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. 

direct mail, Marketing, Media, Thank You

Why Hard Copy Matters

From the time that they could open mail, I have written notes and cards to our grand children.

The goal was to accustom them to the excitement and anticipation that accompanies a successful trip to the mail box.

A real letter will always prevail over an electronic communication with the same content.

Like a personal gift, it eclipses any email. Hilly 500

Granted, the mail box delivers direct mail too, and some may object.   But compare a couple letters, catalogs and cards a day versus an earful of robo calls, or endless repeat ads on TV, and nervous, persistent popups on your favorite website, and you are prepared to give the mail man, or mail lady, a pass.

In the  social media arena, the email medium has a dark side, which I blundered into this week.

It started when scanning my email folders, I found that I had collected some spam.   I opened the “junk” folder to find a stern notice summoning me to a court hearing next week.

The subject line was ominous: County Court Summons.


Like a total rube, I opened the email for details. It announced that I had been summoned by a named county court officer to appear March 25.   I was advised that in my absence, the court would proceed with actions as described in the official court document attached.

“Gawrsh, holy moley,'” I said under my breath, “I better open this file, pronto!”



When I did, the computer screen flooded with a thousand lines of code. More characters than a kanji encyclopedia scrolled before my bedazzled eyes.

In a panic, I punched keys left and right, closing the file, and dove under the desk for the power cord, to rip the laptop off the grid.

Pointless of course.

Returning to the spam folder, I found another foreboding greeting, this one from E-Z-Pass toll collections  warning me to pay off past due charges immediately.

Much wiser now, I did not open the Official Billing Notice attached.

I had been duped by the brusk, official look of the email, and should have recognized the ruse immediately.

Email builds its own insensitivities.   We are more disposed to ignore it, or save it never to read later.   It’s a casual, low calorie communication.

Conversely, without thinking, we may dive right in like I did, and open it, only to poke a bees’ nest.


The real deal: Federal property carrying real value.

Regular postal mail requires much more attention, both by the writer, and the receiver.   The fact that postal mail is a Federal government enterprise, armed with regs that have brought many a crook to jail, gives me great comfort.

Esthetically, there is enormous value in every personal letter, because it’s a perfect indicator of care, concern and thoughtfulness.

Hilly 501We feel good opening a letter, and just as good writing them.

So I continue my efforts on peppering the grandkids with real letter mail, printed on paper, much in the tradition of my own grand parents, hoping that one day, they will get the bug.

It’s slower, physical, and more thoughtful.

And who knows, maybe just one day, what goes around will come around.