Marketers split on the impact of mixed postal promotions

As the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) — which reported in February losses totaling more than $3 billion — struggles to stay solvent, it is using a number of promotions to try to keep shippers shipping. Some marketers, though, are skeptical of the value of these promotions, including a 3% discount slated to be offered to direct mailers that use QR codes on their envelopes during the summer.

Last year, the Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5TH outlet included QR codes in a nine-page mailer and on employee lanyards. They’ll continue testing them in 2012. “I can’t say that the USPS incentives themselves will drive marketers to use direct mail,” said Amber Cacali, VP of marketing at Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5TH. “The driver is that consumer communication is so fragmented now that there’s no surefire way to reach a customer. You have to reach customers with an integrated approach that will vary depending on your business model,” she said.

Some marketers still see QR codes as unproven. Philip Chang, a partner at the strategic communications firm Carbon, has used QR codes in direct mail campaigns without seeing increased response rates. “Direct mail is a consumer experience you hold in your hand, whereas QR codes make more sense for customers at the point of sale,” he said.

QCI Direct, a multi-title catalog company, tested the mobile barcodes during last year’s USPS promotion, but didn’t track them. They’re using the promotion again this year with plans to measure its efficacy. “We don’t know enough to say whether discounts on QR codes balance out costs,” said Rick Kiesel, production manager at QCI Direct. “Mobile shopping is on the rise. I’m just not sure those shoppers are our customers.”

Most recently, the agency launched the “Second Ounce Free” program, which gives direct mailers using First-Class Mail the option of mailing two ounces of promotional materials for the price of one ounce. First-Class Mail accounts for nearly half of USPS revenues, but its volume has decreased 25% over the last five years.

“The USPS is trying to add more value to First-Class Mail pieces and provide incentives for staying in the mail,” said Gary Reblin, VP of domestic products. “We always saw weight as a limitation and didn’t have many commercial mailers mailing more than an ounce. It doesn’t cost the USPS much more to send out that second mail piece.”

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