Intelligent Mail barcode (IMB) is one of the most significant U.S. Postal Service developments in decades. It offers marketers and those conducting mailings for them better access to information about anticipated delivery dates, the location of mail pieces while en route to destinations, and the ability to participate in several USPS programs with a single barcode.

Currently there are two IMB service levels: basic and full-service. The greatest discounts will be made available starting November 29 for those utilizing the full-service IMB.

IMB offers the ability to track individual mail pieces which was not available with PLANET Code. It combines the data of the existing POSTNET (routing information), and PLANET Code (confirm service) barcodes, in addition to other data, into a single barcode. With much greater overall data capacity than the other existing barcodes, IMB offers several marketing advantages:

· More space for marketers: IMB eliminates the need for multiple barcodes on a mail piece. It expands usable space on a mail piece by consolidating information currently contained on the POSTNET barcode, PLANET Code, and in some cases, ancillary service endorsements. This offers a cleaner look to mail pieces and affords additional space for marketing purposes. That free space gives mailers more flexibility to design direct mail that is even more relevant to recipients.

· Greater visibility and tracking: IMB provides much more data capacity than previous postal barcodes. That extra data capacity can be used by direct mailers to encode individual mail pieces with unique IDs. The USPS will provide Start-the-Clock reports noting when verified mailings were entered into the USPS system. This leads to the ability to track each mail piece as it flows through the system.

Imagine coordinating a direct mail campaign and knowing not only when the project is initially entered into the postal system, but also the actual day when a mail piece is expected to reach its recipient. Such knowledge could help better time direct mail campaigns with TV, radio, newspaper, and Internet advertisements. Knowing when a mail piece will reach its destination might also help call centers properly staff and manage operations for the expected inbound call volume. The ability to better anticipate when a major coupon or free offer is going to land in the hands of consumers could help store managers know when to schedule additional staff and otherwise be prepared for more customers. In addition, IMB will allow for improved tracking of marketing efforts in terms of what times of the week, month, or year result in the best response rate to direct mail.

· Improved address accuracy: Direct mailers receive free address correction with full-service IMB. With the post-mailing OneCode ACS (Address Change Service) process, the USPS electronically captures move updates and promptly notifies you with address correction information and delivery point validation. The advantage of address correction is that it can reduce mailing costs, because when an address is undeliverable, the cost of the mail piece is wasted. According to the USPS, 9.7 billion pieces of undeliverable mail were handled by the postal service in fiscal year 2004.

Improved Information Means Improved Results
As more mailers become experienced in using IMB, expect more creative uses to arise for this new technology. But these marketing advantages should not overshadow the IMB postage discounts that begin this fall. In late November, First-Class Mail with full-service IMB will earn an additional discount of $3 per 1,000 mail piece and Standard-Class will earn an additional $1 discount. Moreover, The USPS is expected to eliminate automation discounts for the old POSTNET barcode in May 2011.

Full-service IMB can offer greater accuracy, control, and visibility, while at the same time reducing overall postal costs.

Dave Henkel is president of Johnson and Quin, located in Niles, Illinois. Johnson & Quin is a national leader in targeted full service direct mail printing and production, offering the latest data and personalization technologies. He can be reached at