Dogs and a kinder, gentler (and smarter) USPS

June 11, 2011

photo courtesy ABC News

In their relationships with the United States Postal Service, dogs generally have the upper hand . . . er, paw.  Beyond the fact that postal employees frequently provide a tasty midday snack for their customers’ canines (see photo above), the USPS’s attitude toward four-legged fuzzballs has been surprisingly favorable.  Dogs have been featured frequently on stamps, some postal employees actually own and love dogs, and recently a new USPS program has helped to locate a lost Labrador in Stillwater, NY.

Here’s the story:

When Randi Slocum’s dog Kaylee ran away from her Stillwater, NY, home, Slocum and her friends did what any group of concerned pet owners would do — they formed a search party and knocked on neighbors’ doors looking for the chocolate Labrador mix.

But Randi’s mother, Carolyn, had a better idea — use Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) to notify residents in Stillwater and nearby Schuylerville, NY, of the dog’s disappearance.

Carolyn Slocum, a board member of the local Postal Customer Council, had just attended an EDDM seminar given by Albany District Grow Your Business Coordinator Natalie Dolan. “I knew that the best way to reach every household was through the new EDDM program,” said Slocum. “Since many people work all day, this would be the most likely way to reach them.”

By the next morning, Carolyn had the mailings prepared to EDDM standards and dropped them off at the Stillwater and Schuylerville Post Offices. The flyer helped unleash a series of phone calls, and that helped lead to Kaylee’s safe return.

Source: Postal Reporter News Blog

Long the poster child for government (or quasi-government) inefficiency, the USPS has in recent months introduced a couple of programs that are surprisingly sharp.  Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) is simply not what you would expect from an agency know for volumes of arcane rules.  The postal service calls it a simplified mailing process, and it really is. Basically, EDDM makes it easy to send saturation mailings to reasonably small geographic areas without the need to purchase address lists. EDDM comes in two flavors – regular, for mailing service providers like Gralpharaphics Macon (name disguised to protect the delicate sensibilities of the franchise) and retail, for the DIYer.  The website (https://smp.usps.gov/) is functional and includes a cool mapping feature to allow the user to select by postal carrier route.

Source: USPS

It is important to note that EDDM is the direct opposite of the targeted mailings that Poor Richard’s printshop has been promoting for some time.  EDDM is, in essence, a saturation mailing. No demographics selections are available and because the addressing is generic, it’s not possible to personalize the mailing or direct the recipient to a personalized URL (PURL).  The only select feature allows the sender to de-select business addresses and/or P.O. boxes.

Even with those limitations, EDDM will be great for service businesses and other small businesses that sell to a broad customer base and want to target specific neighborhoods to generate new business.   We are currently working on a saturation mailing in three neighborhoods for a startup lawn service business.  He’s chosen carrier routes where there are few apartment complexes and has eliminated business addresses.  The mailing will be around 1700 pieces, postage will be around $.15 each,  and most of the mailpieces will land at addresses that could conceivably benefit from his services.
On the other side of the mailing spectrum, the USPS has introduced a special discount to run in July and August 2011 to help promote “web-enabled” mailings.  This is another smart move that recognizes the value of cross-channel marketing and the integration of direct mail and internet.  First Class and Standard Mail letters that incorporate a QR or other mobile barcode will receive an additional 3% discount during July and August.  Details can be found on the  USPS website.

Both the US Postal Service and the printing industry as a whole have suffered greatly during the past almost 4 years of decession as cost cutting, business closures, and an accelerated shift to online communication have reduced volumes.  Poor Richard is hoping that the tide may turn again as marketers recognize the value of tangible print messages, especially in combination with impressions from other channels.  It is refreshing to see the USPS taking some intelligent direct action to encourage the use of both direct mail and cross channel efforts.  Want to try any of this out?  Call me or stop by the printshop behind the red awnings on Poplar Street. Bring your dog.


PostalCare Reform

August 22, 2009

Poor Richard indulges in anachronism. He still reads newspapers.  You may remember them, they’re printed with ink on cheap paper. People used to take them on buses and subway cars to annoy others. They could be rolled up to train dogs, much to the dismay of the paper boys (another anachronism).  What Poor Richard has been reading lately is a lot of conjecture about what a government sponsored health care system would be like and how it might be administered.

There seems to be a great deal of skepticism amongst a very vocal segment of the population  regarding the capability of the U.S. government to administer a single payer system.  Our intrepid and career-oriented legislators have euphemistically entitled this version of a health care fix “the public option,” with the inference that if the private option currently in existence is irrevocably broken, the public option that they propose can’t be too much worse.

Poor Richard finds that comforting, I think.  But he doesn’t understand the reticence to create another multi-trillion dollar bureaucracy to administer health care.  After all, it’s only money (we can always print more) and the U.S. government is so good at bureaucracy.

Mailman holding human brain

Mailman with brains

And I am simply astounded that none of our clever would-be statesmen have grasped the phenomenal opportunity to re-employ a failing public bureaucracy that is dangling right before their eyes. In past blog posts, Poor Richard has written about the tribulations of the U.S. Postal Service (See Neither Rain, Nor Snow, Nor Dead Economy). After years of study led them to the realization that people don’t want to mail anything anymore, the USPS has decided to let some people go.  Fortuitously, they are releasing an army of career bureaucratic types at the exact time these folks are needed . . . to administer the new health care system!

Downsized postal workers are eminently qualified to run the new health care system.  Never mind that most of them don’t know anything about biology, physiology and the like. They all know how to follow the regulations. There is no way that the new regulations for a national health insurance program could be more cryptic or nonsensical than USPS regs. It’s a natural fit . . . today a mailman, tomorrow a claims agent or even an underwriter!

Just consider the benefits:

  • The postal workers are already on the government payroll.  There’s no need to re-test them for incompetence.
  • Instead of hundreds of thousands of early retired postal workers placing a burden on the USPS retirement system, they could be gainfully employed spending government money and determining whether Aunt Sally really needs a new kidney.
  • There would be no concerns about health care delivery under the new system. USPS employees are really good at delivery.
  • If the regulations for the “public option” don’t make sense, it won’t be an obstacle to the re-employed postal workers. They’re used to dealing with irrational regulations and have no compunctions about explaining nonsense to their customers. It’ll be even easier if they’re the only game in town!

Poor Richard suggests that we call the new system PostalCare, in recognition that the new bureaucracy will probably benefit the newly re-employed postal workers more than the rest of society.  Poor Richard also agrees with President Obama that Congress should act in great haste . . . we wouldn’t want this wonderful opportunity to slip away!

My apologies to our friends at the postal service.  This one was just too good to pass up.  Life is grand, isn’t it?


Direct Mail and the Internet

August 10, 2009

So it’s no great mystery why mail volume, including direct mail (advertising) volume is down and the USPS is in a bind. In the last post Neither Rain, Nor Snow, Nor Dead Economy, we went over some of the dismal numbers that the USPS has “posted” in recent months. The financial strain of the recession has accelerated the move of content online, where the costs are less. Printers and the USPS are suffering.

So, is there still a place for printed direct mail in the mix? Let’s turn to the USPS again.  In a surprisingly insightful brief entitled Mail and the Internet, the postal service presents a convincing case for a combination of print mail and online advertising. Here’s the thrust of the argument:

In fact, recent studies by the U.S. Postal Service and a number of independent research groups found that consumers — even heavy Internet users — continue to view mail as a highly relevant and significant part of their lives. It provides a physical and tangible quality consumers find lacking in their electronic communications. But that’s not all. The studies also showed that mail, working side by side with digital media, can have a substantial impact on the use of commercial Web sites.

Much of the specific content of the brief deals with the integration of email, online storefronts and conventional catalogues, but the USPS makes a couple of key points regarding the combination of conventional mail and email in the marketing mix:

  1. While email has outpaced mail as the primary form of (written) personal communications, readers are much more likely to “trash” marketing emails than conventional mail pieces. People still enjoy opening the mail.  Junk email is a nuisance.
  2. Conventional mail is a very effective way to get permission to send an email.  In other words, direct mail is a great way to get potential customers to subscribe to emailed news briefs or promotions.

From here, it’s tempting take on the ROI argument and search out some spurious data to try and prove that the return on investment for conventional direct mail is actually higher than the ROI for an email campaign.  Poor Richard thinks that’s a worthless effort, but can state uncategorically that the ROI for a  well-conceived direct mail or email campaign will always be higher than the return for a poorly implemented campaign of either type.

Nor is it useful to argue that direct mail and email are apples and oranges. They’re more like white grapes and peach . . . the juice goes together really well. And there is great potential to combine conventional mail, email and other online communications to improve the total ROI for the combined efforts. Conventional direct mail combined with personalized URLs (PURLs) provide a great method of sorting through an inexpensive direct mail list for those who are really interested in a product or service.  Respondents sign on to a landing page, where they can ask for direct contact or for more information. They might also be asked if they’d like to subscribe to an e-newsletter or for periodic special offers.

The net result is that more money and attention are focused on those who are most interested (and most likely to buy something) and less on those who aren’t interested. Even more better, you get to measure. While it is possible to partially measure response from conventional mail campaigns with BRMs, coupons or a tracked phone number, the integrated print and email campaign generates better measurable data from the landing page . . . including names and addresses of those who respond. And if they subscribe to an e-news brief or some other such offering, they’re actually asking you to stay in touch.

Back to the USPS and the printing business. Regardless of the trends, there will remain a very real need for the postal service in the foreseeable future. While it’s easy to communicate online, you need a Star Trek transporter to actually send stuff through cyberspace. Similarly, the tangibility and portability (and disposability) of print gives it an advantage over electronic media in many situations. I haven’t seen them passing out Kindle’s at the theatre, yet.

Poor Richard can’t speak for the future of the postal service, but the the technology to produce and manage integrated electronic and print communications is very available. We’re even playing with it at Gralpharaphics (name changed to protect the innocence of the franchise). Not to say that the change isn’t painful.  It was certainly easier for printers when print was king. But change is inevitable . . . and Poor Richard isn’t really ready to become a dinosaur yet.