Mid-America Adapts to Changing Mailing Market

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Mid-America Mailers Inc., a provider of data processing, personalization and mailing services, is taking the wraps off a new strategy to stay in lockstep with customer needs.


The changes at the Hammond, IN, company involve technology, communication, service levels and mailings size. The goal is to become a full-service support firm in the direct marketing industry.


"Our strategy is to be flexible with schedules, reports and procedures to meet customers' needs and to price competitively, but not as a commodity," said Holly Harle, account executive at Mid-America. "We'll use service and systems to differentiate us and to be a source our customers look to for postal advice and guidance."


Founded in 1969, Mid-America has clients like Columbia House, DraftWorldwide, DeVry University and the American Association of Individual Investors.


But like many marketers, some Mid-America clients are trimming their production staff. Therefore, they prefer to deal with and buy more from fewer suppliers. So it is not surprising that Mid-America wants to offer as many elements of the package as it can produce.


"It creates a more solid relationship with the customer and spreads customer service and other fixed costs over a larger order," said Harle, who is also president of the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing.


Internally, Mid-America began its makeover by switching to Web-based systems to interact with customers and employees. The company previously relied heavily on faxes and overnight delivery.


For customers, it will offer a full range of personalization services from sheet-fed laser to roll-to-roll laser imaging as well as duplex inkjet addressing on sheets. New laser technology will allow for a wider print width than standard laser imaging equipment. Latest inserting technology will lead to faster and better work, too.


Similarly, fulfillment services and hand assembly will be thrown in the same package. It also will partner with companies to offer printing and envelope services to the same customer.


"We believe that the direct marketing industry overall will grow faster than its direct mail segment alone," Harle said. "Fulfillment lets us take advantage of the growth of direct shopping techniques whether the response was solicited by mail, phone, catalog, Internet or point of purchase.


"Also," she said, "many of our customers buy fulfillment services. It is often our existing contact who will buy these services."


In another critical change, Mid-America will not compete that actively for accounts with huge mass mailings of more than 3 million pieces. There will be more concentration on mailings with multiple versions and variable data.


"The trend is accelerating toward more targeted mailings -- fewer customers with 20 million- to 50 million-piece mailings," Harle said. "Mass mail is becoming a commodity market with a few giant suppliers. As marketers are becoming more and more sophisticated with database technology, they can mail more targeted mailings to a smaller audience."


Mid-America's changes reflect trends in the marketplace. More targeting and segmentation have become the norm. So has personalization, such as variable credit limits and responses to prior purchases. There is greater emphasis on quality control.


On the postal side, there is a major shift to more emphasis on in-home dates vs. mail-drop dates, among other things.


"In the early days, if you could produce a package cost-effectively, you could mail it with little postal implications," Harle said. "Now, marketers must consider the impact on postage from database maintenance to package design for automation rates to transportation for drop shipping."


As for the lettershop segment of the direct marketing industry, drop-ship postage rates have become more important, Harle said. There is a deeper penetration into the U.S. Postal Service system, greater identity and control over mail and increased attempts to cut costs wherever possible.


Planet Code tracking, a USPS bar code offering that tracks pieces electronically while in transit, steadily will gain importance. Marketers are keen to track not only when the mail pieces were delivered, but when responses are coming into the mail stream.


But perhaps the most alarming trend is the shrinking pool of players.


"Consolidation is affecting both customer and supplier sides," Harle said. "There are fewer larger customers and fewer very large suppliers. And there is greater price competition -- more bidders on each program."


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