The U.S. Postal Service steps up its mobile game

In 2013 the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will continue promotional initiatives designed both to entice marketers to integrate mobile technologies into their direct mail pieces and to increase consumer awareness to drive uptake. “The whole industry is evolving and we’re trying to do our part to push innovation,” says Gary Reblin, the agency’s VP of domestic products.

In May 2012 the USPS incented marketers with a postage discount if they included 2D barcodes on their direct mail pieces and satisfied certain criteria, which included information alongside the code telling consumers why they should scan it, a connection to a mobile-optimized site, and a connection to either a commerce-enabled or personalized site.

Reblin says that 20% of Standard Mail users participated in the promotion last summer, and 18 to 20% of direct mail marketing pieces had QR codes even after the USPS’s promotion ended. For Reblin, this validates the project. “Our true measurement is: Are [marketers] continuing to use it?” Reblin says. In November the USPS came out with another mobile promotion, offering a postage discount for mailers with barcodes that linked to a mobile-optimized shopping site.

The USPS’s 2013 promotional initiatives will go beyond mobile barcodes—such as near-field communications (NFC) and augmented reality (AR). The first promotion, beginning March 1, will offer postage discounts for mailers that integrate hard-copy coupons that can be redeemed via mobile technologies—for instance, scanning and storing a coupon with a mobile device. “Mobile and iPads can really enhance direct mail and couponing in general,” Reblin says.

A second promotion, beginning August 1, will provide postage discounts for enterprise customers that use “cutting-edged innovations” in their mail campaigns, including NFC—which enables communication and data exchanges based on proximity—and AR, which amplifies images with interactive menus, videos, and graphics.

“Mobile barcodes are just the beginning,” Reblin says. He’s most excited about the possibilities around NFC, especially as in-store retailers implement credit card readers with NFC capabilities and tech companies like Google introduce mobile wallets. “When you go to the store and tap [your mobile device] on the NFC reader,” says Reblin, “not only is a payment made on the credit card you have, the coupon is automatically deducted because it’s linked in the mobile wallet.”

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