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The check is (still) in the mail

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The Demise of Direct Mail? PRC Approves 4.3% Exigent Increase
The Demise of Direct Mail? PRC Approves 4.3% Exigent Increase

Nagisa Manabe, chief marketing and sales officer for the United States Postal Service, earlier this week told me something that may surprise you: The USPS is as much about digital channels as it is about traditional ones. In fact, the Postal Service loves e-commerce. Why? Package delivery, of course.

Not surprising, then, that a major USPS promotion encouraged B2B mailers to add QR codes to their direct mail pieces. The multichannel approach aims to use direct mail as a conduit for online purchases that then lead to packages being shipped, ideally by the USPS. Consumers pleased with their purchase are likely to repurchase with the next catalog or promotion.  The goal is to create a virtuous cycle.

The strategy is just one example of how the USPS is trying to innovate and remind both mailers and recipients of its continued relevance.

During our conversation—coincidentally held on the same day that Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe shared  with attendees of National Postal Customer Council Day the Postal Service's focus on innovation as part of its plan for returning to long-term financial stability—Manabe discussed her goals as CMSO, USPS's own marketing strategy, and a holiday package bound to surprise and delight.

What are your primary goals right now as CMSO? How might that evolve?

I have one very specific goal. My primary role is to drive incremental, profitable revenue. This includes a need to grow as a many revenue streams as possible. We'll do this in three ways: with new products for consumers, innovations for B2B clients, and through our legislative agenda. I lead a 1,500-person team, and they're busy is working on many initiatives to drive incremental revenue.

During my four months with the USPS I've spend most of my time meeting customers and leaders of the mailing industry. There are so many ideas and directions from mailers, package customers, and leaders in the e-tailing industry. Certainly, there's no shortage of great ideas. My role isn't about coming up with ideas, but prioritizing the best ideas and putting them into action.

Not long after I joined USPS, stamps were brought into the equation. So I'm also responsible for the Postal Service Sales and Stamp Services organizations. I love stamps. Stamps are the whipped cream on the ice cream sundae.

How is the blended marketing and sales title helping you to achieve those goals?

It really does help. When sales and marketing report in together you get more collaboration.

The best ideas come from customers, because they're coming from a specific customer need, like services they'd like to offer consumers. It's much easier to uncover those ideas when marketing and sales work together.

We go to customer meetings with people from the sales, marketing, and pricing teams. This helps us provide the best possible service at the best possible price. It's great to have that three-group collaboration, and customers appreciate the team approach.

How much of your focus is B2B versus B2C?

I think of this as loops. Customers and consumers are connected in many ways. Gary Reblin [VP of domestic products at the USPS] worked on QR code promotion with customers. The idea was to send a direct mail piece with a code that customers can scan. Ideally that results in a purchase, and that results in a package delivery—hopefully by us. That last mile is why we're so consumer and customer centric.

Because we're a universal service that goes to everyone, there's nothing really B2B or B2C; instead, there are all these loops. We gather consumer insight, but our customers do too, and they know what they need to delight their customers. So there's almost nothing we work on that's not both B2B and B2C.

You have an interesting CPG background, including leadership roles at The Coca-Cola Company, Diageo Guinness, and Proctor & Gamble. What are some of the B2C approaches you've take in previous positions that you're applying, or planning to apply, at USPS?

I started my career at Proctor & Gamble. Working there is like an extension of business school. You learn this art of selecting the right media for a specific task.

Not surprisingly, I've tested direct mail many times over the years. Now I have access to 139 million mailing addresses and we can afford to mail to them all on a regular basis. That's such a delight. I plan to make great use of that.

First will be this year's holiday mailing, which will be bilingual in some areas. The mailing is all about what consumers need to remember about the mail during holiday season: order early, schedule pickups, download and print labels, and important dates, like the final mailing days to receive mail or packages by December 25. The goal is to encourage folks to manage their holiday season well and get the most joy out of it.

The holiday mailing will come out after shortly the elections, and is one of many to come about us. We need to remind consumers about all the access points into the Postal Service and about our products.

We're also going to have a bit of fun this holiday season. Working at Diageo, we did lot of out of home. The USPS has lots of building in perfect locations. We'll wrap some of them for the holidays like huge gifts—and I don't have to pay anyone for the billboard.  We plan to use out of home in new ways as the months progress.

Any specific campaigns or new products that direct marketers should watch for?

We have a lot in the works, but unfortunately, I can give details because they're pending approval. I can only say that they're all about opportunities for our customers to generate revenue through the mail.

What one piece of advice would you give to direct marketers looking to stand out, specifically in terms of direct mail?

I was having a wonderful conversation with an envelope manufacturer earlier today. I see such tremendous opportunities for how you present messages to customers. It you want customers to open an envelope, make sure it's 8x11 and it's a really nice envelope. It's a classic example of something that some marketers take for granted. Efficiency is only one measure; effectiveness is another. It's mailing 101: Make it special and unique so people will take notice.

The postal service will work with customers on things like that. We want to help our customers increase their success rates. Their success is our success. We're always driving toward more effective campaigns.

Every time-honored rule is up for consideration today. We're encouraging our customers to try new things. Don't forget the time-honored rules, but bring in new ideas to get people to engage with mail differently.

What about direct mail as part of an integrated marketing program?

The way people consume media is changing drastically and rapidly. We used to think in terms of a classic marketing funnel: awareness, interest, purchase, repurchase. The traditional role of marketing in customer decision making is different with all the channels available today. “What channel do I need to use to achieve the task?” is the best approach to take today. Even for us, we're doing more online to encourage ordering because our package business is big business for us. We follow consumer behavior.

What excites you most about direct marketing today?

Shifts like Tivo and email opt-outs are causing consumers and customers alike to reassess marketing. I think that mail and package delivery are in a moment. If you get a box in the mail, there's no way you're not going to open it.

Our challenge is how build and develop our relationship with marketers so they have the best experience with their customers. This is our moment!

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