This article originally appeared in the March/April issue of Mailing Systems Technology.

Mailing service providers work tirelessly to provide strategic mail induction opportunities to their customers. Proving delivery has been challenging in the past. In the era of the Intelligent Mail barcode, mailing service providers can leverage a depth of data that opens the door for multi-channel marketing. The United States Postal Service (USPS) has scan data from the largest delivery network in the world. In July 2014, 79% of eligible commercial mail was mailed at Full-Service rates, according to the USPS. As of January 2017, the amount has grown to 87%. Can providers benefit from the burden of seemingly endless documentation to solve delivery accountability woes?

The Intelligent Mail barcode system that exists today provides an infrastructure of visibility, predictability, and accountability. However, in its current state, it doesn’t quite fulfill the demands of modern day marketers. Tracking through only the Intelligent Mail barcode leaves providers with little insights or control. USPS changes due to network rationalization and other unforeseen reasons can impact providers’ ability to deliver on promises to clients.

Several companies offer robust tracking solutions so providers are no longer making assumptions about timely delivery. Users of these products are able to receive refunds and hold the USPS answerable. These measurement tools ensure that accountability is a two-way street – if you have done your job correctly as the mailing service provider, you are guaranteed delivery of your product.

We’re often asked, “What is the ROI potential?” for these services (beyond basic mail tracking, of course). The ROI question brings me to the focal point of this bimonthly column – connecting the points of contact in a strategic plan drives sales. In an interview with Great Britain’s Marketing Week about 2016 holiday sales, Sir Charles Mayfield, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, said, “The most valuable shoppers are the ones who shop across multiple channels, as they tend to spend a lot of money with us. So while digital is a big focus, I wouldn’t say we’re a digital-first business; it’s more just waking up to the fact consumers now need multiple efficient options to access our brand.”

Tracking solutions allow clients to achieve multi-channel campaigns, integrating digital and physical marketing messages. If your client uses Google Analytics or another marketing dashboard for measuring the effectiveness of digital advertising, intelligent tracking solutions give the same measurement capabilities for direct mail communications.

Tracking also returns ROI by helping to ensure that every piece of mail gets to its intended audience. Today, every piece of mail is scanned. Every piece, therefore, can be accounted for. That’s a powerful tool that many digital platforms cannot claim. Search engine marketing agencies cannot guarantee that a search engine ad will get onto the desktop of its intended viewer.

To take advantage of workshare discounts, mailing service providers are held to a complex standard of mail induction. I was recently delighted to hear a customer success story using mail tracking to validate a reimbursement by the USPS. Not that I revel in the Postal Service’s mea culpa, but rather, I’m proud of another provider holding the accountability mirror back at the USPS. Mail tracking is the provider’s tool for holding the Postal Service accountable for its end of the deal.

In instances like these, the term “big data” becomes more than a buzzword. Mail tracking solutions utilizing big data make direct mail communications a stronger channel. It connects the dots for an organized multi-channel marketing message and equips providers with the means to prove delivery.

Chris Lien is the President of BCC Software and has been active in the mailing industry for over 20 years.