The Postal Service spent the better part of six years redesigning the letter and flat mail stream. Starting in 2006 they required significant changes in address placement and design flexibility for flat mail pieces. After disrupting the flat mail stream, they moved on to create a new set of rules for booklets. These rules included tabbing configurations that most existing equipment could not produce and with which the mailing industry still struggles.

Undeterred by volume losses postal bureaucrats moved on to folded self-mailers with the most complex and confusing set of rules and regulations devised yet. They include paper weight and tabbing requirements that change based on design construction and total weight of the mail piece. PMG Runyon used to say he wanted to re-write the DMM so it would fit on a 3x5 card. You cannot put the definition of a folded self-mailer on a 3x 5 card let alone the actual rule.

In addition to the changes in mail piece design there are new, complex requirements for the way our industry enters mail. The USPS adopted a new barcode, new requirements (and penalties) for address cleansing, and a requirement for submitting electronic documentation (Full Service). Finally there have been (and will be) facility closings, affecting where we enter mail, our transportation costs and applicable drop ship discounts. All of these changes, we have been told, were absolutely necessary for the efficient sortation and delivery of our mail.

I remind you of the increasing costs and complexity of preparing mail, required by ever changing postal rules and regulations, as a prologue to the introduction of the IMsB Tool.

In an effort to turn the tide of mail volume loses, the USPS has decided that (for small mailers) the cost of producing mail is too great. Therefore the Postal Service has developed the IMsB Tool. The tool was designed to help small occasional mailers prepare their own mail and save the cost of using a professional mail service provider.

The problem with do-it-yourself mail marketing is that modern mail production requires postal specific software. Unfortunately commercially available software, due to postal specifications and mailing requirements, is complex (with a big learning curve) and expensive. This is time and money occasional mailers will never spend in order to use direct mail. Most importantly, postal bureaucrats want to ensure that all new DIY mail generated from postal marketing campaigns would be entered as Full Service IMB mailings.

The USPS, with continued ambivalence, decided not to promote MSPs as gateway partners to direct mail. Instead they decided to spend millions on the development, marketing, and support of their own software. This software, the IMsB Tool, will be provided at no cost to qualifying DIY customers.

But nothing is free. The development, maintenance, marketing and support costs of this product will be paid by raising postage rates on existing customers. And of course, once you build it you need users to justify the expense. So, as with EDDM, postal sales teams will be scavenging through our mailing records looking for sales leads based on the by/for information we are required to provide with customer mailings.

The primary problem for the USPS in developing and now marketing this tool is the audience it targets. Small occasional mailers do not have a clue as to what it takes to comply with the ever changing postal rules and regulations implemented by the USPS. Illogically, the Postal Service has decided to provide free software to these non-mailers and encourage them to use a DIY direct marketing campaign in promoting their businesses.

Thankfully, the IMsB User guide provides all the assistance necessary to successfully enter a mailing that conforms to postal regulations. Assistance is in the form of a list of references and links including:
1. The RIBBS Website
2. Domestic Mail Manual (DMM)
3. A Resource Map to Intelligent Mail Documents
4. A Guide to Intelligent Mail for Letters and Flats
5. User Access to Electronic Mailing Information and Reports Guide
6. And specific "Personal Support Resources"
      a. USPS Intelligent Mail service experts
      b. Business Mail Entry (BME) Manager
      c. The PostalOne! Help Desk
      d. And finally for "IMB Tracing please contact the National Customer Support Center"

What could possibly go wrong with content qualification, mail piece design, the new FSS preparation standards, or address placement requirements? With the elimination of acceptance personnel due to the implementation of seamless acceptance, IMsB Tool users will no longer have access to local BME personnel. The good news is that with seamless acceptance they may never have their mail physically verified by a postal employee, ever.

The infrequency of occasional mailings will not generate enough entrance activity to be nth sampled downstream from the entry point. The small number of pieces in a single mailing spread over multiple delivery units will yield concentrations so small that these pieces will be difficult to find. Or if found, will not be found in great enough quantities to yield an adequate sample for testing and verification. And if a deficiency is discovered, how will the USPS collect additional revenue from a customer that may never mail again?

Ignorance is bliss, for both DIY mailers and postal management!

Truth be told, I believe the USPS has determined that the system can handle the garbage delivered by these small mailers. They do not care if small customers conform to the rules as long as there is an IMB on the mail. I believe postal management has made the determination that the losses generated from non-conformance from DIY mailers are acceptable as long as professional mailers adhere to existing and future rules.

The fact is that if the IMsB Tool and seamless acceptance are successful the revenue losses caused by new DIY mailers could be quite large. What happens when people discover they can mail three ounce First Class letters at the one ounce rate? After all no one will be checking. With the ability to mail 250,000 pieces at a savings of 40 cents apiece, these occasional mailers could easily become consistent mailers costing the USPS $100,000 in lost revenue per customer per year.

Mail preparation is complex. It takes professionals that dedicate an inordinate amount of time staying current on ever changing regulations and preparation standards. It requires more knowledge than uploading a file into a computer program. The Postal Service is directly responsible for the complexity and therefore the costs of conforming to their rules and regulations. Now they want to turn a blind eye and simplify the process for a select group of mailers. If they want to reduce costs and generate more mail, change the preparation rules for all of us. No tabs, no software, no acceptance, no post entry verifications, and no rules! Just provide suggestions for how you want mail prepared.

The IMsB Tool and seamless acceptance will turn the DMM into a book of recommendations for a very select group of customers (that won't bother to read it). How foolish is that?

Todd Butler
Butler Mailing Services
Making postal delivery a digital, mobile experience!