Tune in to Success! That’s the theme you’ll hear over and over at this year’s National Postal Forum in Nashville, Tennessee, and after hearing the opening keynote speech with Postmaster Megan J. Brennan today, I can’t help but think that there’s no slogan more apt for this year’s show… or for the future of mail.

Monday kicked off with energetic speeches from PMG Brennan; Chief Marketing & Sales Officer, Jim Cochrane; and remarks from Deputy PMG, Ron Stroman. PMG Brennan spoke to many issues facing mailers and the USPS today, and one thing was clear: the USPS and its employees and partners are on a mission to ensure to everyone knows mail is not an old medium. She touched on the many exciting innovations offered (or about to be offered) by the Postal Service, solutions that truly marry hard copy with digital mail.

Perhaps one of the most exciting was Informed Visibility, which is, according to Brennan, “A supercharged information platform designed to transform mail.”

The first stage was launched last summer. Informed Visibility turns data—which is precious gold to marketers—into useful insights. It provides visibility into the system, as well as an organization’s mailings. It allows the USPS to fully measure and report on—for the first time ever—its last mile operations, which provides visibility of a mail piece all the way to a customer’s door.

What does this mean for mailers? Plenty. An e-commerce organization, for example, can know that its catalog arrived in the mailbox of one of its customers at 4 pm on a Tuesday. Perhaps they want to drive a quick sale by sending an email or text message, alerting the prospective buyer that they could save a percentage off their purchase if they order within the next 48 hours.

So while smart mailers have been coordinating their hard copy and digital marketing efforts for years, this adds a whole new layer. “We’re adding the dimension of time to a degree we’ve never been able to before,” says Brennan. “We’re moving from integrated marketing to coordinated marketing. That means we’ll be able to tell the sender—in real-time—when that mail piece has arrived at the home.” From that point, the sender can target their subsequent communications to their customers, secure in the knowledge that the initial mail piece has been received.

Informed Delivery

Another major initiative the USPS previewed last year was a pilot project called Real-Mail Notification (subsequently renamed Informed Delivery). Informed Delivery creates an opportunity for mailers to bring their mail onto the phones or other electronic devices of their consumers.

“Informed Delivery extends the mail experience,” Brennan explains. “The consumer sees the outside of the mail piece on a device—that builds expectation. It engages customers in a mobile and digital environment.” During a media roundtable with PMG Brennan later that morning, we got to see an example of Informed Delivery up close. It was interesting to see how a recipient could view an image of the actual mail piece waiting for them at home, whether it was an envelope containing a greeting card, of a piece of marketing mail.

“Informed Delivery can be a launch pad into other channels,” Brennan states. “It gives every marketer the opportunity to attach a digital offer to mail pieces, and eventually packages. This is game-changing for this industry.

“We will make mail part of your daily digital experience and be one of those apps you visit every day. We are effectively giving every marketer the opportunity to land on the front of consumers smartphones—but only if you send a piece of mail. That’s important to remember: mail is at the center of this strategy.” What a perfect example of hard copy and digital communications working together, instead of competing against one another.

While currently still just in testing mode, Informed Delivery shows huge promise. In the initial beta, 70% of users open their email notifications every day, and more than 90% read their notifications more than four times a week. These results show what most mailers already know—people care about their mail.

Informed Delivery should be rolled out by the beginning of 2017, so I’m sure next year’s NPF in Maryland will be abuzz with some great results!

Challenges Faced

But while it goes without saying that this is an exciting time for mail, we would be remiss not to mention some of the challenges faced by the organization. During the media roundtable, Brennan touched on the pre-funding requirements as one of the biggest challenges she sees for the USPS. These requirements, she explains, have been responsible for the majority of revenue losses over the past 10 years. The USPS is actively working on obtaining permission to eliminate the prefunding requirements, in order to free up the funds that will allow the Postal Service to invest in new technologies needed to carry the organization forward. But 2016 being an election year, and Congress’s calendar being tight, does not bode well. Still, Brennan says she remains “cautiously optimistic.”

And indeed, we should all remain cautiously optimistic. Or, rather, simply, optimistic. After all, the USPS is not going away. It’s a 240-year-old institution that serves every American as its customer. Its impact on the economy and jobs is undeniable, not just from the USPS itself, but from every aspect of the mail supply chain, from the paper producers, to the printers, to the transportation infrastructure, to the delivery itself. Brennan points to the fact that the mailing and shipping industry is a trillion dollar one, responsible for over 7.5 million jobs. While we will have to work with the challenges faced and adapt as necessary, mail will always be around. And with the new technologies being developed that allow mail and digital communications to work together in seamless harmony, mail will not only survive, but thrive.

As Brennan states during the closing of her speech, “The Postal Service is pivotal to industry growth. That is why we are committed to remaining future-ready. We remain future-ready when we incubate new ideas and invest in our digital strategy, when we rapidly pilot, test and launch new products and service for you and your customers. Thank you for investing in the future of our industry, and thank you for your partnership.”