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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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, 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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