By now, any worries about mail going away at the expense of the Internet have subsided. To the contrary, the Internet has driven mail volume up dramatically, due largely to increased e-commerce. Many products once bought at retail stores are now being delivered to households.

During the
2006 holiday season, consumers purchased $608 million in goods over the Internet on a day now dubbed, "Cyber Monday" making it the biggest online spending day on record, according to market researcher comScore Networks. Just imagine the shipping that resulted from that one day of e-commerce.


When envisioning the future of mail, we can see that overall mail volume will continue to grow. Specifically, advertising mail has become the main growth engine for mail volume, as business-to-consumer communications have hit an all-time high. In 2006, marketers were estimated to have spent nearly $60 billion on direct mail, according to the Universal McCann forecast by Robert J. Coen.


Currently, the preference among consumers to receive offers and important documents via mail is stronger than ever. However, with postal rate increases on the horizon and cost of raw materials moving skyward as well, mailers will have to work harder than ever before to keep costs down and effectiveness up. A recent study conducted by Dynamic Markets for QAS Ltd. revealed that more than 54% of companies surveyed worldwide were unaware of how much direct mail they send. The level of wasted dollars and resources due to squandered marketing efforts is staggering. The survey also reported that 88% of these companies had no clue about the financial implications of returned mail.


Considering that the USPS handles approximately 10 billion pieces of undeliverable mail per year, imagine the lost marketing opportunities, lack of customer response and paper and postage waste that accompanied that number. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that many companies do not cleanse addresses or analyze marketing results. Fortunately, several USPS-driven address quality mandates are taking hold that will help to significantly increase "deliverable as addressed" mail and other mail stream efficiencies.


Beyond establishing operational inefficiencies, marketers will enjoy better communications and longer, more meaningful relationships with their customers by instituting customer-centric marketing strategies that are integrated with seamless mail stream operations. This goal requires a new marriage between your operations department and your marketing department, where every piece of mail whether it is an invoice (operational) or a promotional offer (marketing) needs to be treated as an opportunity to "touch" your customer, provide value and instill loyalty and continuity of your relationship with that customer.


Before you start re-working your overall strategy, you need to take a step back and assess which customers and prospects you're targeting. Are they the best ones? The 80/20 formula meaning approximately 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers is not a new concept to most marketers. It is also well-known that acquiring new customers costs more than keeping your current customers. Integrating these facts into a cohesive, closed-loop marketing and operational strategy that will build customer lifetime value, however, is.


Why start with the customer? Consumer demands need to drive the essence of your overall marketing strategy. This belief is supported by the mainstream media, with Time Magazine naming you, the consumer, "2006 Person of the Year." While some marketers might find this consumer revolution daunting, the challenge to provide more value to your customers will create more effective business communications, grow your revenues, in return, and help drive waste out of the mail stream.


Marketers cannot continue to treat mail as a standalone channel to reach all of their customers, either. Mail must work seamlessly with the other channels in a way that optimally meets the needs and desires of your best customers. To give the customers what they want, you need to understand what they want, when they want it, how they want it delivered (physically or electronically, or both) and how to keep them coming back for more.

The task of creating the perfect media mix for your best customers is complicated by an astounding proliferation of competition in every product and service category and emerging communications channels. Breaking through the clutter to reach and keep your customers has never been harder or more important.


Digital color printing and sophisticated personalization has soared in popularity over the past couple years, making mail more impactful than ever. Services are now available affordable for even the smallest mailers which allow users to go online, create custom direct mailpieces, mailing lists and have them mailed all with a few clicks of a mouse. These types of services have essentially leveled the playing field for small businesses to compete with large companies for customers.


The level of customer targeting will move to a much higher level. Blanket offers addressed to "resident" will all but disappear and be replaced by highly personalized communications, providing offers on personally relevant products and services, based on data captured through multiple channels. Luckily for mailers, most people in the US still find the mail channel to be the most secure way to receive important documents.


Providing relevant offers in the future will be the cost of entry not a competitive edge. In December of 2005, Harris Interactive conducted a survey for Pitney Bowes where 76% of respondents said they were much more or somewhat more likely to respond to solicitations that are relevant to their
personal interests.


Today's consumer expects that your offer will be relevant, and if it is not, your brand equity and potential customer loyalty could ultimately suffer. That same survey revealed that 73% of respondents would be much more or somewhat more likely to respond to solicitations that are timely. Timing of mail delivery continues to improve, allowing marketers access to valuable customers at a time when they will be most responsive.


The most notable enhancement to the future of mail will come from the implementation of advanced analytics, which will transform the traditional "campaign" format of marketing efforts and promote an ongoing, customer lifetime value approach. The analysis and measuring of marketing initiatives will incorporate all the media and customer communication touchpoints relevant to a valuable consumer, whether it is the Internet, bricks-and-mortar retail, billing or any number of additional channels.


In the future, every piece of mail will be a potential relationship-builder for a business and its customer. Every piece of mail will provide value to the customer, in the form of relevant, timely information and convenience. By integrating ongoing marketing efforts with the operational flow, marketers will end up spending less and increasing revenues simultaneously.


Mike Monahan is Executive Vice President of Pitney Bowes Inc. and President of the company's Global Mailing Solutions and Services division. He can be reached at