Postal Service to Debut Digital Mail in New York This Fall

In an attempt to cross over into the realm of digital marketing channels, the U.S. Postal Service will introduce an email preview of what’s in people’s mailboxes in New York this fall. Called Real Mail Notification (RMN), it will offer direct mailers interactive options to allow people to click through to websites or make purchases directly via email.

Mail sorting machines already take pictures of the fronts of nearly every piece of letter mail in order to read their barcodes. The Postal Service saw this as a way to link mail with a digital channel and make it more appealing to use in multichannel campaigns. Subscribers to the service receive 8 a.m. emails with pictures of the fronts of pieces that will be sitting in their mailboxes that evening.

A test of RMN among 6,600 users in Northern Virginia earlier this year elicited response rates of 5.9% to direct mail pieces that were engaged with by only 0.5% of non-subscribers. Nine out of 10 users surveyed said they would continue to use RMN were it offered on a permanent basis and that they would recommend it to their friends.

From an aesthetic perspective, RMN isn’t likely to win any email graphics awards. The pictures of mail pieces passing through sorting machines at high speed are black and white. But mailers will be able to partner with the Postal Service on adding interactive options that can deliver them to websites or landing pages.

“We are doing this to enhance the mail product, and mail is not a digital product, but this product is interactive. All you have to do is give me a link,” says Gary Reblin, the Postal Service’s VP of innovation and new products.

The New York City test will provide USPS with more granularity on RMN’s consumer acceptance. It will be offered to residents of all five boroughs via emails and an ad campaign. Reblin and other postal executives will anxiously watch to see how it scales. “If a mail piece gets a 20% response rate [through RMN], but only 1% of the population has it, it’s not helping anybody,” he says.

Mailers wanting to take part in the New York pilot will be happy to know that the Postal Service is offering interactive options in RMN free of charge, and may continue to do so if all goes as well as planned. The Postal Service is looking at the service more as a mail volume-builder rather than a profit center.

“We think this is an idea that is going to change and revolutionize direct mail,” Reblin predicts. “Why? Because, for marketers, it’s all about response.”

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