Sept. 3 2008 10:18 AM

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and mailing industry are undergoing a series of strategic changes right now as regulated events, consumer misperceptions and the economic slowdown continue to shape a dynamic, evolving marketplace. New, impending regulation, such as the Intelligent Mail Barcode, continues to hold great promise in providing end-to-end visibility into the mailstream for the Postal Service, mailers and customers. However, several unanswered questions remain and could delay some mailers' response in getting on board for the full implementation proposed for May 2009.


In addition, consumer perception of the mailing industry and its environmental impact is requiring careful attention and increased communications from our industry on the environmental benefits of mail. A slowing economy and low levels of consumer confidence and spending have also led to concerns over a decline in mail volume.


Despite these events, the Postal Service and mailing industry are well prepared to promote the benefits of mail, overcome the challenges and explore the opportunities presented by today's mail to ensure its relevancy for the future.


The Benefits of Mail

The benefits associated with mail as a critical communications medium and driver of the economy have remained consistent since its inception. In fact, the US mailing industry is associated with approximately eight million jobs and $1 trillion in revenue. The mailstream is also the most frequently used form of communication for businesses, both large and small, to attract new customers and retain existing ones. For example, according to a 2007 Pitney Bowes/DMNews survey, 44% of consumers say they have started a relationship with a business because of a direct mailpiece, while 33% have started a relationship with a non-profit because of the mailstream.


In addition to a connection with the marketplace, the value of having something delivered right to your door, free-of-charge is infinitely vast. Because of the interstate nature of mail, the USPS is given national authority over it, which ensures a single postal system with one set of standards and one set of prices. The USPS regulates everything about the mail: its form, size, addresses and postal rates. This means all citizens, no matterwhere they live, or their socio-economic background, have access to this communications medium. In other words, mail is a universal communications medium that offers ultimate choice for customers.


The mailing industry is also expanding its environmental stewardship activities and adopting best practices for mail that can benefit the environment and enhance customer value. According to a new study, "The Environmental Impact of Mail: A Baseline," published in June 2008 by Pitney Bowes, mail makes up only a small fraction of most consumers' carbon footprint and is from an increasingly renewable resource: trees.


Despite mail's small carbon footprint, a concerted effort is already underway within the mailing industry to foster stronger collaboration to expand the environmental sustainability of mail and deliver continuous improvement in this area. In addition to the "Greening of the Mail" task force, a coalition of industry partners with the aim of making mail "greener," individual companies, the Postal Service and industry associations are launching and expanding environmental campaigns to address the sustainability of mail.


Overcoming Challenges

Increasing public awareness about the environmental benefits of mail is critical to overcome existing consumer misperceptions. According to a 2007 Pitney Bowes/DMNews Survey, 48% of consumers incorrectly guessed that advertising mail from US households constituted more than half of the country's municipal waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that the correct answer is two percent, chosen by only two percent of survey respondents.


Consumer misperception of the environmental impact of mail and organizations that promote a negative eco-image of mail simply deny consumers access to factual data. Misperceptions and lack of information also adds credence to proponents of legislation that aims to dismantle how the USPS and mailing industry operate. 


Do Not Mail legislation, being introduced around the country, is becoming a serious threat to the mailing industry, which is patterned after the Do Not Call bills of the 1990s. If passed, this legislation would establish a registry where consumers could prevent unsolicited mail from being delivered to them by businesses. However, instead of a remote control device, in which consumers select channels from which they would like to receive input, most Do No Mail legislation acts as an on/off switch for mail.


Do Not Mail legislation is the wrong approach to solve concerns raised, environmental or otherwise, related to unsolicited mail. The mailing industry, in cooperation with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), and others are working toward the adoption of more stringent consumer choice standards for the industry. The DMA's Mail Preference Service, free for consumers who want to select the mail they receive, is a direct response to helping consumers receive more of the mail they want.


Mailer's implementation of the Intelligent Mail Barcode will also help customers with increased visibility into their mailstream; however, prioritizing industry concerns on unanswered questions will help overcome any delay in meeting the proposed mandate of May 2009.


Opportunities Abound

Overall, the Intelligent Mail Barcode is a tremendous value-add for customers as it will increase the deliverability, accountability and efficiency of the mailing industry. Mailer's adopting the USPS's "Full Service" option for Intelligent Mail Barcode will have access to the lowest postal rates, track-and-trace capabilities, cleaner-looking mailpieces, improved scanning and the ability to participate in the USPS Seamless Acceptance program. This program offers mailers online account access through the Postal Service's PostalOne! Postage Payment Account. It is also a critical tool for the Postal Service to continue with its transformation plan and to reduce undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail by 50% by 2010.


To help reduce undeliverable mail, and improve the overall efficiency and deliverability of mail, closed-loop address management practices can also be highly influential. On average, the monthly rate of deterioration of address currency, due to family and individual moves alone, is approximately 1.2%. In six months, about 7.2% of addresses in address files have the potential to be inaccurate, according to the USPS.


Most mailers can now take advantage of several opportunities to improve address quality including: CASS processing or "Postal Coding," which verifies the address falls within a deliverable range, corrects misspellings and adds directionals and required USPS ZIP Code information. Another tool is Delivery Point Validation, or DPV, which enhances the integrity of Postal Coding by verifying the integrity of the address as a point of delivery. Other data cleansing tools such as checking addresses against the USPS NCOALink system prior to mailing will have a significant impact on the accuracy of mail, which means it's deliverable and more valuable.


Location intelligence and the increased use of transpromo applications are also driving the value of mail with more targeted and personal mailpieces. Location intelligence data includes the demographics, economics, physical geography and other characteristics that pertain to location, in other words the spatial environment in which businesses operate. That geospatial data becomes increasingly important to mailers when it is collected and analyzed to help mailers precisely match media and marketing messages to targeted households. This means that each mailpiece received by a customer tells a compelling and relevant story with information on a product or service that is useful to them.


Another opportunity for mailers to add personalization to mail is with transpromo applications or what is commonly referred to as statement-based marketing. Adding personalized advertorials directly to the white space on bills or statements is much more efficient than sending additional materials or including an insert with a statement. As a result, mailers save financially, reduce their environmental impact by eliminating paper and printing waste and ultimately pass those savings on to the customer.


Coupons are another way to pass savings on to the customer. This trend is especially popular when businesses have a recurring relationship with a particular customer base, such as restaurants or hotels. With 19% of global consumers using coupons more in a down economy (according to a 2006 AC Nielson Consumer Report), mailings with coupon offers can be priceless.


Enhancements to the mailpiece with targeted coupons and messages are a part of a much broader initiative to make mail more relevant and valuable for customers.The Postal Service's progress with its transformation plan and the industry's adaptation to recent technological advancementssuch as transpromo applications, the IntelligentMail Barcode and enhanced address quality software will have a positive influence on the future capabilities of the mailing industry. These new technologies have the power to make mail more targeted, efficient, accurate and valuable for customers.


However, the industry must also recognize the importance of the challenges posed by Do Not Mail legislation, the public misperception of the environmental impact of mail and the continued collaborative effort needed to implement the Intelligent Mail Barcode. In the coming months, the industry must work together and build on the strengths and benefits inherent in mail to continue to provide critical services to customers to remain sustainable for future generations.


John L. Campo is Vice President, Postal Relations, for Pitney Bowes Inc. For more info, please visit