Gary Reblin, VP of new products and innovation at the U.S. Postal Service, spoke with Senior Editor Al Urbanski recently about what’s in store for mailers in 2014.
Al Urbanski: Hello, and thanks for listening to DC Direct. This is Al Urbanski, senior editor of Direct Marketing News. I’m in the office of Gary Reblin, who is the vice president of New Products and Innovation at the U.S. Postal Service. Gary, thanks for joining us today.
Gary, first let’s say I hear you have some good news. I hear you won an international award with some of the new things you’ve been trying with digital. Tell me a little bit about that and about the programs that got you that recognition.
Gary Reblin: Yeah, we really appreciated the award. What we…what we have been doing is we have really been trying to integrate direct mail with digital. And what we decided to do in the Postal Service is run promotions that get our mailers to start using mobile technology.
Specifically what we have done is we have…we give mailers a discount for simply putting a mobile bar card on the mail piece, for using augmented reality and other technologies. And the purpose of this is we want people to innovate with the mail.
One of the great things about digital is it gives great new opportunities. This year, we saw political mail. People were donating based on a political mail piece to a campaign. People are now buying directly from a catalog. People are showcasing from a catalog what furniture will look like in your house. That’s all available because of the proliferation of smart phones.
And what we have tried to do is offer promotions to get people to try this new technology with the mail to drive up the return on the investment of their mail piece.
Urbanski: It’s interesting. By the way, that award was from Postal Technology International and it was for digital communication innovation of the year. So talk to me about some of the programs that you ran last year? You had the QR code promotion, and some of the feedback that you got on how that worked with folks, and also why it was that you introduced those and made the investment in those programs.
Reblin: Okay. Well, first of all, the reason we made those investments is we recognized that there was an opportunity with direct mail and that direct mail needed to evolve. The direct mail piece continues to be an outstanding way to get into the door.
However, with the expansion of e-tailing, people buying online, we saw the need to connect the hard copy to the digital world, and we also saw with the proliferation of the smart phone a whole bunch of different capabilities that were available that bottom line could drive the return on investment on mail because that’s…that’s really what it’s all about.
So we decided to run these promotions. Basically, they give a discount to the end receiver for trying this…technology. The long-term goal is if they try it, realize the return on investment goes up, then they’re more likely to use mail over the other alternatives in the space.
Urbanski: Interesting. So what do you have coming this year? Is there anything new coming down the pike this year in that regard?
Reblin: Yeah. We continue to push a couple of things real strongly. First of all, we’re continuing to push what we call emerging technologies. Emerging technologies are things like augmented reality, which can bring something from a catalog into life using the camera. We continue to push near-field communication. Near-field communication is really the definition of an emerging technology, something that’s just starting to be used with paper, but the great part is it can take a smart phone and it can launch a video. It can bring you to a site. It can allow you to make a donation without ever having to click a QR code or really have anything more to do with it than simply hold it over the paper…itself.
We’re also expanding and doing things in first class mail, like promoting and putting advertising directly on first class mail bills so that they can be used to cross sell. We’re going to continue to push the buy it now, so if your child sees something in a catalog that they want for the holidays…you can simply click that catalog. It will take you right to an Internet site so that you can purchase it.
We’re even going so far this year to allow people to—from a direct mail piece—be able to download an app because we realize that with apps…people tend to buy more. So we want people to realize that the direct mail piece can get you into the door and cut through all the clutter of the millions of apps that are out there and get people to download their own apps.
So we’re really pushing a lot this year in our promotional catalog.
Urbanski: Well, it sounds like you’re working hard to meld the digital world with the old direct mail world. There are still direct mailers out there. There is a lot going on. Postal reform is still stalled. There is an exigent increase on the boards. What do you say to some of the mailers who are saying, “Hey, I’ve got a budget and I’m decreasing?” Is this value addition, do you think that’s going to take care of it? Will there be any other kind of promotions that don’t involve digital that might increase—keep volumes up?
Reblin: Yes. We’re actually doing more promotions than ever this year. The idea is exactly what you said, to make people realize the value of mail and the value…and how the value is going to increase now with the proliferation of the smart phones and really everything that it can do.
What I say to them is, “Direct mail continues to be number one in acquisition and retention, in return on investment. It really—you know, with the forms of advertising digitally, increasing—the clutter is increasing online. The apps are increasing online. It’s becoming more and more difficult on digital to get people to act. The mailbox continues to be a great source, and you know, if you look at the abilities that are being created with targeting now, with the abilities that are being created with smart phones and the capabilities, you know, they’re all going to help the return on investment of the mail piece. So it continues to be a value and the return on investment will speak for itself, you know, if you continue to try it and continue to use it.
Urbanski: And finally Gary, you had a…well, not too long ago a new CMO take over here, Nagisa Manabe. Tell me about what her influence has been on your outlook for the long term of the Postal Service and how you view this great network that you have out there.
Reblin: Yeah. Nagisa has actually done a great job of really getting us to stop looking at just tomorrow. We obviously have to pay attention to that, but let’s look out 10 years and let’s see how things are evolving and determining what the Postal Service should be getting into. You know, are there other things that we could use that we could do to help the consumer? How…what’s going to be delivered to people 10 years from now, and, you know, is that an opportunity for the Postal Service?
Because, if so, you need to start planning for things a lot earlier. You can’t be…have them sprung on you at the last minute. So Nagisa has done a great job of really allowing us to focus into what are the new opportunities based on the fact that carriers are at the house every single day. What—you know, what will mail evolve to and how can we play…a significant role in the future world?
Urbanski: Great. Well, it’s a challenging time, but also an exciting time at the Post Office. This is Gary Reblin. Gary, thanks for being with us today. This is Al Urbanski signing out.