During the Postmaster General’s keynote presentation at the National Postal Forum, Postal Service CIO Jim Cochrane made a point that cannot be asserted too often in marketing circles. “Direct mailers,” he said, “were the first movers in data analytics.”
I am ever amused by practitioners of “new” digital marketing methods who, through complicated machinations of SaaS software programs and unholy alliances with megalithic ISPs, “invent” behavioral targeting methods that direct mailers have been using since Sears invented catalogs. List brokers are the original data brokers.
Digital’s seizure of the marketing mind-set has, in effect, coated the Post Office and the direct mail houses with a patina of past glory. Cochrane’s mission is to break out his own mainframe feather duster and put a new luster on direct mail. “Our primary goal is to generate revenue, not a goal we share with the Department of Defense or any other government agency,” Cochrane says, “But a new goal that we’re really getting focused on is customer experience. We think direct mail fits well with digitization, and so we’re collecting data and trying to marry it with our customers in an omnichannel approach. Our strategy is to improve intelligence in the mailstream.”
For marketers to take full advantage of what the new, data-driven Postal Service has to offer, they’ll have to adopt Full Service Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) systems. But a significant number of mailers large and small are reticent to enlist in the cause. Keeping abreast of often confusing USPS tracking reports and complying with the reporting needed to obtain IMb discounts requires mastery of new software systems, the hiring of a dedicated IMb operatives, or both.
Last December the Postal Regulatory Commission denied a Postal Service request to expand Full Service IMb requirements, ruling that such a move would constitute a de facto price increase for Standard Mail customers. The Postal Service subsequently appealed the decision to the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, where a decision is still pending.
“We do believe we’ll be supported in the courts,” Cochrane says. “We’ve gotten to the point where the credibility of the data has become so important.”
Cochrane said Full Service IMb will provide three big advantages to mailers:
- Immediate access to address change records and corrections
- Increased move update information (hence, increased postage savings) for companies required by law to mail to the last known addresses
- The ability to use digital integrators such as QR codes and near field communications chips in mailings
“Establishing an intelligent mailstream is critical as the rest of the marketplace moves to a digital solution,” Cochrane maintains. “The investments are significant, but it’s one of those things we can’t afford not to do.”
Cochrane makes a valid point, to be sure. The question is whether mailers can afford the added investment to take part in Full Service IMb while they’re still attempting to swallow a 6% rate increase.