Change Is in the Mail

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Recently there was much ado regarding additions to the official Webster's dictionary. If spam or the abbreviation DNC failed to get mentioned this time, they probably will be included in the next version, for these terms have become part of our vernacular as well as a bothersome fact of our business and personal lives.

Of course, the question we raise as direct marketers is whether the negative reaction to these marketing procedures has a positive effect on the direct mail medium. It seems this would be worthy research to obtain and share within our industry. For instance, research on Internet transactions revealed the positive effect that medium has on fulfillment and direct mail services.

Business contributions. Is our medium getting more activity? Is direct mail growing? There are broad indicators that lead one to think so. Many printers, lettershops, presort and service bureaus, albeit cautious and wary, acknowledge increased business.

Indicators aside, we need to ask what we are doing individually to promote the medium's use. After all, it is our livelihoods. In what ways are you marketers promoting better and broader use of direct mail? As mail service providers, what are you doing to further your client and prospect interests in greater use of direct mail?

At a recent Chamber of Commerce Expo, I watched with admiration as a U.S. Postal Service small-business specialist introduced the direct mail medium to business owners of all stripes. As the mail volume growth curve rises once again, an expanding segment of small-business mailers is added to the mix thanks to the initiatives of the postal service, chambers of commerce and local mail service companies.

New mix of mail. A milestone has been reached in terms of the mix of mail. For two of the past three quarters of this fiscal year, the combined volume of Periodical and Standard mail exceeded that of First Class, as reported in the USPS FY2003 Revenue, Pieces and Weight Reports. This trend has been developing for some time: Since the 9/11 tragedy, the combined volume of Standard and Periodical has grown to 95 percent of First Class's volume.

What are direct marketers to make of the upward trend of Standard and Periodical mail? How will this affect mail delivery? The answer is one of those good news-bad news situations.

Delivery of First-Class mail has always held priority, and that's not subject to change. The postal service periodically reports actual delivery performance to set standards and, for the most part, it has been on goal. A residual benefit of those accomplishments has been the more timely delivery of Standard and Periodical mail. This is understandable when one looks at the overall reduction in mail volume (versus times past) and the reduction of First-Class mail in particular. Obviously, achieving First-Class delivery goals of late have improved the delivery time of other mail classes. That's the good news.

We're on notice. The bad news is the undeliverable problem is exacerbated by the growth of Standard and Periodical mail. This is evidenced by the increased cost to the postal service for handling undeliverable-as-addressed mail ($1.8 billion annually versus $1.5 billion previously) while the volume of First Class continues to decrease.

The Move Update regulation, which requires full name and address list updates at least semiannually, still applies only to First-Class mailers. However, while Standard (addressed to name) and Periodical mail volumes grow, these classes of mail flow freely through the mail stream, blissfully free of the regulation.

This is a gross injustice to everyone. A continuation of a $1.8 billion line-item expense in postal operations has to be offset in other areas, and the postal service continues to aggressively employ procedures to reduce this impediment to efficiency. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise.

But it is the gross negligence of mailers that needs to be corrected. The crux of the problem are Standard-class mailers mailing to name and not taking proactive measures to make mail more deliverable before entering the mail stream.

What marketing or financial manager worth his/her salt would allow 5 percent to 15 percent waste of postage, labor and materials on the front end of every mailing and significant loss in responses because of UAA mail, especially when remedies are widely available? Ignorance of the Move Update regulation is not the issue. Employing best practices - such as routine updates of mailing lists - is the real issue. Not engaging such basic procedures is unprofessional.


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