Deliver: Going Postal Makes SenseRemember those times when your letter carrier delivered that eagerly awaited package? Or when you opened an envelope with anticipation of what was inside? Mail carries extraordinary power. It always has.
More than ever, consumers and mailers look toward convenience and efficiency to lead the way. Though mail is still a highly effective tool, the fast-paced nature of today's world leads to one clear requirement: simplicity.
If simplicity is the idea, the U.S. Postal Service strives to deliver toward the reality. The USPS has devoted time and resources to making the postal experience convenient, efficient and fast. It has introduced products like Click N' Ship, which gets you online rather than standing in line to ship packages, and Confirm, to let mailers track their mail anywhere in the country. Its Automated Postal Center aims to save consumers time while they are at the post office.
The postal service also has introduced two products to help make mail stand out. Repositionable notes let marketers send a piece of mail with a unique message on a sticky note on the outside of an envelope that can be pulled off and stuck to a telephone or computer, reminding the consumer to make that call or log onto that Web site when convenient. And Customized Market Mail lets marketers create incredible differentiation in the mailbox by sending a custom-shaped piece of mail: maybe a cowboy boot for the upcoming rodeo or an M&M promoting a new color.
It's not just consumers who have benefited from new USPS products. Small business owners can use services like carrier pickup to ship packages that in the past had to be brought to the post office in person. Last year, small businesses received a Priority Mail Starter Kit introducing them to the service.
So what does this mean to marketing? It means better, smarter interaction with the USPS, differentiation in the mailbox, an increasing desire by consumers for communications to be delivered by mail and a more efficient way for each of us to conduct business.
The Postal Spectrum
Though the trend in the United States is convenience, that is only one end of the postal spectrum. Across the globe, postal infrastructure ranges from infancy to adulthood. Emerging markets are just starting to realize mail's full potential, and more mature markets are facing increased regulations and having to re-evaluate what consumers should receive and how they receive it.
Consider this: In emerging markets like China and Russia, technology is at the same and in some areas at a better level than in the United States. SMS messaging is huge in China. It's a viable, extremely effective marketing medium. On the other hand, mail is in its infancy in that market. While growth and improvements in technology stay parallel to those of more established markets like the United States, mail has yet to catch up.
Much of it has to do with cultural mores in each country. In China, for example, commerce traditionally has not been driven by mail. There is an inherent lack of trust in sending money to somebody in the mail and getting a product in return. Still, the Chinese are hungry for mail, but in a different way. We see marketers in China send offers that drive consumers to an event where they can see and touch the product that's for sale.
What about countries in more established, mature markets? One trend stands out: a rediscovery of retail, both in the physical and virtual retail space.
This will be the "year of postal retail" globally. In countries like Britain and Sweden, the focus is shifting to the postal retail space. In more friendly, interactive and simple ways, consumers will have a one-stop shop where they can conduct all of their postal business, and then some.
The retail outlet is going to be hot in these established markets but so is regulation. In Britain, there's been a national discussion over the delivery of unaddressed mail. Unlike in the United States, marketers in Britain can send nonaddressed mail. Talk about lack of targeting. This may increase mail volume in a market, but it diminishes the value and importance of receiving that piece of communication.
Future of Mail
Globally, we see a trend that is causing marketers to evaluate how they do business. This is a role that incorporates the Internet as a resource and opt-in tool and the mail as a tangible, powerful relationship builder.
No matter what continent you're on, there's an entire generation of young people who don't see the need for a physical mailbox. They pay their bills online and get information instantaneously through the Internet. And they are quickly becoming the most desired demographic in the world. They are defining a specific role for direct mail.
Though this generation isn't as tied to the mailbox as generations before them, there is still a strong, tangible benefit to direct mail. Cards and gifts still come in the mail, and when more information is requested on something they have seen through other advertising media, they eagerly await its arrival. After all, this is the best way to get a tangible sample of something they have requested into their hands.
This is why I see the future of marketing being direct mail and the Internet working together. No matter where on the spectrum you do business, the average person - your potential customer - wants control. This trend is something that we as marketers must embrace.
How better to reach a consumer than to start a relationship online and build it through the mail? Consumers raise their hands. They invite us in. With that invitation, our opportunities as marketers are endless. The idea of invitational marketing, though not new, is something you need to understand if you plan to reach today's consumer, an increasingly complicated task.
The biggest challenge facing marketers is how to communicate successfully in the global marketplace. How do you reach consumers in Mexico while also reaching them in France? The key is adapting your execution, not translating it. You must understand the culture, regulations and infrastructure in the countries you plan to conduct business. Once you understand where you are doing business and with whom, you can adapt your execution and keep a consistent strategy.
While doing business globally has changed drastically in the past few years, in the United States direct marketing is still the No. 1 marketing method used by companies, and mail is still the preferred method of contacting the vast majority of consumers. Seventy-four percent of U.S. households expect to get their direct mail six days a week, according to the postal service.
What does that mean to us? Instead of having a disappointed or frustrated consumer, we can provide targeted communications via mail, giving consumers the control to read what they want, when they want.