When it comes to measuring the success and failure of traditional direct mail, nothing excites marketers more than tangible data revealing the reality of what did or did not occur. An example of this is mail tracking gaining popularity among mailers who can accurately predict in-home arrival by aggregating delivery data. Retailers can now include direct mail advertising in connection with their local campaigns. This data is not only traceable but actionable: By tracking your mailing campaigns, you can better measure and improve your campaigns' effectiveness.


Traditionally, mailers have relied on the back-end processes to verify their success. Mail tracking allows you to coordinate multiple-tier marketing programs, with direct mail serving as the jumping-off point. This new technology allows you to successfully implement timed triggers for direct mail response via telemarketing or initiate additional waves to forge even stronger customer connections. By closely monitoring campaigns, mailers can more fully determine which concepts work best and maximize their investments with better follow-through. All of this makes it entirely feasible that direct mail will maintain its position as a premier channel for coupons and daily specials as well as the preferred method for one-to-one communications.


So what is mail tracking? You might be familiar with list seeding or other services that can assist in mail tracking, but the U.S. Postal Service's Confirm program is more robust; directly integrated with the USPS process, it is fast achieving prominence among mailers looking for tracking resources with broad-based, real-world utility. Confirm allows all mailers to identify and track individual mail by placing a PLANET Code on the mailpiece. (The PLANET Code is similar to the traditional POSTNET barcode format; the only difference is a reversal of the long and short bars.)


The PLANET Code is typically placed in the address block of the letter, flat or periodical mailpiece. This PLANET code is scanned and logged by postal equipment at various points as it traverses the postal system. The postal equipment records the PLANET Code, POSTNET barcode, processing facility, sort operation code and processing date and time.


Once the scan is read, the data is distributed electronically. This data can indicate where a piece is located in the system and provide estimates of delivery. PLANET Codes can be used on reply mail as well. The first time I mentioned this to a catalogue professional, his response was enthusiastic: "Wow! You mean I can better predict staffing levels needed to process the orders when they are received?" Imagine tracking outbound high-value items as well as the inbound payments they generate. This system works equally well for outbound check payments, too.


(An aside: My major-mailer employer was once accused of not processing or worse, stealing a customer's check run primarily because only portions of the entire job were missing and other checks from the same run were cashed after weeks of back and forth with the USPS and a major local government office. The missing portion of mail was found locked in a vault at the local municipality's processing facility. One little PLANET Code matched back to the Postnet would have indicated that two trays of "check sequenced" mail were missing, not two trays of "sorted mail." A PLANET Code on just some of these pieces would have indicated that the mail had never been received by my company and/or delivered to the post office resolving the problem weeks earlier. No blame would have been wrongly bestowed on us, and the unfortunate recipients of these checks would have received their funds much sooner.)


Time-sensitive follow-up: Key items like mortgage papers, travel vouchers or contracts linked to customer support allow for quick follow-up. 


Trigger automated events: A direct mailpiece is to be sent in waves to solicit donations for a college alumni association. By using the anticipated in-home date, you can link follow-up phone activity and create additional impact using multiple media that might otherwise be used less effectively.


Gauge store activity/inventory: Mail has long been a great way for retailers to build store volume. Mail tracking offers a powerful tool to correlate mail delivery times within store traffic. This information can help users better manage their marketing efforts and control inventory turnover generated by retail sales.


Assess alternative postage methods: If you use First-Class Mail only to ensure your mailings hit at a specified time each month, you could be wasting money. PLANET Code tracking can be applied to Standard Mail as well, helping you to better predict when the mail is being delivered while taking advantage of much more reasonable mail rates.

Ever wonder if "black holes" really exist? With PLANET Code tracking, mailers are better able to identify and work with the Postal Service to address any potential delivery problem spots. If you're on the waiting side of determining a campaign's success, these unknown quantities can quite literally keep you up at night. PLANET Code tracking keeps you informed.


Why wait for customers to respond when you can keep them engaged with multi-tiered marketing efforts? PLANET Code tracking helps you maintain communications momentum and strike while the iron is still hot. You can even adjust staffing requirements based on mail flow and more accurately time subsequent mailings by either accelerating or holding them back depending on the status of the mail being tracked.


PLANET Code tracking allows marketing managers to get a jump start on a campaign's effectiveness and success. Finance managers love this service because it helps them to better predict cash flow. Sales teams and telemarketing managers can better plan follow-up activity.


One mailer's comment puts it together: "With competitive pricing from third-party providers, the cost of the Confirm service is seldom an issue. I can meet my customers expectations and exceed typical delivery standards. And I get to help them improve projections for when telemarketing and follow-up should begin." In short, PLANET Code services allow informed follow-through and provide a terrific value-added service. That's the kind of service from which we could all benefit.


Ted Seward is Vice President of Marketing at BCC Software, Inc. Visit www.bccsoftware.com.