At a June conference in Washington to imagine a Postal Service for the 21st Century, many speakers suggested the Postal Service leverage the strength of its "brand" to find its role in the digital world. The conference, called PostalVision 2020, heard from a wide range of industry leaders, including those from hard copy industries and visionaries from the digital arena. Many agreed the Postal Service should focus on how to link the physical and digital worlds, and it should explore opportunities that rely on its strengths.

For example, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe said he sees an opportunity for the Postal Service in identity authentication services of some kind. Some international posts provide such authentication services through registration at retail post offices or through a "digital identity" that consumers could use to log in and obtain other government services or to handle financial transactions. While the Postal Service hasn't released any specific vision around such a service, it's a promising sign that it is exploring the option. Its new Digital Solutions team is reportedly hard at work considering a wide range of opportunities.

People often cite the Postal Service's strong brand recognition and its reputation as a trustworthy provider of services as key strengths of the Postal Service. With a presence in every community in the country, trucks on nearly every street, and a stellar track record around privacy and security, the Postal Service has earned its valued brand identity. But I have to wonder if the Postal Service's brand is suffering a bit these days. The constant drumbeat of bad news around its financial situation, around its cost-cutting plans and reductions in services is surely taking a toll on its brand. In addition, all of this uncertainty makes customers and employees uncomfortable and doesn't inspire confidence in the organization.

I have heard some people in the mailing industry say they are concerned that with each negative news story, the Postal Service brand takes another small hit. The financial news stories have been negative for a few years now, and those small hits add up to a big wallop. Just as the Postal Service is considering its first steps into the digital marketplace, it might find some of the luster has faded from its brand recognition.

So, what can it do to protect the brand? It's not an easy question to answer. PMG Donahoe seems to be trying his best to put forward an aggressive cost-cutting plan while speaking optimistically about the future of mail. This is a tough balancing act and I'm not sure even the Flying Wallendas could pull it off. On the one hand, he needs to make clear the seriousness of the Postal Service's financial troubles so that Congress and stakeholders will buy into the restructuring plan. On the other hand, he can't do it in a way that scares away new business. Given the attachment that many Americans feel to their local Post Office or to their letter carrier, any changes in service will cause a stir and generate publicity. A strong public relations campaign remains critical.

Ironically, one solution might be to promote a digital strategy. Focus some media attention on new ideas for generating revenue in a changing communications market and it might remind the public that all great businesses and entities need to adapt to changing conditions. Of course, the Postal Service should also remind stakeholders that hard copy communications won't disappear tomorrow - $66 billion in revenue is still a sizable chunk of change. But as the mail mix changes and people rely less on mail for correspondence and financial transactions, the Postal Service can't look exactly as it does today. It has to be leaner and more agile so it can respond to customer needs in an evolving marketplace. It has to change to survive. This type of change won't hurt the brand. It will help it.