Intelligent Mail lassoes 500 million mail pieces

Marketers need not wonder if Intelligent Mail can handle promotional mailings, according to Thomas Day, SVP of intelligent mail and address quality at the USPS. The organization put Intelligent Mail, which gives companies the ability to track commercial mail, through the paces when the US Census Bureau mailed forms to every US household this year. DMNews sat down with Day to learn more about what is arguably the largest single mail drop in history and how marketers can benefit from this mailing’s test of Intelligent Mail.

DMNews: How many pieces were mailed out for the census and over what period of time?

Thomas Day: The total – this includes all the advance mailings, the actual survey and the follow-ups, as well as the return pieces – was about five hundred million. We did our first pre-mailing the last week of February and we’re finalizing some follow-up surveys right now. The only thing that will drag out a bit longer are the responses. As people continue to fill out the surveys, obviously, we’re still handling them.

DMNews: Do you see this as a “proof” of Intelligent Mail?

Day: It was clearly the biggest thing we’ve ever done with it. And really in terms of importance, it’s critical that people respond. It is cost numbers, too. You’re talking, literally, for Census to get a response through the mail, [it] is a couple of dollars. To actually send someone, an enumerator, to the door to get an individual to response is tenfold, a hundredfold [more costly]. It is just some ridiculous difference in cost. It was important to Census and important to everybody that it worked. So, having the tracking capability is what was important.

DMNews: How did Intelligent Mail work for the Census?

Day: We were able to see it all. I have a website that my staff built that literally allows us to drill down and look at individual pieces. We could see what was going on, and this literally started as we built containers. As they were built, they were loaded on trucks and dispatched out. We could see when they were leaving. We knew expected arrival times. We saw scans at arrival. We could see if trucks were late, diverted or went to the wrong place. So, we had visibility in the initial movement of mail as well as processing. What it really did for Census was to give them peace of mind, that, yes, the [forms] are there. There is a political aspect [to the census]. You’ve got members of Congress, governors, mayors, all asking the same question, ‘Is my community really getting what they’re supposed to get?’ And we had definitive data to know not only how many forms they’re supposed to get; we can tell you exactly how many got delivered. So we were able to put all of that to rest.

DMNews: What does the success of this massive project mean for direct marketers?

Day: Anybody who is sophisticated with direct marketing is talking multichannel. The important thing is that when you do multichannel, it has to be coordinated. The census mailing was the clear depiction of how this can be done. This gives you visibility back to the supply chain.

So, when you are doing multichannel, if everything’s on schedule, then you’re good. The TV ads start running, the e-mails start flowing, and all that. But, on the flip side, if you see that somehow the trucks going from Dallas out to Oregon are delayed due to weather or storms in the Midwest, you can hold up on the rest of your multichannel campaign. It’s about timing and tying the physical mail piece back to the others ways to communicate with your customer.  [Intelligent Mail] gives you a high degree of confidence about when the piece is being delivered.

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