The US Postal Service is testing a program called Real Mail Notification. In the study the USPS is notifying residential postal customers about the delivery status of mail pieces soon to be delivered to their mail boxes. Notification is accomplished via a smart phone app. According to Postmaster General Megan Brennan, 9 of 10 customers participating in the test are checking the app every day.

This is a smart move. The USPS compiles plenty of information about the mail. Real Mail Notification seems to be a step towards using data captured from mail pieces once they enter the mail stream in a new way. Mail piece status and location information is Big Data that has potential as a revenue source. Perhaps the notification test program is the first step towards monetization of this asset.

The USPS Invented a New Channel
The Real Mail Notification app is a communication channel. It has value to mailers attempting to gain their audience's attention. With some strict controls over its use, the Postal Service could sell access to this new capability. The benefit to mailers is obvious.

Organizations answering calls to their customer service lines inquiring about the status of mailed materials would probably be interested in pushing those inquiries to a smart phone app; particularly one they don't even have to develop or maintain. If educating customers about using the Real Mail Notification app cut down on the number phone calls, paying a fee to the USPS for providing the notification would make sense.

Expanding on the Idea
The common application of multi-channel communication strategies is to deliver notices about upcoming direct mail promotions via email. This method has drawbacks. First, mailers have to collect consumer email addresses. Then they must time the distribution of the emails to coordinate with expected direct mail delivery dates. Finally, marketers are challenged to get their email messages opened in an environment of spam-filled, filtered, unmonitored in-boxes.

Would mailers pay to append a brief promotional message to a notification delivered via the USPS app? In a place that consumers check every day? It seems like a better approach than email. The messages wouldn't be delivered unless the mail piece had actually been scanned into the USPS network so consumers would know the messages are legitimate. When the mail piece arrives, consumers already have a hint about the value of opening the envelope.

Government Documents
A logical way to encourage consumer participation in Real Mail Notification would be notifying citizens about government communications. Tax refund checks, jury duty summons, driver license renewals, stamps-by-mail orders, government payments (such as the delivery of stored-value cards for food stamps), and more could all be preceded by a Real Mail notification, alerting consumers about impending delivery of these important documents.

Because it is a US Postal Service program, all notifications in the app are tied to physically mailed material. If enough consumers used the app regularly, the value of mail as a communication channel would rise. Offering mailers services to help them connect with their customers more effectively won't restore mail volumes to pre-recession levels. It might, however, convince some mailers to reconsider strategies for aggressively replacing mail with less expensive digital alternatives.

The Postmaster General seems interested in finding new ways to include mail as part of an overall customer communications strategy. Real Mail Notification is an example of inventing new ways to use the data and capabilities the US Postal Service already has. Of course the information has to be accurate and timely for it to be useful. If rolled out smoothly this initiative could be a way to link core functions of letter and parcel delivery to the electronic communication channels that are important components of corporate customer relationship strategies today.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants. He writes constantly about topics of interest to the communications industry. To keep up with Mike's tips, trends, and commentary visit and sign up for Practical Stuff - a free newsletter for customer communication professionals or follow him @PMCmike on Twitter.