coke, Kellogg, General Electric, Disney — these are trusted, bedrock brands we’ve known since birth.  The most valuable brands today would be Apple, Google, Facebook–but not necessarily the most trusted, yet.

Then, there are those brands which court obscurity.  Names like Zenith, Woolworths, IGA, Rexall…all in their time were once powerhouses.

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A conventional envelope kit with 50 inserts, weighing in at only 3.2 ounces… a postal bargain.

So how is it that a company called Haband has 5,000,000 customers?

I wondered this puzzle when I received their mailing last week.  Haband is a mailorder merchandiser founded in 1915 by two gentlemen: M. Habernickel and John Anderson.  They sold ties to bankers in Manhattan.

Talk about product selection! Who wears ties today?

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Clothing and footwear replace the original Haband product line: neck ties for bankers.

From their early beginnings the Haband brand grew to offer general merchandise, mostly, but not limited to, clothing.

Their style choices are not for everyone, and you would be right to suggest that your parents and grand parents would be more likely targets.  Put another way, getting a Haband mailing is like getting an AARP mailing, only much later.

The secret to Haband’s success is the core… the essence of direct mail.  A champion writes a letter to a customer, providing personal assurance about the desirability of a product.

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The letter is central to the offer, and in this case, Duke’s guarantee of satisfaction.

Duke Habernickel is, I am guessing, the son or grandson of the fabled company’s co-founder.

The products in question range from duck boots to space heaters, from fleece pants to “ForeverSharp” razors.  The broad selection is what I might have found in my late parents’ closets when we moved them into more modest and permanent surroundings.

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Free gifts: knife, watch and pen. Suitable for any Haband customer!

But when it comes to direct marketing, what sells, and what doesn’t sell is more than personal taste.  I have learned that my opinion does not count.

This is a platinum rule, maybe even titanium.  Put another way, just because I wouldn’t buy it doesn’t mean that no one else will buy it.

Au contraire!

Haband is successful because it knows its customer very well, and the customer has a reciprocal expectation and trust in Haband.  Thus, Duke Habernickel signs his name to a letter introducing no less than 46 items for purchase, plus another 3 free gift items to sweeten the deal.

The Haband mailing piece is itself unusual in today’s environment.   With so many products you may have expected a catalog.

Instead, it is a low-color, 6 x 10 envelope stuffed with 47 individual sell sheets, plus letter and reply envelope.

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The kit delivers 47 product sell sheets, from shoes to sharpeners.

The two-sided, 4-color sell sheets each contain the entire deal, embroidered with enthusiastic sell copy, and anchored with individual order form.  They are printed on the lightest coated paper stock available.

While you may question the flimsy medium, Haband gets the 47-piece job done in just under 3.3 ounces, thereby capturing the lowest possible postage rate.  By the square inch, each product has a digest-sized page of display.  Pretty smart.

Duke’s letter is verbose, jumbled, effervescent, and personable.  It is traditional, and lacks the slickness of general agency creative.  The copy is laced with 28 “you’s and your’s” in addition to 8 personal references by name.  More significant however are 7 “me’s, I’s and my’s” illustrating Duke Habernickel’s personal investment in the relationship.

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It would be a challenge for many marketers to claim being “your friend”, but that’s what counts for Haband customers.

For some, the effect may be unctuous, but if you are a Haband customer, you are Duke’s customer, and comfortable with it.  The personal touch is expected and welcomed.

The roots of customer loyalty are founded in matching customer expectations, tone and manner.  Whoever, and wherever those 5,000,000 buyers may be, they will not be discounted as strangers at Haband.

 

Thanks for reading! I believe this is the first Haband piece I have ever received.  I must ask serious questions about what demographic group I have now joined.

 

 

 

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direct mail, Marketing

Walgreens Rolls Up Your Sleeve

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This may be the best traffic builder ever.

This week we received a notice from Walgreens (at the corner of happy and healthy). It’s only August, but they are now targeting my left arm for a flu shot.

This is the painless inoculation that fends off the swarms of flu virus planned to put me in bed next February.

What is not painless, and what Walgreens has figured out, is the paperwork. The mailer includes the consent form that normally we fill out at the scene.

The pocket encloses the nefarious consent form we normally fill out beside the ointments display.

The pocket encloses the nefarious consent form we normally fill out beside the ointments display.

Kudos to the marketer at this famed drug chain who saw the chance to streamline the process, save a few minutes, boost traffic, and promote sales all at the same time.

Truly, the flu shot appointment is drudgery. Who wants to sit behind a curtain in a tiny corner getting stabbed? Who wants to fill out a two-sided form on a clip board, standing beside the first aid display?

Walgreens provides the form, by mail. Bring it in, and –poink– you’re ready for the needle. The only question to answer, “Which arm?”

This annual campaign is one of the easiest to master, and I am surprised more drug chains don’t use it. Selecting a list targeted at seniors is easier than falling asleep in front of the TV.

The creation of the package is simple: envelope and form. In this case, the programmers could have stepped up, and matched our street address to the closest Walgreens store, included its address and a map, but they didn’t.

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The consent form is personalized. Walgreens could have included store# and address without much fuss.

They could have also matched our rewards account and popped a little note in the kit to personalize the event, but bedside manners may not be first and foremost in their minds.

Costwise, the investment is 45 cents a piece. With a response rate of 30%, the cost per visit is $1.50 ($0.45/30% = $1.50). Given that most retail traffic builders pull far less response, and usually offer discounts on top of that, this promotion is a winner hands down.

Walgreens gets the flushot revenue from Medicare, plus an in-person visit from a retail customer.

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Surprisingly, the incentive is buried here: a $2,000,000 donation to the U.N., and an important deadline. Shoulda-woulda-coulda!

Passing The Zig Ziglar Test
This is a moment to validate the Walgreens mailer according to the late sales counsellor Zig Ziglar’s test for sales viability.

He posited, quite astutely, that there were five road blocks to making a sale. The Walgreens promotion knocks down each of these objections:

1. No Need– The target list is to 65-year-olds, prime flu victims
2. No Desire– Walgreens streamlines the paperwork, and further offers a donation to the United Nations Foundation for every inoculation
3. No Money– Virtually free: costs are covered by Medicare and most health insurance
4. No Rush– The offer does have a deadline for eligible donations, but Walgreens could have pushed this harder. See the fine print.
5. No Trust– Hey, this Walgreens–America’s favorite drug store!

Overall, with a few tweaks, a great, timely promotion.

I’ll look for the bottom line next February.

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direct mail, Marketing

PCH and The Hard Truth About Pressure Sensitive

Yesterday we bought a sheet of stamps at our post office, and the smiling attendant cautioned me, “Those should only go on envelopes!”

“Sure..like I might put them on the fridge maybe?”

He responded, “Exactly. A lady came in last week complaining she bought set of stamps, and when she couldn’t find them, said they had all ended up on the bathroom mirror.”

Clear evidence of a youngster in the house.

That is the happy truth of stickers. “Pressure sensitive” if you are in the business.   We love to peel them and stick them.

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Stickers!

A few years ago at a “Bring Your Kid To Work” class we took great enjoyment in explaining how direct mail packaging worked. I gave a swarming group of ten-somethings a bunch of fundraising mail.

“Open it up, and look for the stickers, guys!”

While I was fumbling through the kit, I dropped the contents on the floor under the table. Down I went after them. After picking the pieces up, I re-emerged from below to find that every smiling face in the room was covered in address labels and Post-its.

Is there anything more attractive in paper than glue?

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The shiny poly label attracts the eyes, and the fingers, just to touch…

Just for starters, the direct mail kit that succeeds is the one with the best offer, hands down.  The trick is getting you to see, read and adsorb that offer before the envelope hits the can.  Stickers are the slippery slope to cognition in direct mail.

Publishers Clearinghouse masters the technique, and here’s how they have excelled at the game.

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This laminated sheet has two labels which must be peeled and placed on the order form.

Last week we received PCH’s latest deal, a 6 x 10 envelope announcing $5,000 a week for life to a lucky winner.  Can you believe that?

Actually, yes.  A 3% annuity on $6 million will do it, and PCH’s line up of advertisers will support that.

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A stark wake up call: blunt and unapologetic.

The format lessons of PCH are worthy of attention though.  Their outer envelope sports a permanent, shiny poly label alerting a likely agent at the lettershop where to place it.   The label also alerts me that I am on the winner selection list.

I know, I know, me and 10 million of my demographic peers.  But still, we believe what we want to believe and we hear what we want to hear.

The point is, the label adds zero value to the offer, but its glossiness rivets my greed gene.   So I have to give pause for the $5,000 weekly stipend’s impact to sink in on my heretofore ascetic life.

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The official document, suitable for framing.

On the back of the envelope is a long forgotten typeface that graced impact printers thirty years ago.  8-pt. type, sans serif, calling me out.  Two phrases bring a momentary, primal galvanic response to my system: “you have ignored” and “your number will be dropped”.

The former kinda sounds like a warning, a scolding.  The latter, sounds bad, like maybe, I am going to be fired.  Yikes!

About now you may be thinking of PCH’s checkered past and all those dubious sweepstakes hypes they thrust on your grandad.  Let it pass.  That PCH came to heel back in the year 2000, and paid their debt to society.   Chastened, they pay homage to the rules.

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Not as impactful as a biohazard warning label, but reminiscent.

The second point of all that is that the PCH writers know how to wake us up.  Just a couple phrases, and I am motivated.   I open the kit.

Inside is a lot of paper.   Lots of brochures with lots of merchandise, including magazines.   Remember magazines?   Of course you do, and alongside those are some of the most fascinating merchandise items that only last week you saw on cable TV.

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The meat of the matter: this jumble of brochures is the workhorse in the kit.

Point three: there is an uninformed voice out there that believes neatness and brevity is the soul of direct mail design.  This voice belongs to millennials and general ad agency creatives.   Good direct mail that works leans toward messy, and hodge podge.  That’s why it’s called what it’s called.   But it works.

The key working tools in this kit however are just being revealed amid the clutter: a scratch off game, and even better, a bingo game with stickers.

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There was no doubt the bingo would be a winner, but the labels beg to be placed, regardless.

Would you be surprised to learn that the scratch off game turns out to work in your favor?  The numbers revealed all match…YES!!   And the bingo card, well, those numbers come together after nine squares are covered.  WOW!!

You wouldn’t be surprised, because you knew they were going to.   So did I but I patiently stuck them all on the card anyway.  Why?  Remember the bathroom mirror story?

Point four:  where the fingers go, the mind follows.   While the skeptic may say we are too mature to play with stickers, PCH knows that under those layers of our supposed adulthood meanders the brain of a K-1 which just couldn’t leave them alone.  That’s the hard and happy truth.

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The scratch game is a winner. How can we lose?

Digging into the package we retrieve the order form which really looks like the chalk-lined floor of a triple murder.   There are three hash-lined empty boxes waiting for you to supply the appropriate bodies, in this case…..stickers!

These shapes need attention, just like the kid’s patterned quiz, game and color place settings at Boston Pizza.  Digging into the pile of paper I find a laminated piece that includes another label that needs to be popped out and stuck onto the order form.

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The intuitive order form waiting for stickers, dutifully placed by yours truly.

Having completed two of the three boxes, I now go back to the kit to find two small stickers that I need to complete my form.   Flipping through the kit I see that all of the merchandise can be mine if I tear off the coded stamps, and place them on the form.

I go for the 75-foot pocket hose, and a half pound of Lincoln Wheat Pennies.

Point five: good mail order forms are the picture of good mental ergonomics.   There is a feng shui about form design that must be respected.  They are completely intuitive, much in the same vein as a brand new Mac computer which provides zero instructions.   The PCH form is beautifully designed, almost virginal, waiting for completion. It  avoids the messy hodge podge noted above.

(Incidentally, we buried a Mason jar of pennies out behind the bath house at our cottage years ago.   When we sold the cottage we spent a day feverishly digging holes to retrieve the jar but never found it.)

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There’s something for everyone. Admit it: the frying pan is a winner, and you want it.

The rest of the kit is a workhorse, selling its wares, notably the non-stick frying pan you can scramble an egg on with a power saw and not leave a scratch.  I should point out that there is also a letter enclosed, signed by a real person.

The sixth point  that you must recognize is that despite the massive publicity and coverage that preceded this package, PCH is not too big to ignore the value of the letter.  You shouldn’t either.   Letters are in our cultural DNA.  We like to read mail, and we like to be saluted by real, living people, and sometimes your letter is what wins a recipient over.

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The carefully inserted form must display your number. Do NOT mess this up!

After completing the form, the reply envelope awaits, and it too gives the buyer a dexterity test, both with a tear-off flap, as well as a die-cut hole designed to reveal what may be, possibly, remotely, prayerfully, your winning number.   No promises, but it would be foolhardy not to insert your order form in the proper manner.

Finally, the last sticker required brings us back to the beginning.

You will need a stamp.

 

Thanks for reading!   If you think PCH is wasting its time and money with all the paper, games and labels, take note that they run this promotion frequently.    It works.

 

 

 

 

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Culture, direct mail, USPS

Tremors At The Post Office

Spoiler Alert: Numbers That May Surprise You!

The latest USPS report on mail volumes is out, and magically, incredibly, it points up.    The number-laiden Revenue Pieces and Weights report January 1- March 31, 2016 tells us volume for the past quarter was up 1.4%.

Big Business

For many of you, the news is lame. After all, what is an additional 520,183,000 pieces of mail? Actually, it turns out to be 37,414 tons, the equivalent weight of 454 Space Shuttles.  Which again points to the enormity of the US Postal Service.

Critics tend to discount the post office for its supposed obsolescence, but if you hang around a mail sorting facility for a moment, you know this is BIG, massive business.

So I for one am excited that mail volumes grew this past winter.

 

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Direct Mail and First Class Up

The better question may be why are they up?   It turns out that Direct Mail increased 1.9% over the same quarter a year ago, 355,488,000 pieces.   That could be related to political fundraising mail, and a cautious optimism in the economy.

First Class mail increased by 0.8%, 135,253,000 pieces.   An astounding turnaround!  Mind you, that includes all business mail.  When it comes to individually stamped mail, like birthday cards, bill paying and charitable donations, it was down 2%.  There is more intriguing news on this personal category in a moment though.

The big winner is Parcels and Packages which are exploding, correction, booming, sorry, mushrooming 13.2%.   This past quarter the USPS delivered 1,121,723,000 parcels, total weight: over 1 million tons.

The Magazine Subscriber Fails To Renew

What the report also reveals is the continued slide of Periodical volume: magazine counts dropped by 5.6%– 81,070,000 pieces over the three months compared to 2015.   Magazine subscriptions continue their slide.

The eye opener in this display of numbers is how mail looked just five years ago.   In 2011, total mail count for the quarter was over 41 billion pieces.   Since then volumes have dropped 6.7%, about 3 billion pieces.

While this is a generally understandable result of internet and social media, it is worthy of note that direct mail dropped only 3.4%, thus illustrating its successful economics.   By comparison, First Class Mail dropped nearly 13% in the same period.  Magazines, down 22%.

Parcels On The Move

You have to hand it to USPS management for the growth in Parcels.   While the internet may have crushed letter mail volumes, it opened the door for USPS package delivery.

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In 2011, Q2 Parcels totaled 667 million pieces.  This past quarter, USPS delivered 1.1 billion parcels, up a whopping 68% over five years.  And revenues? $3.7 Billion, up 82% from 2011.  The more we buy online, the more the post office delivers.

The significance of Parcels growth is that these numbers represent the USPS position in a competitive market with peers like UPS and Fedex.

Is Internet Migration Finished?

The encouraging story about Stamped Letters is worth a peek.   Personal letter volume cratered in 2008 and 2009 by -17.2%, and in 2010 by another -16.3%.    Since then, like a plane pulling out of a disastrous dive, Stamped Letters have nearly leveled out this past quarter at only a -2% decline.

 

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This leads one to believe that the attrition of postal mail to email and social media has just about finished.

Next month marks the end of another quarter for USPS record keeping. It will be interesting to see how the impact of the recent 1-2 penny decrease in price might improve mail volumes.

The direct marketers will take note, and who knows, maybe someone will pick up their pen and write one or two more letters as well.

Here’s the report for you review.  Enjoy!

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direct mail, Fundraising, Marketing, Media

Battles In The Mailbox

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The Memorial Day rush begins.

There is an ongoing, armed conquest being waged in our mailbox.

Whether it was my donation to a certain political party that flagged my name, or perhaps a popular consumer magazine subscription, the ensuing barrage of fundraising mail from veterans’ associations is non-stop in our mailbox.

Regardless, the creative pitches are stunners, and deserve a closer look.  You are hereby invited to read my mail!

Most of these charities are profiled and rated on Charity Navigator.org, which strips away the emotion to detail actual performance against their stated missions.

Turnkey Office 

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As big as a door mat, and packed, too.

The Disabled Veterans National Foundation takes overwhelming force to a new level with their glossy, Flat-sized embossed package.  Despite the red-stenciled “DO NOT FOLD” our faithful USPS carrier did just that to get it in the mailbox.   It measures 12 x 15, and according to the weigh scales at our grocer’s fish counter, weighs 13.4 ounces.  If that seems heavy to you, perhaps we have been paying too much for our halibut.

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The field ready office with solar powered personalized calculator and stationery.

Inside this doormat-sized kit is a desk pad, calculator, calendar book and ball point pen.  Along with this prefab office kit is a $2.50 check drawn on a Bank of America account.   Surely a mistake, it is signed, dated and made out to me.   In the enclosed letter, the writer, smitten with remorse, asks me to return the check.

Check mailings are iffy because in many cases the marketer needs to have funds held in escrow to honor the checks if, fates forbid, the recipients decide to take the money.

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“Made in China”–The disturbing bug that must be shown.

This kit ain’t cheap.   Postage alone is nearly a dollar, and considering the hand-applied “Philip Brown” label on the calculator, plus its die-cut and tensor-ribboned place mat, the overall cost has to be at least $4-$5 dollars each.

Which may explain why the kit was made in China– not an encouraging signal for U.S Veterans.  I wait to see if they will send me a typewriter next year.

Parade-Ready Flag

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Steel plate reveal: your own desk ready Stars & Stripes.

Wounded Warrior Project also approached us with a package, a 5 x 10 windowed boxlet   displaying a real flag inside.  This Army-green imitation steel-plated ammo box is nearly half an inch thick, so it’s non-automation all the way..40-45 cents to mail.   The flag is intricately folded into a die-cut foam holder that also holds the addressed donor form, a hand-assembled product for sure… which explains again, why it was made in China.   In the mail, $1-$1.50 each.

We’ll talk about cost/response in a minute.

Photo Wallet

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A photo wallet… a hard to discard gift.

Wounded Warrior Project also sent along a separate request which included a 4×6, 20-page photo wallet.   Inside a regular 6 x 9 envelope, this gift actually made immediate sense, and the wallet now holds images of our ridiculously  brilliant, and beautiful grandchildren.  Not being one to take anything for granted, we will reward WWP for the effort.  Still, with postage, in-the-mail cost is 40-50 cents each.

Calling Cards

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Ersatz calling cards stuck in place to get the letter opened.

Help Our Wounded, and Armed Forces Aid Campaign have learned how to affix 3 plastic phone cards to a page.   Technologically, this is pretty cool, if not done by hand.  The cards are stuck on top of each other and appear jumbled through the large glassine window….as if they were thrown in quickly, sealed and run off to catch the 3 o’clock mail.  The impact, especially for the uninitiated such as me, is strong.   Their job is to get the envelope opened, and indeed, the ploy works.   Help Our Wounded, aka Healing American Heroes is not found on Charity Navigator.   My bet is the mailing costs 50-60 cents all-in.

Going For Our Stronger Feminine Side

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A pretty package with writing in mind. This one’s for Gramma.

Disabled American Veterans is the senior classman in veteran’s charities.  Despite that, they have assigned a female status to my record, so I receive kits that reflect more genteel tastes than one might expect.   Putting the gender bias aside, especially in North Carolina, this kit is in keeping with DAV’s efforts to send along quality gifts.

I can’t use any of this one, which is resplendent in lavender-hued Forget Me Nots.   Still, if I was desperate, making a struggling attempt to write to my passed on mother, or to scratch out a hasty last will and testament, I have notepad, and mauve colored, simulated vellum sheets for assigning my debts to chosen in-laws.

The kit is tasteful, if gender specific, and is certainly an eye opener.   DAV also uses real stamps on the reply envelope.  While the accountants may come unhinged at this largesse, DAV’s frequent use of the costly stamps is proof that the presumptuous gesture works in bringing in more donations.

One wonders how many codgers will steam off the stamps, versus cross out DAV’s return address and use the envelope to pay their water bill instead.

All in, this piece must tip the scales at $2.00 in the mail.  But it works.

Subtle and Cautious

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Creative use of stamps–just enough to impress, but maybe a challenge for the USPS accountants.

The USO is the most conservative kit to ask us for a donation, and that is in return for a genuine Stars & Stripes Flag plus good feelings.   I included this under-played kit because of their creative use of postage.

Non-profit letters get a privileged postal rate, somewhere between 8-18 cents depending upon address density and automation compatibility.   USO chose to affix 5-cents worth of stamps to their outer envelope, and to use their postmark (#440) to make up the difference at the counter.

Their reply envelope reveals their cautionary approach to wasting postage money.  Rather than place the full 49 cents on the envelope, like DAV, they are willing to go for 5 cents, but left the Business Reply Mail (bill us) indicia in the corner.

We guess that this itsy-bitsy effort will drive the postal accountants nuts.

In the mail cost: 40 cents, tops.

Drop Another Nickel

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Just when you thought the nickel was yours, they want it back.

Paralyzed Veterans of America is one of several charities which has a conveyor belt from the US Mint to their mail room wherein millions of shiny new nickels are deposited on glossy label stock letters.

Just yesterday we discussed at lunch how many of us keep the nickel, which after all, adds up when everyone is mailing them, March Of Dimes excluded.

PVA’s piece is a max-sized letter, 5 x 11-1/2.   This is a smart move because the postage is the same large or small, so you might as well get the most paper into the package that you can for the same price.  However, nickel-enhanced gold foil labels are heavy, so the rule is to keep below 3.3 ounces or the rate goes through the roof.   $1.25-$1.50 in the mail.

Did You Get Our Card?

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Flowers, fuzzy puppies and kind sentiments… a happy birthday for some one.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars by comparison uses a tiny 3-3/4 x 7-1/2 envelope, aka a “Monarch” to ask the nagging question, “Did your special edition birthday cards arrive?”   Somewhat reminiscent of the neighbor’s kid who knocks on our door to sell Christmas wrap.  We still have six rolls from last year.

Well, yes, the cards did arrive.   I am sorry, but so far I have not found a suitable target for them which are best described as lovely and softly sweet.   My Mom might have liked one, but not from me.   Again, these are estrogen-energized, and if I get my hands on the person who tagged me as female, I am going to scratch their eyes out.

A simple little kit, probably 40-cents in the mail, at most.

How Do They Make Any Money?

As you can see, these kits range in cost from 40 cents to perhaps $5 each all-in.   Can a non-profit actually make a profit from these mailings?  Check the Charity Navigator for details. You will be enlightened.

But realistically, the acquisition of a brand new donor will always be at a loss.  The strategy is to keep that donor giving for a long time afterwards, hopefully with a final bequest of planned gift when they pass on.

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“How the @#$%^%$$ will we ever make this work?”

For the accountancy gene in you however, rest assured that every fundraiser has a donor acquisition cost they won’t exceed.   This is the anchor point in a campaign.  To respect that restriction, a good forecast on the cost of a response is to divide the piece-cost by the expected response rate.

For instance, a piece costs $2.00 in the mail.  This is big money, and the accountants are squirming in their chairs.  But the marketing folks believe the kit will get a 7% response.

$2.00/7% = $28.57 cost per response.

If the charity can show that a new donor at that cost will stick around on average for 5  years and return $150.00 in donations, then that is a reasonable investment.

Meantime…

We are digging in for more incoming mail.   Hopefully without flowers.

Thanks for reading!   We do support our Vets and and respect all that they do.  If you are inclined to donate to a cause, check out their website for a financial report, or visit  Charity Navigator.

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