Talking Innovation With the USPS CMO

Nagisa Manabe, CMO of the USPS, chats with Senior Editor Al Urbanski on the new reality at the Postal Service and what the future holds.

Al Urbanski:
Hello, and welcome to DC Direct, where we talk with marketing movers and shakers in Washington. This is Al Urbanski; I’m the senior editor of Direct Marketing News. Today, we’re pleased to have with us Nagisa Manabe, chief marketing officer and sales officer, United States Postal Service. Nagisa, nice to have you with us today.


Nagisa Manabe: Thank you, Al. Thanks for having me. 

Urbanski: And I hope I pronounced your name correctly. 

Manabe: Yes, absolutely. 

Urbanski: Did I? Okay, we want to make sure we get that right. So Nagisa, you’ve been with the Postal Service for a little over a year now. You were kind of an unusual bird there. You’d spent most of your life in packaged goods marketing. You were with—you started with Procter & Gamble and worked for Diageo in the spirits business, along with some other stops along the way. So tell me about how your backgrounds meshed with the efforts at the Postal Service.


Manabe: Well, you know, Al, since the beginning of my career I’ve actually used the mail quite a bit. From my early days on Ivory to all the way through at Johnson & Johnson, it turns out that mail has been a critical part of my marketing success at a number of companies; so I don’t think it’s any surprise at all that I got to the Postal Service and thought, “Well hey, here’s a chance to actually help grow a longstanding component of the marketing industry through a little bit of innovation here as well.”

Urbanski: Yeah. What’s one of the first things that you did to familiarize yourself with the industry when you got here?

Manabe: Well, really, the first priority was to get out and talk to our customers. I think that all too often we overlook the obvious. For us, that was just literally going down the list of our top 100 customers and hitting the road and working with the Postmaster General and our VP of sales, Cliff Rucker, to just call on most of our top customers to understand what their needs and desires are.


Urbanski: What about some of the ones that weren’t the top customers, some of maybe—I talk to a lot of digital people, a lot of e-coms that don’t even use direct mail. Did you find any interest on that—in that arena?

Manabe: Oh, absolutely. But of course, the first thing I think is they’re surprised to hear from us. You know? At first I think that they thought, “Now why on earth is this person from the Postal Service calling on us?” The reality is it’s really all about just starting to get in and penetrate some of these customers.

We actually—we had some fun conversations with folks who aren’t necessarily in the mail [business] today, but then once we started to have these conversations, [we] realized that there’s a possibility of working with direct mail[ers] themselves.

Urbanski: Yeah, absolutely. That’s funny because I had a conversation with the head of a large agency, the creative director, the other day who’d said, “No, we look at our clients, looking at the best way to serve them and reach people; we look at mail as another tool, and we—for each individual campaign—monitor mail just like we would mail and SEO and”—do you find that’s an attitude that’s yet prevalent? I don’t, but is it one that can get established among marketers in America?


Manabe: Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting because, you know, the Postmaster General often says the Internet giveth and it taketh away. What he means by that is on the one hand we’ve certainly seen a shift in bill payment to online, but at the same time we’ve seen tremendous growth in our package business as more and more folks shop online. 

I think our reality is the world’s going to continue to change, but we believe that the role for the Postal Service is to continue to innovate in all the ways that people need us because the fact is they still need us to deliver to every household in America.

Urbanski: Absolutely. Tell me about your innovation program at the USPS. Do you have a unit there dedicated to it?

Manabe: Yeah. Gary Reblin, our VP of innovation, runs that group and it’s really—it’s a group of about 100 folks who’re really dedicated to creating new—new innovation in the mail and our package business. You’ve probably seen a lot of those examples out in the marketplace recently. 


You know, we made an announcement that we’ve expanded same-day delivery to New York City. We’d done a pilot in San Francisco last year. We announced Sunday delivery on the package side, and you have—I think we talked a little bit about the promotion calendar, but that’s a great example of how we’re innovating in the mail and encouraging mailers to use the interface between physical and digital to really drive a better consumer experience.

Urbanski: Yeah. I know one of the big resounding things that Postmaster General Donahue [stresses] is that you want to—even though you’re a government agency, you want to operate like a private business. It sounds like you’re going toward that way in the future in taking in—listening to your customers and innovating.

So tell me how you see it, just to wrap up with, you know, some of the issues that the Postal Service faces in the coming year. How do you see things rolling out in the next few years as far as how your business is going to develop?


Manabe: Well, I’ll tell you. You know, it’s interesting that you mention government agency because I will tell you that I’ve been in the marketing business since 1991 and I’ve never been part of an organization that moves faster than the Postal Service. It’s actually rapid decision making, very thoughtful and open conversations across the leadership team. But our reality is we can make a decision very quickly.

Sure there are legislative constraints about the businesses we operate in, but if it happens to be about the core business for mail or package, we’re able to make decisions really quickly and move to market with innovations that our customers ask for.

I actually think we’re in a lucky place. We’ve got a strong leadership team—an outstanding organization of employees who are just willing to get in there and try new things. So our goal is to innovate continuously and try to get to market with more and more interesting risks on today’s mail and package business.


Urbanski: That’s great to hear, Nagisa. Well, good luck to you and to the Postal Service ahead, and I hope all works out well on Capitol Hill for you this year. And thank you very much for joining us today. 

Manabe: Thank you very much. Thanks for your time.

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