Do you know when the third brake light became standard equipment on cars, or even why a third brake light was added? Prior to the implementation of the third brake light, people were placed in simulated braking situations and consistently hit the brake faster when the car in front of them had a third brake light. The first cars with a third brake light showed up in 1985, and by 1986, they were required on all new cars. Now, you may be asking yourself, what is the point of discussing brake lights and automotive safety when this article is about innovation in mailing? Quite simply, just as automotive manufacturers wanted drivers to pay more attention to the cars in front of them, you, as a mailer, want people to pay attention to your mail piece. To do so, it’s important to understand that what worked initially (two brake lights) doesn’t mean it’s always the best choice.

    Sure, there are some things that remain constant for mailers. You always need to have a correct address for a mail piece to be delivered, for example, but studies have shown that much of the mail delivered to a home is torn in half and never looked at. The first step to a sale is to get someone to open the mail piece, and in today’s world, there are a lot more tools available to incentivize the recipient to open the envelope.

    Before overhauling your mail piece design strategy, you can start by looking at some basic statistics. The DMA (now the Data & Marketing Association, formerly the Direct Marketing Association), has reported year after year that postcards are the mail pieces that are read more than any other, mainly because the message is on the outside and nothing has to be opened to see the marketing message. That being said, you now often see people printing full-color envelopes with a message on the outside of the envelope. There are printers using digital presses to print these full-color envelopes with a personalized message on the outside. This is a great example of using technology to create an innovative solution that improves the likelihood of the envelope being opened. There are a lot of other technological trends that are available to use today to give an edge to the marketer, as well. One significant factor to note is that the USPS is encouraging marketers to make use of these new tools by offering discounts through their promotional program planned out for 2019 (see page 11 of this issue for more information on the details of these promotions).

    How Can These Promotions Encourage Innovation in Design?

    Several of these promotions deal with mail piece design, but I’d like to discuss a couple of them in greater detail. The first promotion is offering a discount on postage if the mailer incorporates some type of tactile, sensory, and interactive engagement. If you have never seen any of the three Irresistible promotional pieces the USPS has put out from 2015–2017, you should watch the video the USPS has posted to promote this concept ( They show samples with special coatings that have a texture to create a sensation that fits the image (such as wood grain texture on an image of fence or a sticky sensation on a picture of bubblegum). Aside from touch, they are also demonstrating scented images to simulate our olfactory sensory receptor. In these samples, they demonstrate how companies are using QR codes, augmented reality, and virtual reality to link to webpages, videos, and interactive marketing campaigns.

    The second promotion focuses on emerging and advanced technology. This can overlap with the tools that are in the first promotion. The intent of the USPS is to engage the customer with mobile media tied to the tools used in the first promotional opportunity, thereby encouraging marketers to push the window and learn new skills. If you are using mobile media and trying to incorporate social media, you need to learn how to track social media posts. This is a new set of tools in a marketer's tool box and, like any tool, you need to learn how to use it properly to have a successful result. You might be able to bang in a nail with a screwdriver handle, or hammer in a screw, but you are not going to get a very polished end product. The same applies to your mail pieces.

    The third promotion is encouraging marketers to include Business Reply Mail (BRM) and Courtesy Reply Mail (CRM) options in their mail campaign. Again, you need to find the right time to use this service, but by offering the discount, the USPS is encouraging marketers to use these tools to create an interaction with the customer. The fourth promotion is for creating a four-color transpromo campaign. This is where you embed relevant marketing offers targeted to an individual on a transactional document (a bill, an invoice along with a package, or a statement). This promotion would then have to be limited to First-Class mail due to the transactional nature of the mail piece. The fifth promotion is aimed specifically at incorporating a mobile shopping experience within the mail piece. What was done in the earlier promotions might also work for this promotion if you were sending someone to a mobile web page to make a purchase, such as with a QR code, like in the first promotion. The final promotion is creating a link that can be used in the USPS Informed Delivery email that takes the customer to a specific web page with a relevant message, allowing them to make a purchase or donation right from the email they receive from the USPS. If you have not looked into the use of Informed Delivery, you can sign up for it personally, which will give you good insight into how people are using this new tool. (

    If you want to take advantage of one of these promotions, you have to learn how to use the tools. The first year, the USPS gave a postal discount for using a QR code in a mail piece, but this backfired because some marketers just put a QR code on for the discount and did not actually plan out a strategy regarding how to engage the customer, subsequently giving QR codes a bad name. If you use them correctly, they work incredibly well (check out this YouTube video on using QR codes effectively:

    The USPS actually has webinars on PostalPro to help you understand each of these promotional opportunities and what you need to do to satisfy the requirements of each promotional offer (

    These are some of the tools the USPS is encouraging, but if you want to be innovative in your mail piece design, you might also look into Customized MarketMail (CMM) at

    You may not be able to participate in all of these campaigns, but developing a new tool to satisfy your customers’ needs is critical to offering something more than you did last year. If you are not innovating, your competition has an opportunity to bump you out as the mail service provider.

    John Leininger is a Professor Emeritus of the Department of Graphic Communications at Clemson University. He taught at Clemson for 32 years. He has developed research projects working with VDP, mobile media, database cleansing, postal design, marketing and sales. He continues to work with the USPS to support the Collegiate Outreach program with the local PCCs and his students won the first Integrated Marketing Campaign Contest last spring. He has now entered a second career in ministry, and hopes to teach the Catholic Churches in South Carolina to mail more effieenctly taking his experience from teaching to this new career.

    This article originally appeared in the January/February, 2019 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.