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Five reasons to embrace the Intelligent Mail Barcode

As a marketer, you might think details about the USPS’ Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) are best left to the mailroom or your marketing services provider to sort out. However, there are several reasons why marketers should embrace learning about IMB rather than avoiding it, says David Robinson, director of address quality at Pitney Bowes.

“The big thing on the compliance side is it will affect every single mailer who is claiming discounts. And, honestly, every mailer who’s mailing any volume ought to be claiming discounts or they’re cheating their company out of money,” says Robinson. “You’re going to have to use IMB anyway, so you might as well look to see what other things IMB will do for your business. This is where I see lots of opportunity for marketers.

IMB is a new suite of barcodes applied to mailpieces, trays, sacks and containers, such as pallets. Intelligent Mail barcodes enable end-to-end mailpiece tracking, mailer quality feedback, mail service measurement and smart use of mail. Two options are available to mailers, Basic (the simplest to implement) and Full-Service (provides mailers with the greatest insights and management features).

Here are five ways IMB will benefit marketers when it becomes mandated in May 2011:

Validation during processing and mail drop

Today, mailers lose visibility of their mail pieces once they’re accepted into the mail stream, so you don’t really know for sure when they’ll arrive in home. With IMB, you have the option of tracking mail pieces up to final processing for delivery. And you can receive the details of drop location, including date and time in near-real time, making it easier to assess the effectiveness of marketing and sales efforts.

Data, data, data

“For direct marketers, IMB is a key way of learning much more about the consumer,” Robinson says. “Understanding buying patterns, behaviors, and patterns across the country is critical today.”

Because IMB provides true mail intelligence per piece, data pinpointing customer response and behavior is available to marketers. One example:  Say your company mails to 100 geographical areas, but there are five that are very similar in terms of buyer behavior.  According to Robinson, you can use IMB to aid in testing different offers to those five geographical areas. “As the data comes in, I know how to sort it because I am tracking those particular geographies based on the mailings I sent,” he says.

Predict and assess markets and opportunities

IMB intelligence allows mailers to determine which delivery day yields the best response, making it easier to time offers on a one-to-one customer basis. “Because I can watch that mail and the behavior associated with it which a lot more clarity, I can see patterns [as they emerge] from my target audience,” says Robinson. “Over the course of time, I can build one heck of database that will tell me which offer to make on a Tuesday vs. Wednesday vs. Thursday.”

Improve follow-up effectiveness

In the past, marketers had to guess when to schedule sales and telemarketing follow-ups connected to mailings. IMB removes the guesswork because mailers know when mailings are received. That knowledge makes follow-up work more effective. Plus, it’s easier to schedule supporting communications that may be part of an integrated marketing campaign.

“If you’re dropping mail locally, 96% of the time it’s a one-day delivery,” says Robinson. “If you’re dropping nationally or regionally, 95% of the time, we’re getting two-day to three-day delivery. So, if you know it’s three days and you want it to be in home on Friday morning, you simply have to induct it to the Postal Service on Tuesday. And the IMB is going to reinforce that and really tighten up those statistics going forward.”

Keep good customers happier

One area of customer irritation is receiving a past-due notice or telephone follow-up on an invoice when they’ve already put their payment into the mail. That kind of situation also costs companies money. As long as the customer uses your company’s IMB envelope, you’ll be able to know when customers have mailed their payment because you’ll be notified when the mail piece enters the mail stream.

“That notification can immediately cancel the automatically generated late notice,” says Robinson. “Notifications like that can also avert other company and customer costs, such as reinstatement of memberships, subscriptions, and insurance policies.”

Robinson says marketers can learn more by reading A Guide to Intelligent Mail for Letters and Flats at the Postal Service’s Web site, ribbs.usps.gov. However, he recommends that marketers should establish an internal IMB project team that includes their vendor of choice: “IMB will impact the finance side, but as a marketer, you should, first and foremost, discuss with your vendor of choice where you want your customer communications going in the future. That’s the bigger question that must be answered.”

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