PostNet barcode retirement is back on the table! Yes, the USPS has hinted on retirement plans and a Federal Register Notice may be issued in the next 90 days. However, should the USPS re-instate the PostNet retirement date, it could be a full year before the deadline.

This action will help the USPS gain total visibility of mail to best manage processing costs and effectiveness in light of the Network Optimization program that is currently under review (for an advisory opinion) by the Postal Regulatory Commission. As currently envisioned, plant reductions and overall network optimization efforts will commence next May, with completion targeted for December 31, 2012.

To achieve the largest operations project in USPS history on time and with minimal disruption, Intelligent Mail barcodes will be used to monitor the impact of changes to the network. In terms of IMb data, in October 2011, the following was inducted and processed as full-service IMb:

· ~54% First-Class Mail,

· ~50% Periodicals and

· ~32% Standard Mail.

These volumes should be higher in May 2012, which gives the USPS plenty of data to determine whether any changes adversely impact USPS operations or mailer expectations.

Mailers are currently working to identify the real value between basic and full service IMb for their businesses. However, many are realizing greater value today, including a financial services operation that mails 40MM pieces (invoices, collection notices and service cancellation notices). The company's objectives were to reduce postal expenses while lowering UAA mail to one percent of all mail. This mailer used Full-Service Intelligent Mail to drive over $150K in postal savings and reduce UAA to 0.6% of the mail. Another mailer, an acquisition marketer that mails 50MM pieces (lists acquired from third-party sources, lists from existing card subscribers, checks, loans and credit card offers) wanted to measure the quality of third-party lists, reduce UAA mail and track delivery for integrated marketing. This initiative resulted in fewer re-mailings, led to approximately $745k in mailing savings and generated approximately $1.2M in revenue with timely execution of integrated marketing over six months. Many more such success stories are available.

As we look forward to the events in 2012, how will the IMb continue to help organizations communicate effectively with end customers? While New Year's predictions are always risky, 2012 looks to be the year of increased marketing growth through accountability and not just cost savings. Ongoing project discussions are occurring with these organizations focused on multi-channel/customer-preferred channel communications to drive sales, cross-sell and retention in a highly competitive market.

Such technologies as the IMb and QR barcode allow savvy mailers and organizations to integrate effective paper communications into a multi-channel plan. How many times have you called an organization or walked into a store in response to a mail offer and found the associate unaware of it? How many times have you visited a company website after receiving a mail offer and found inconsistent or incremental messaging?

The IMb allows organizations to not only track "mailpieces", but also identify, store and decide on customer "journey" events related to specific marketing offers contained in transactional or customized marketing mail communications. These journeys may well start with paper-based communications and proceed through multiple channels via QR barcode scans that guide the journey to web and then on to email, mobile, social media and digital delivery portal.

By properly "instrumenting" the IMb and linking the unique ID to a prescribed campaign and pre-defined journey "tree," organizations can leverage benefits of the IMb that go well beyond tactical postal efficiencies.

It is not surprising that the USPS has offered mailers an incentive to link QR barcodes and marketing programs to support just such marketing applications — and these types of incentives are expected to continue in 2012 and beyond to sustain and grow the value of paper communications in a multi-channel world.