A New Era in Direct Mail

The United States Postal Service is hoping to revolutionize the way we think about mail. How? Their new service, Informed Delivery (ID), allows users to digitally view the outer face of incoming mail pieces, and it could pave the way for a shakeup in the mailing industry. Will the launch of ID signal the beginning of a new era for marketing mail as we know it? Can direct mail and ID happily coexist? As producers of marketing mail, the answers to these questions are incredibly relevant to us at Specialty Print Communications. Thus, we’ve been following ID’s release closely by researching, attending informational seminars, and enrolling in the service ourselves—all to gauge how the future of mailing might unfold.

Details of Informed Delivery

ID provides participants with grayscale images of any letter-sized mail pieces arriving at their mailbox, giving a sneak peak of what to expect. On its face, this appears to be a useful service for consumers by providing notification of incoming mail pieces. It supplies information where information is not usually found. Whether customers are waiting for a specific piece of mail to arrive or simply keeping an eye on their mail, ID allows them to do so without ever touching the mailbox. Because it utilizes current processes, the ID service is provided free of charge. The initial response from consumers has been positive too, considering 95% of enrollees open their notifications every day or almost every day. This service brings a part of our physical mail into the digital world as our world itself becomes increasingly digitized.

Beyond the benefits for mail recipients, ID also has potential value for brands and companies sending mail, with additional paid marketing opportunities. Brands have the option to integrate what USPS calls Interactive Campaigns, giving them a chance to customize and control the alerts that are relayed to mail recipients within ID. As of December 2017, 176 brands had already participated in more than 710 Interactive Campaigns. One early adopter is Hayneedle, an online home furnishings company. Hayneedle is taking full advantage of ID’s Interactive Campaign service with customized images and links. According to Krisha Goering, Marketing Circulation Specialist at Hayneedle, the company is taking a wait-and-see approach through early involvement in ID, evaluating their initial campaign results and then determining the long-term value of this new marketing technique.

This is an example of a fully customized ID notification sent by Hayneedle. Through post-campaign reports, Hayneedle will be able to view the click-through rate (among other statistics), which will help determine the success of its campaign.

Overall, it might appear that ID is a win on every front: benefiting consumers with more information about their mail, providing extra marketing opportunities for brands, and costing nothing for the USPS.

What Does it Mean for Direct Mail?

For the direct mail industry however, the implications and questions about this service are yet-unanswered. First, how will this service impact the effectiveness of direct mail? Does it detract from or compromise that initial and crucial “mail moment” consumers experience when they first open their mailbox? As a leader in the direct mail marketplace, these are questions our team is asking. We know that some of the effective appeal of direct mail is surprise and exploration by the recipient. It’s human nature to explore the unknown with greater curiosity. If a consumer can review ID notifications of multiple credit card offers coming in the mail, she might be more inclined to quickly discard those pieces upon receipt. This could compromise that important initial “mail moment.” On the other hand, it’s possible that this digital “heads-up” will acquaint users with the contents of their mailbox, breeding familiarity and anticipation for the moment when they open a piece of mail for real. Only time will tell how ID will influence direct mail’s effectiveness. One thing is for sure; this will be a topic of great interest for marketers and the entire direct mail industry as this service develops.

How will ID develop as a service? When you consider the potential absorption of ID technology into our mail, its’ not unreasonable to imagine moving towards a fully digitized mail service. It seems like a logical progression from viewing the face of a mail piece online to the ability to read the entire contents of your mail pieces digitally. While this concept of “any time, anywhere” mailing raises many issues (including those of privacy and security), Robert Dixon Jr., Director of Product Technology and Innovation at USPS, says the Service is looking into enhancing their product in all ways possible.

The Mail of Tomorrow

Is an entirely digital mail service possible? When you handle a physical mail piece, you are having a more private and physically engaging moment versus an on-screen connection that can be difficult to make. The tactile element granted by the touch, feel and look of the physical objects is lasting, even if you are briefly sorting through them. In its current form, mail engages the physical senses in a way that the digital world could probably never replicate. Some believe that an all-digital future is inevitable. But that future is less than crystal clear. Future leaders—millennials—seem to largely believe in print. Statistics show that 84% of this group take the time to look through their physical mail. Additionally, 64% would rather scan for useful info in delivered mail rather than email, according to a 2016 USPS Study Survey.

It seems that our society might be experiencing some level of digital fatigue as more and more services move to screen-based experiences. The constant deluge of incoming alerts, messages and connection points seems to bode well for the user-focused moments of physical experience. We believe the modern mail piece will remain a marketing staple as the rest of the world becomes increasingly digital, and moving physical mail into the digital stream might not be an advantage. A fully digital mail service could become just more white noise in this environment. Currently, ad saturation bogs down many websites and social media platforms. Some recipients simply block or ignore these ads. Should brands be concerned that marketing through ID will eventually fall into this same category? Time will tell. In the end, the unique nature of direct mail will continue to provide the measurable, tactile, and engaging experience most marketers hope to achieve.


Kyle Porter
Associate Account Manager

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