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The Path to Personalized Mail

One element of USPS Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s keynote at the 2013 National Postal Forum (NPF) was focused on incorporating personalization into direct mail pieces. But while Donahoe conceded that the technology is there, it’s easier said than done.

Especially if you’re a small business. Where do you even start? How do you begin to research what resources you need, let alone allocate them effectively?

But during a panel called “Utilizing a Total Media Approach in a Technologically Challenging Marketplace” (say that in one breath), Steve Mitzel, Valassis SVP and shared mail general manager, just might have outlined a possible way to personalize a mail marketing using various USPS services and incentives. I say “might have” instead of “did” because the steps weren’t explicitly stated and I’m not sure if Mitzel intended to outline a path to personalization; it’s just that as he spoke about the USPS’s offerings, one seemed to emerge in my mind.

Begin with Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM), essentially a saturation service for small local businesses to blast certain geographies with their marketing messages. This of course isn’t personalized yet. But through this program, mailers can send out an entire postal carrier route of around 400 households without needing a list. They can send pieces without a personalized name or a street address—and they can target specific geographies using an online tool.

The second step is to incorporate technology to get customers to interact digitally. Strapped for resources? The USPS offers discounts to marketers who incorporate technology into direct mail pieces.

“If you’re a mailer and don’t take advantage of these, I’m shocked,” Mitzel said. “The USPS is actually giving you money to fund the use of these technologies.”

He’s referring to various USPS-sponsored promotions that happened from July 2012 and that will continue through 2013. Last year, many of the promotions were incentives to entice mobile commerce. In 2013, there will be opportunities to promote the use of mobile coupons, click-to-call capabilities, buy-it-now deals, and augmented reality.

So far EDDM isn’t being used as a marketing stepping stone. “We’re not finding in our business that people are using EDDM and going to personalization,” Mitzel said.

Which is unfortunate, because many of the technologies promoted by the USPS offer opportunities for data-gathering. Take QR codes, which the USPS has been trying to get marketers to incorporate into their flyers. “Once you put a 2D barcode on there, you can collect data on how people are using your mail,” Mitzel said. “Let’s say 50,000 of 100,000 customers use the barcode. You now know who your clients are.”

But designing creative that entices a response, so you have opportunity to gather response data, could be tricky. It’s this area where marketers might need to devote extra resources beyond what the USPS nominally offers.

However, if marketers are able to get that response data, they can start identifying consumers from what had originally been a mail blast to get what Mitzel called the “sweet spot:” one-to-one variable marketing through which marketers can alter future mail marketing creative with specific images, messages, and offers depending on the way the household has responded in the past.

And personalized mail, Mitzel claimed, increases response rates by over 44%.

But, in general, it doesn’t seem like direct mail marketers are there yet. Many of them are still flying blindly around a cave wall. “If you talk to local businesses, they will offer deals for the sake of a deal,” Mitzel said.

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