May you live in interesting times." With glass in hand and smiles all around, many people for years and years have offered this toast to their good friends and associates. Take a swallow, and continue to say, "And never have times been more interesting than now!" It seems to me I can agree with that sentiment each year working in the direct marketing industry! You had better be very good at adapting to change. In 2004, The Conference Board released a study that was sponsored by Heidrick and Struggles and Oracle (Peoplesoft) indicating that 88% of the 540 global business leaders attributed flexibility and adaptability to change as the major keys to staying competitive.
So what have we been adapting to so far this year in the postal arena? I'll list a few that are top-of-mind as I write this article, knowing that by publishing date, there will be more.
"The Rate Case" as I Will "Forever" Refer to R2006-1!
It's the first topic on my list, and yet probably the most difficult for me to write about (keeping space a consideration). Just what could be left to discuss that hasn't been hammered out during the past year? What has been the biggest impact throughout the entire lengthy process? Attempting to understand what was being proposed by the USPS, and the recommendation provided by the Postal Regulatory Commission, PRC to the USPS Board of Governors, and their reaction has left us all spinning.
I had the task of following this filing, learning about the implications and effects of the changes, and having to explain it to clients and other attendees at my "Postal Princess Rates and Rules Road Tour" sessions across the country, as well as on multiple national webinars. By now, you know the postage you are paying, or not (see next item). So many of us "postal geeks" are reviewing mailpiece designs and helping to explain the postage impact and options with mail owners. One example was consoling a designer who had to tell the mail owner that the wonderful, Dyn-O-mite, sure to pull a great response package he had just created, went from $0.87 to $1.47 compared to last year's mailing! Or working with a mail owner who really wants to use the mail to communicate with his customers, but only has just so much money in his budget, has been a challenge especially if he wants to mail a CD! Is it a Flat? Is it a Parcel? Is it an NFM?
The bottom line could be, "Whew, this is the last rate case under the old law!" or, is it? What will the new rules and process created by the PRC (tied to the Consumer Price Index) bring us? Will it be better? Will it continue to allow us to communicate cost-efficiently through the mail? Those theories would take the entire magazine and a crystal ball, and yet are of great importance. Stay tuned.
To "Slim Jim" or Not
No, Slim Jim isn't the new name for the operations manager who went on a diet last May. It's the industry term given to the letter size pieces that have multiple pages and look like a very small catalog. "Slim Jims" have also been suggested as a potential solution to the 40% postage rate increase that some mail owners are experiencing since
The Direct Marketing Association has noted that a ripple effect is already being felt by flat-shaped mailers as well as by the downstream companies that provide mailing services and supplies. Many of the DMA members let postal officials know that the high rates would force them to cut mailings by 10%, 20% or even more. Many paper suppliers are planning a 15% to 18% reduction in coated-paper production because they expect a significant drop in orders as catalogers reduce volume due to these higher flat rates.
But beware before redesigning to a booklet-style piece (which also will include tabbing expense and processing). Just because the design may meet the requirements in the Domestic Mail Manual doesn't necessarily mean it will process well on the USPS automation equipment. You do want all of your mail to get delivered, right? Because of the potential movement to these designs, and the processing concerns, the USPS is testing mailpieces and reviewing the standards. Mailers should expect to see new requirements.
Moving to a "Slim Jim" or other smaller piece could save postage; it also could have a negative effect on response rates, resulting in a net loss.
UAA Improving Address Quality and Response Rates
Last year, the USPS established a goal to reduce UAA mail 50% by 2010. Each year, handling and processing UAA mail costs the USPS more than $1 billion and probably twice that to the overall industry. And earlier this year, the PMG challenged the industry to take a leadership role in making even greater strides. Most people understand the need for better targeting, the need to use the cleanest and most up-to-date address lists possible, to eliminate duplication and reduce waste. But some mailers only use the National Change of Address process on their files every 185 days. Considering that some individuals do not inform the USPS when they move, as well as other limitations of just using one address hygiene method, mailers need to do more as an industry before someone else does it for us by stopping the wanted mail with the unwanted.
Some of the areas mailers continue to review include:
- Maintain in-house do-not-mail lists for new prospects and existing customers who may not be interested in everything a particular mailer has to offer.
- Use of the Direct Marketing Associations Mail Preference Service file distributed quarterly or even better to obtain it each month.
- Paying very close attention to eliminating names and addresses of deceased individuals. This hit home for me in 1983 when my dad passed away. My mom was very upset that she continued to get mail addressed to my dad. I asked her if she still kept the phone book listing in his name, and she did. Many surviving spouses may do that for reasons including security. Once she understood how people were getting the name, she eventually did change the listing. However, to dispel the "rap" earned by using poor data quality we can do more. I recently watched An Unfinished Life staring Robert Redford. He sat next to his son's grave and remarked, "Well boy, I see you may have won millions of dollars. I may just send this in for you." I forgave Mr. Redford for using the "J Mail" remark (since he is one of my favorite actors) but he was right in this situation. That letter was definitely mail that was not relevant. To help families cope and avoid these situations, another tool available through the DMA is "The Deceased Do Not Contact List" at: www.ims-dm.com/cgi/ddnc.php. The DMA encourages even non-DMA members as well as doctors, funeral directors and bereaved family members or caretakers to provide the name and contact information of the deceased individual(s). There are precautions to prevent possible miss-use.
Wanda Senne is the National Director of Postal Development for World Marketing and liaison to the USPS. She currently serves on the MTAC Leadership Committee in the focus area of Seamless Acceptance & Induction and is a member of the Board of Directors for the Association for Postal Commerce (PostCom). Email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 770-431-2591 or visit www.worldmarkinc.com.