CD-ROM Delivers Small Businesses for USPS

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An integrated campaign from the U.S. Postal Service has generated a 5 percent response rate and increased awareness of direct mail among small businesses, the USPS said.


The postal service sent a direct mail solicitation to 100,000 small businesses the last week of September, asking whether they wished to receive a free CD-ROM titled Mailtown USA, which offered information about starting a direct mail campaign.


The names were culled from a USPS in-house list and a list purchased by Draft, which developed the CD-ROM with the postal service.


Of the 100,000 people targeted, "5,000 people have already asked to receive the CD-ROM, and that's an early number," said Marty Emery, USPS manager of customer and industry marketing. "We usually shoot for a 2 or a 2 1/2 percent response rate, and we usually consider that to be very successful, and this goes beyond that."


Emery devised the CD-ROM because "attracting advertising dollars into the mailbox is the postal service's No. 1 growth opportunity bar none, and so I am always looking to communicate the value and relevance of mail for advertising purposes."


Of the 20 million businesses in the United States, 98 percent are considered small businesses, Emery said. And most small businesses do not use mail to advertise, "so there is a huge opportunity for us if we can do a better job of communicating the value and relevance of mail as an advertising medium."


The mailing industry also can benefit because "for every direct mail campaign, a third of the total bill is postage, which comes to the postal service; the other two-thirds goes to the mailing industry," he said.


The CD-ROM is hosted by Hattie Bryant, creator and host of "Small Business School," a weekly series on PBS. It lets recipients "stroll" through Mailtown USA and pick up advice to make their direct mail campaigns more effective.


Topics include the benefits of direct mail, setting campaign objectives, planning a campaign, list-buying hints and how to find writers, designers and other creative resources.


The CD-ROM used information from "Simple Formulas" and "Direct Mail by the Numbers," USPS brochures that have been popular with small businesses. But the CD-ROM "takes the next step and gets the business owner closer to actually executing a mail campaign," Emery said. "It connects you to the Internet, where you can actually transact business or get right to people in the mailing industry that can help you transact business."


For example, users can click on links to the USPS Web site to get more information about products and services. They also can click through to other Web sites, such as that of the Direct Marketing Association.


The CD-ROM's interactive nature also makes it easier for the postal service to get more information about its customers. For example, the USPS asks Mailtown USA users to complete a survey that is automatically sent back to the USPS. Questions include the company's industry and whether it has ever advertised through the mail.


Answers have given the USPS a glimpse into small businesses and their interest in direct mail. Forty-five percent of respondents are in businesses with one to 10 employees, 23 percent have 26 to 50 employees and 17 percent have 76 or more workers.


"Although the CD-ROM is really geared toward very small businesses, we are finding that some of the intermediate-sized companies are also finding value there," Emery said.


More than 76 percent of responders said they were "very likely" to increase their advertising through the mail after viewing the CD-ROM, and 77 percent said the CD-ROM was extremely helpful, informative and easy. Another 11 percent said it was very helpful, informative and easy.


Thirty percent of respondents don't use direct mail at all, and 43 percent invest less than 25 percent of their advertising budget in direct mail.


"We are reaching people that right now are either non-users or very casual users," Emery said, "so for the mailing industry this is great news, and for the postal service this is great news."


Emery hopes this will be the first in a series of interactive CD-ROMs.


"I am going to learn from version 1.0 and enhance it in version 2.0," he said. For example, in 2.0, Emery is considering local Mailtown USA editions. When users click on the resources section, they would receive printers, lettershops and list brokers in their area. The new version is probably a year away.


Emery would not discuss the program's cost, saying that "a lot of the people at Draft work for us full-time, and some of them worked on this project. We are going to engage them in activities, we just chose to engage many of them in this CD technology project."


The USPS sent another CD-ROM about the same time called "Simple Shipping."


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