This spring, we celebrated the first anniversary of the USPS’s Informed Delivery. Since its inception, the mail stream has become even more transparent and interactive with the introduction of Informed Visibility. These two offerings could revolutionize the way communicators reach customers. You probably already know the basics: Informed Delivery allows mail recipients to electronically preview the mail they’re set to receive that day (along with an optional visual message that marketers can use to upsell), while Informed Visibility allows near real-time, expanded visibility into mail as it moves through the mail stream. At a time when many marketers and recipients prefer electronic communications due to on-the-go accessibility and more precise feedback loops, these features help close the gap.

However, some marketers are not yet taking full advantage. Why? For one, many may not yet realize these tools’ potential.

Informed Delivery
With Informed Delivery, marketers can submit their own image to be associated with a mail piece’s electronic preview, and that image can link to a URL. That’s exciting enough on its own, making fulfilling a call to action as simple as a single click — a level of ease that has historically been exclusive to electronic-first communications.

But Informed Delivery takes it to the next level by allowing communicators to associate multiple campaigns at one time with a single mailing. This allows for content customization, which any direct mail marketer will tell you can cause response rates to spike. For example, if a retailer is mailing out a coupon, they can include a clickable version of that coupon in the Informed Delivery preview. That way, recipients have a longer time to think about the offer, browse the retailer’s online storefront, or even use the coupon online before the mail piece arrives. For particularly loyal shoppers, that same retailer could create a custom message: use the online coupon now and reuse the physical coupon in-store, offer a higher discount as a loyalty reward, or countless other ways to drive engagement and sales.

Here’s how customization works:

1. The address side of a letter-sized mail piece is imaged and entered into the Informed Delivery application.

2. The Informed Delivery application matches a scan of the mail piece to a campaign’s Mailer ID (MID).

3. The application checks the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) for information about the campaign, including checking the serial number range for any recipient-specific aspects (such as the aforementioned loyalty rewards).

4. USPS notifies the recipient of mail arriving soon, providing an email and dashboard view, which includes the sender-designated image and hyperlink.

5. Via the email or dashboard, the recipient can now access the electronic preview and customized, clickable message.

This combines two of the most powerful tools for driving engagement in modern communication: personalization and one-click, easy calls to action.

But there is one conspicuously absent advantage of electronic communications that intelligent delivery does not help direct mail close the gap on: efficient feedback loops. Feedback from and about customers’ interaction with communications is invaluable, not only in making adjustments to a current campaign for stronger results, but also for actionable insights that can be carried forward into future campaigns.

That’s where Informed Visibility comes in.

Informed Visibility
While tagged links and back-end web analytics can provide some insights into how well the clickable portion of an Informed Delivery campaign is going, Informed Visibility can show marketers so much more.

This offering provides near real-time, expanded visibility as mail moves through the mail stream. GPS tracking information from carriers’ handheld scanners create what the USPS refers to as “logical delivery events.” The USPS automatically matches carrier location information to information about the mail pieces they are transporting, allowing piece-level location tracking every step of the way, without the need for carriers to stop and physically scan to “check in.” This can help provide valuable insights into individual households’ usual delivery times during the day, where in the mail stream recipients choose to access Informed Delivery-enabled electronic materials, and much more.

These insights can help marketers better understand what’s working, what’s not, and which variables might be affecting those outcomes. Perhaps that same hypothetical retailer from before has found its target audience is too busy to shop during the week. They can assess how long a mail piece usually takes to get to their audience and adjust shipping dates to help more mail pieces arrive on Saturdays, when they find customers are more likely to shop.

If Informed Visibility only gave direct mail the kind of real-time tracking electronic marketers have long enjoyed, it would be a powerful offering. But it goes beyond that, also potentially helping make multichannel campaigns more effective. With Informed Visibility’s near real-time tracking, marketers can time follow-up multichannel communications in relation to a mail piece’s arrival. From flash sale email notifications to customer response surveys and beyond, Informed Visibility allows communication channels to work in harmony in ways never before seen.

Powerful Synergy
All of this improved visibility into the mail stream adds up to never-before-available, now-actionable insights. Marketers can start to see how direct mail campaigns are performing in real time, and they can even make adjustments to the Informed Delivery back end to help drive better results.

This on-the-fly campaign update functionality perfectly complements the efforts of marketers embracing augmented reality (AR). AR offerings are changing the way audiences interact with mail, allowing recipients to simply point their mobile devices’ cameras at a mail piece and then access related videos, documents, and websites at a single touch. While Informed Visibility and Informed Delivery can work together to adapt the ways users engage with mail before they receive it, cutting-edge AR options can empower marketers to adjust AR-enabled experiences after delivery. Instead of static QR codes that may need to be reprinted to direct to new or different content, these mark-less AR solutions can make near-immediate changes to a campaign as conditions change and response behavior trends start to develop.

USPS provides a lot of in-depth information on how you can utilize Informed Delivery and Informed Visibility. You can find out more about Informed Delivery here, and you can find more about Informed Visibility here.

With these impressive developments, marketers must ask themselves: Am I getting the most out of my mailed communications? Are my customers? By taking advantage of these free tools from the USPS, a marketer gets one step closer to answering both with a confident “yes.”

Steve Cousins is Advanced Services Strategy Senior Manager, Ricoh USA, Inc.

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