As most mailers are aware, the U.S. Postal Service has withdrawn its proposal to make the use of Full-Service Intelligent Mail a requirement for claiming automation discounts. This change is the result of a Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) ruling, which held that requiring the use of Full-Service to claim these discounts in conjunction with the January price increase would result in increases in excess of the inflation-based cap. But whether it is required or not, the information available through Full-Service has the potential to be the "Big Data" that powers greater value and efficiency for direct mail marketers.

Relational Database
Full-Service Intelligent Mail provides marketers with a relational database that ties together all aspects of a mailing - from manufacturing through in-home delivery. By uniquely identifying each mailpiece, handling unit, and container, we can use processing scans not only to better predict and target mailpiece delivery, but also to better understand response activity. We can then apply what we've learned from the current campaign to improve outcomes for future campaigns.

This isn't new. The overnight and package delivery business has been providing piece-level tracking and tracing movement history detail for years. What is new is applying the same logic and discipline to mail communications and messaging to improve the experience for both sender and receiver.

Making Mail More Transparent
One of the biggest changes being driven by Full-Service is much greater transparency throughout the mail value chain. Marketers will have more data to monitor the flow of their mail through the supply chain, into the USPS processing and delivery networks, and ultimately into the hands of the recipient. A transparent system, built on data, can identify pinch-points in the production and delivery of mail, make troubleshooting more effective when problems do occur, and eventually build trust throughout the supply chain as everyone will be working from the same set of data.

Common Quality Measures Full-Service data also changes how mail quality will be measured in the future. The Postal Service has built a series of mail quality reports, called Mailer Scorecards, that are available to mail service providers and mail owners through the Business Customer Gateway (sign-in, choose "Mailing Services" on the left, then choose "Mailing Reports (PostalOne!)" from the list that appears). The reports are designed to measure mailer performance over time, looking at trends rather than individual mailings. This way of measuring mail quality is new for both the mailing industry and the Postal Service. We are in a period of understanding and vetting the data, but as we refine these reports together, they will provide a shared standard of quality.

Fine-Tune Direct Mail Production and Logistics
Mail service providers can use the unique barcodes on mailpieces to monitor manufacturing quality and efficiency throughout their production processes. Mailpiece barcodes can be used to track quality issues by linking an individual mailpiece to its data source, which production lines were used to manufacture it, and which employees were responsible for its production. Unique barcodes allow us to track manufacturing hand-offs throughout the production process, monitor workflow, and proactively intervene if mailpieces are not scanned at expected times for expected operations.

Trays and pallets of mail with unique barcodes allow us to monitor logistics flow and hand-offs prior to postal induction, tracking trays and pallets throughout the consolidation and logistics process, and then follow processing and delivery across the USPS network. "At risk" pallets or trays can be identified at any point in the process and action can be taken to get them back on schedule before the planned in-home date is put in jeopardy. At IWCO Direct, we have developed a number of reports (example shown to the right) that allow us to track pallet status and movement to ensure all transportation and delivery expectations are being met.

New Tools to Manage Mail
The Postal Service also uses its Informed Visibility program to aggregate data by facility, class, and shape to provide better understanding of the state of its processing network. The Postal Service uses this information internally to track mail as it moves across facilities, measure turn-time for work-in-progress (WIP) staged at each facility, and identify and remedy mail that is at risk for missing its service standard. Mailers benefit from improved network performance and more reliable delivery.

This information is also made available to mailers through the "IMb Planning Tool" ( Using the Planning Tool, mailers can review national performance or the performance at a specific facility to determine expected delivery times. There is also a rolling five-day average of the percentage of mail delivered early, on-time, or late, based on the delivery standard for that type of facility and class of mail. Using this information can help mailers work around "pinch-points" in the processing network and better time mail entry to achieve intended in-home dates.

Full-Service data is also the backbone of a number of new Postal Service programs that will streamline mail payment and entry activities. This includes eInduction, which replaces paper 8125s with pallet scans to verify postage payment for destination entered mail; Seamless Acceptance, which replaces many manual mail verifications with passive scans on mail processing equipment; and Mail Anywhere, which allows mailers to use a single permit to present mail anywhere in the country.

Enhance the Value of Mail as a Marketing Tool
With the visibility provided through Full-Service data, the delivery of direct mail becomes more predictable and reliable, keeping mail competitive with other media and allowing marketers to:
· Fine-tune campaign cadence so mail waves are in-home in the right sequence, with the proper timing between waves;
· Have a better understanding of campaign performance by tying response rates to delivery metrics and troubleshooting poorly performing campaigns;
· Use email and text to alert consumers to watch for a mailpiece or to follow-up a mailpiece with a call to action;
· Coordinate mail with promotions such as retail sales or sponsored marketing events;
· Coordinate mail with other media such as television, radio or newspaper advertisements;
· Level-load call centers so inadequate staffing doesn't result in abandoned calls during peak periods or excess staff unnecessarily driving increased costs;
· Use mail to provide stronger support for omni-channel campaigns by coordinating mail with social media, internet promotions, or mobile technologies.

Marketing is about getting the right message to the right person at the right time. As mail delivery becomes more predictable and reliable, direct mail becomes a stronger channel to carry those messages and a stronger player in omni-channel campaigns.

As I concluded during the presentation at the National Postal Forum, the Big Data available through Full-Service creates mail that is more valuable, more relevant to the recipient, and drives greater Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI) for the mailer.

Kurt Ruppel is the Marketing Services Manager for IWCO Direct.