Culture, direct mail, Government, Marketing, Media, USPS

Somehow, The Mail Still Goes Through

Since we last looked, in August, the USPS has broken through another quarter, and published its latest report on Revenues, Pieces and Weights. For you marketers and mailers, here are some stats, and following that, another look at the USPS’s ironic, weird situation.

The good news: direct mail was up by 337,627,000 pieces, a 1.8% increase over Q4 a year ago.  The surge was due to the mid-term election mail, and if you are counting, in the last three months it delivered one additional piece of mail to every addressable soul living in the country.

The Princess Diamond..lost?

The bad news: full year direct mail was down 1.4%, or missing by 1,066,486,000 pieces.  In fact, the shortfall totaled 115,925 tons of mail.  That’s the equivalent of losing the Princess Cruise Lines’ Diamond, which by the way carries 2,760 passengers.  Imagine if it had gone missing.

The bright spot on the USPS horizon however is the growth of parcel delivery.  Package service mail and parcel delivery revenues are up 12% for the year, a happy indication of the robust growth of online ordering.

“Just leave it in between the doors.”

But just when you are feeling that the USPS has a rosy future in parcel delivery, be warned that companies like Amazon, Walmart and Target, the post office’s largest three customers, are now researching ways to do their own “last mile” deliveries.  Watch out, a robot may drop through your roof sometime soon.

Indeed, the parcel delivery business has its own costs, not the least of which are fuel, trucks, planes and drivers.  Did you know that there is a shortage of truck drivers?  USPS transportation costs in the past year were up 8.6% , or by $623,000,000.

Overall, the USPS reported nearly $71 billion in revenues from operations, placing it just behind Target (#39 on the Fortune 500 with $71.8B) as a business enterprise.  As the media enthusiastically reports, the post office missed its bottom line by nearly $4 billion, half of which is owing to pensions and health benefits accruals.

Which is a major source of consternation at the USPS.  Indeed much of the company’s 10K discusses the burdens of pre-funding according to federal government department rules, much different than the private sector.  As a result, it takes the expense on the books, keeps the cash, and adds it to its liabilities.  To date, the USPS must pre-fund $67 billion to employees’ and retirees’ health and pension benefit funds.

For your information, there are 497,000 career employees and 600,000 retirees to provide for. The USPS is the #3 employer in the United States, right behind Amazon, USPS #1 customer, which had 589,000 on the payroll.  The country’s top employer: Walmart, #2 USPS customer, with 2,300,000.

The bigger irony of the USPS is that it is a business, run by business people, but by government rules.  By law, it cannot make changes in products, pricing or service without federal approval.  Its wages, health and pension obligations are modeled on federal department standards.   And isn’t it rich then, that its Board of Governors is subject to Senate approval, and has been short four governors since 2014, the last time the Senate voted to approve them.  It cannot raise a quorum.

In return for federal oversight, it is granted monopoly rights to make door-to-door delivery of mail.  Only recently has its parcel service entered the competitive arena, where it is growing nicely.

Remarkably, despite the USPS financial shortfall of $4 billion, it receives no tax dollars.  Compare that to 18 Federal departments which are entirely tax-funded.  In terms of tax-funded budget, the USPS’s closest federal cousin would be the EPA with a budget of $5.7 billion….nowhere near the Departments of Education $68B, Energy $28B, Homeland Security $44B or Health & Human Services $65B.

Compared to these budgeted costs, it is distressing to see the public criticism the post office endures.    Fortunately, the White House has taken initiative to turn the situation around.

Still, the business continues to grow and manage.  Last year it added 1.2 million new addresses to its rounds, and processed 37 million address changes. It delivered, and picked up 148 billion pieces of mail, six days a week. All in, it drives and walks by 157 million addresses every day.

At a supposed cost of $4 billion, that’s not bad!

 

PS. Another sign of change in our mailing practices, is the diminishing size of the package.  The “missing” 1,066,486,000 pieces of direct mail had an average weight of 3.47 ounces.  By comparison, what did get mailed, in 2018 and 2017, only weighed 1.52 and 1.55 ounces respectively.  Could the loss all be catalog mail?

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Culture, direct mail, Fundraising, Marketing

It’s All In The Bag

A max-sized lumpy day-glo envelope from Disabled Veterans National Foundation

October comes around, and the non profits are making their first of several strong pitches for another discretionary dollar donation. I find my mailbox full, and refreshingly, with some new twists.

Kudos to the team at St. Joseph’s Indian School who have brought in some new creative to overlay their basic control kit.

St Joe’s gift vouchers go full color.

The Dream Catcher is the most unique gift of all.

As always, the Dream Catcher is a unique keeper. I have several, which make their way to the grandchildren. But the kits also deliver more colorful coupons. We’ll see if they repeat…or does the sterile, sober-looking appeal still trump happy colors?

As yet, St Joseph’s is not twigging to my male gender: I am getting stunningly beautiful foil labels with flowers and butterflies. I can’t use these, not even on my golf clubs.

The Post-It Note goes pointy for more attention.

Another St. Joseph first for me: a pointy Post-It note. It’s a little different, and catches my eye.

Certificates, suitable for framing deliver a message.

Plus, I have received a colorful, feather-imaged gold foil, embossed certificate of appreciation, on laid stock, no less!   Veterans of Foreign Wars sent me a similar recognition.

These certificates really are quite classy, as ‘thank you’s go. I am not going to frame them, but that doesn’t mean that someone somewhere else won’t frame theirs.

VFW targets the CD-player crowd with Christmas carols.

VFW also sent along a CD of Christmas carols! This may seem early to you, but actually is just in the nick of time: our new car no longer has a CD drive, but hey, it’s the thought that counts. I do have a cassette player in the basement, a.k.a., Santa’s Workshop.

Father Flanagan’s Boystown has sent me a Puzzles and Brainteasers booklet. You know, I mean to give it to the kids, but in an idle moment, I look at them too.

Beautifully designed gift bags are the pride of several organizations.

In an additional kit I was also treated to a colorful paper gift bag. These items show up across several charities, and I suspect there is a traveling paper bag sales rep who is shipping bunches of orders back to a printing plant in Shenzhen China.

The tote bag is a premium-with-donation offer from VFW.

Veterans of Foreign Wars has kicked the bag up a notch. They offer a full-sized  tote as a premium with donation.

DVNF throws in the bag and a T-shirt with their request for donation.

At the top of the pile however is Disabled Veterans National Foundation (not to be confused with Disabled American Veterans) which sent the whole bag, and a T-shirt, in a day-glo yellow max-sized envelope.

I am now thinking that there are regular flights for printing sales personnel from U.S. to Shenzhen.

St. Joseph’s vinyl totes are small, but classy.

Truly, the most impressive were printed plastic vinyl tote bags courtesy of St. Joseph’s, that aside from their modest size, sported quality designs.

Lateral Thinking

There is an artful expansion of thinking on applying postage stamps to the reply envelope.   Pasting real postage on a reply envelope is a riveting issue.   Donors shudder to waste the stamps, and I am sure the charity’s accountants aren’t thrilled about giving away postage.

But here’s the thing–you may remember in my book Many Happy Returns, the story of the fundraiser who coaxed the donor to please supply their own stamps. The reply envelope said, “Your stamp will save us money.”  In a manner of speaking, it did. Average dollar gifts rose 6%, but response rate dropped 15%. Go figure!

DAV fronts all of the postage on the reply envelope..50 cents worth.

Anyway, the pioneer in applying the full 49-cents (or so) postage was DAV. They primed the pump, and happily cashed our flood of checks. We Baby Boomer donors can’t see a stamp go to waste.

But now, there are some diversions in the path.

VFW fronts only 5 cents, but appearances count in their favor.

VFW provides 5, one-cent stamps to the postage paid BRE, and the USPS will charge the rest. The modest nickel cost looks like a lot of stamps–but it’s not 50 cents’ worth.  This effectively cuts VFW’s in-the-mail costs by $450 per thousand, while still appearing to offer the more expensive stamps.

St Joes includes a faux return address label with 3-cents postage.

St. Joseph’s sharpens their pencil a little more, and only provides 3 one-cent stamps, but adorns their BRE with a faux return address label in my name.  How can I throw this out?

Boystown decorates their BRE with zero-value greeting stamps, but they look great, regardless.

Not to be outdone, Father Flanagan applies 4 Greeting Stamps of no value whatsoever to their BRE, but they look great!

Who can deny the effort?

To date we have 46 greeting cards in inventory. Production quality is high.

Throughout all of the recent spate of mailings I have received, greeting cards still predominate. I counted 46, all high production quality, and which are now stored in one of those pretty paper gift bags.

We have a bucket of pens, but St Joe’s are the classiest.

As well, I have been issued with numerous writing pens…lots of them, and some very tastefully designed, courtesy of St. Joseph.

And speaking of writing, I have a mountain of note pads, some die-cut, none of which can be discarded.

A pencil case for the pens. A lunch box may be next.

They get used.  And when not, where do they go?  Into a pen and pencil bag, supplied by St. Joseph’s!  Wow, what’s next…a lunchbox?

There is an ongoing debate, stirred up by loyal donors about the exorbitant expense taken in these mailing pieces.  How can a charitable organization spend this much, and then ask for more money?

The fact is, the gift strategy works.  Especially if the gifts are exclusive and high quality.  When they are accompanied by personal, expressive letters, the efforts are rewarded by donors who are sitting on, or searching, for the summit of Maslow’s pyramid: self actualization.

Thanks for reading, and sharing.  If you wish to check on these charitable organizations, you can visit Charity Navigator, or the organization’s websites to see their financial disclosures and especially their direct mail fundraising performance.

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Culture, direct mail, Economics, Government, Marketing, USPS

USPS: Hidden Good Fortunes

Every quarter the USPS publishes their Revenues, Pieces and Weights Report. For the numerical savants out there, this is a feast of numbers beyond one sitting, for sure.

But the big story is, the USPS continues to perform in a stellar fashion, despite the ravaging onset of online displacement of hard copy as we know it.

If you think the post office is in trouble? Have another think.

Q3 YTD Results–9 Months Only
~The bad news– and what is publicly perceived, First Class revenues have fallen from $22.7 billion in 2013 to $19.9 in 2018. (off $2.7B or -12%).

~In the same 5 years, Magazines and Periodicals dropped from $1.3 billion to $984 million. (off $276M or -22%)

These two categories accounted for a $3 billion shortfall in revenue.

~Direct Mail, which includes catalogs, has ceded $294 million over the past 5 years. (off -2%) to $12.5 billion in the first three quarters of fiscal 2018.

Now for the good news.

In 2018, competitive Parcel and Package delivery has grown from $9.8 billion in 2013 to $16.9 billion. That’s a $7.1 billion growth, or 73%!

So we can certainly see how internet and digital media have blasted the legacy paper and ink communications business to smithereens.

What we did not see however was that online commerce has grown so rapidly that the USPS has found its newest niche: order delivery.

Year to date, 9 months, FY 2018, the USPS has delivered 4.2 billion pieces. Compare that to 2.3 billion, 5 years ago.

The USPS has another interesting report available, entitled Public Cost and Revenue Analysis, Fiscal Year 2017.

I like this report because it tells you how well it covers its costs of operation.  For instance, First Class Mail has a cost coverage of 210%.  Basically, its revenues are double its costs.

Direct Mail cost coverage is 153%.  Magazines and Periodicals, only 69%.  But the Package and Parcel delivery business, in the competitive markets, cost coverage is 155%.

Overall revenues for 9 months are $53.8 billion, up 5% from $51.2B 5 years ago.

These numbers indicate the ebb and flow of the door-to-door, pick-up-and-delivery business, and how the USPS is responding to America’s choices in communications.  True, the numbers do not account for front office costs, and legacy benefit and pension challenges, where there is a different story to tell.

But for making their daily appointed rounds, no one does it better than the USPS.

 

Thanks for reading!  If you would like to see these reports for yourself, have at it!

Click here: Fiscal year 2018 Q3 Revenues Pieces and Weights

and here: Public Cost and Revenue Analysis 2017

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direct mail, Marketing, USPS

Direct Mail Design: This Never Gets Old

Did you know that the USPS Office of the Inspector General performs a customer satisfaction survey every year? News to me, but why not?

The results are available for viewing below.

But the stunning and head-spinning discovery about direct mail design is worth noting. In the study’s own words, verbatim:

“In FY 2016, it sent out more than 5.7 million survey invitations in the form of a two-sided postcard that invites customers to take the survey online or by phone. These invitations resulted in approximately 71,000 completed surveys, a 1% response rate.

“In order to increase response rates, the Postal Service tested two other survey invitations. An oversized postcard did not make a significant difference, but a sealed envelope with an invitation on letterhead had a 7% response rate.

“Consequently, the Postal Service adopted the sealed envelope for all invitations for FY 2018.”

A 600% increase in response!

There are two big rules of direct mail design:

1. It takes A Letter.
2. Put it in an envelope.

As for the survey, it is itself a pot-boiler and you can “self-administer” online, or participate by phone. If you are the social scientist, you know that a 50% response rate is the minimum acceptable for self-administered surveys, because who knows that the respondents don’t drop off, or conversely, have an axe to grind, or perversely, come from Chicago and complete several forms.

All results can be read here, but first and foremost, remember the two rules above.

Glad the Inspector has come on board!

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Culture, direct mail, Marketing

Feel-Felt-Found

A Tough Customer?

Have you ever found yourself searching for the right way to win over a person who resists an idea?  You know you are right, but you don’t need to pound the table to prove it.  I recalled this tactic from years ago in the infancy of my sales career.  It works.

I decided to include Feel-Felt-Found in my book Many Happy Returns, which is all about writing and designing good direct mail.  Feel-felt-found is an excellent tool for a testimonial, and even an opening statement.   It can be a third party insert to disarm the most resistant buyers of their reservations.

‘Feel-felt-found’ is a logical progression that brings a reader around to a positive point of view. The seller is identifying with the potential buyer: “Look, I know how you feel…” and continues to list the potential negatives of the offer. This concession aligns the buyer and seller on the same side of the issue.

Continuing, “I felt the same way myself…” describes the suspicions and reservations in some detail. And then turns the tables, “But here is what I found…” and concludes by cashing the objections for a happy discovery that it’s a good deal after all.

He delivers perfectly.

Tom Selleck, best known for his convincing portrayal of the gruff, conservative, New York Police Commissioner on CBS “Bluebloods”, delivers a perfect ‘feel-felt-found’ for American Advisors Group which markets reverse mortgages for seniors.

He sticks close to script:

“I know what you’re thinking. I thought what you thought. Some things are just too good to be true. Just like you, I thought that reverse mortgages had to have some kinda catch –just a way for banks to get your house…right?
Well then I did some homework and I found out that it’s not any of that – it’s not another way for the bank to get your house and it’s also not too good to be true!

The script continues to explain the financing procedures and the benefits. Selleck concludes:

“I know what you were thinking – I did too. I felt the same way. But I checked it out and I found out a lot more. It’s pretty simple, a reverse mortgage from AAG can give you the retirement stability you’re looking for. Maybe you want to check it out.”

The script goes on to offer a free brochure and video for interested viewers.

‘Feel-felt-found’ is a powerful sales tool and delivered in the voice of a satisfied customer, or a company employee, makes a great testimonial for the reader to re-assess an offer.

I hope you liked this.  I have never used this blog for promotion, but in this case, I felt compelled.  It’s part of a life story, so I included it.  There’s plenty more for direct marketers who are on a quest for success.  You will find uniquely helpful clues in Many Happy Returns–Rules, Reckonings and Tales Told From The Mailbox.  It’s available now!

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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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