Conventional wisdom would lead mailers to believe that if a mailpiece could go out as Standard Class mail (and enjoy those favorable rates), it should. While Standard Class mail offers many benefits to mailers, the U.S. Postal Service's new pricing structure for commercial First-Class letters just might encourage mailers to take a second look at First-Class.

The new postal rates structure allows mailers to send two ounce mailpieces at the same rate as a one ounce piece via First-Class. That means you could gain the many benefits of First-Class mail service, including the highest open rates and more timely delivery compared to Standard mail, without any incremental costs.
On average, 97% of consumers open their bill or statement and spend at least two to three minutes reviewing the content - so you have their attention. And the USPS delivers First-Class mail in a matter of days (97% on time for presorted First-Class mail).

For years, mailers have drained as much detail from their statements as possible so that they fit nicely within the one ounce price. Often, statements are just a single page, with some inserts thrown into the package. But now, mailers can add promotional, informational, or regulatory materials to their regular statements - while reducing 19.9 cents or more from postage. And, by combining mailings, you can skip one outer envelope, which helps support your sustainability initiatives.

This second ounce favorable pricing also frees up space in the mail package to include inserts or other marketing materials which might have otherwise been excluded from your larger or more complex customers. Often, it's impossible to trim these statements to just a single page - and yet these are the ones most likely to take advantage of additional opportunities with your company. The second ounce enables these customers to receive special offers, newsletters, and other valuable information that was denied to them before due to the one ounce constraint.

Let me share a few real-world examples showing how mailers are leveraging the new pricing structure to their benefit.
· In the Financial Services sector, 401(k) providers are now required to disclose fees for services. By combining this information with the quarterly statements, they are able to share important information at a relevant time and without incurring additional postage expense for this mandated communication.
· Insurance providers are including newsletters with targeted content reflecting the customer's broker/agent and also sharing information about other services and solutions the provider offers.
· Healthcare insurance companies are including HIPAA notices along with coverage details and educational materials to help consumers take a proactive approach to their health.
· One large entertainment and communications company incorporated a portion of their promotional offers in with their regular statements, saving more than $10 million dollars in incremental postage.
Rather than looking to consolidate everything into First-Class transactional letter-shaped mail, think in terms of what makes sense to integrate based on capability, timing, and overall savings.

Before consolidating your mailings there are a few critical factors to consider.

The first is mechanical: can your inserters or your print service provider "fill to the second ounce?" This will enable you to avoid jumping to a third ounce weight (which is a hefty 25 cents additional cost). So, if your mailing will cause the mailpiece to jump to three ounces, it may not be worth switching - depending on your volumes and qualifications. If, however, only a small percentage of pieces would bump to the third ounce, it may still be worthwhile to send it all with your First-Class mailing.

The next factor is software: can your software or mail service provider identify those accounts which received the newsletter/promotion/notice/etc. Many customers prefer to receive their statements online, but mailers may want specific communications to be mailed to the customer because of policy, greater likelihood of being read, or other reasons. Understanding who did or did not receive the message is important and enables these customers to receive the message via Standard Class mail. You may be able to achieve this using a Customer Communications Management software solution.
Keep in mind, not all communications are targeted for existing customers who receive a statement in the mail from you. You need to look at your mailing mix to determine the best strategy for efficient and cost effective delivery.

Another consideration is timing. Sometimes the regular First-Class statement or bill just isn't the right time to share the offer, newsletter, etc. Transactional mail is often based on when a customer subscribed to your service and as a result, mail flows throughout the month to your customers. However, for certain offers where timing is critical, it may not be practical to space the delivery across 30 days.

Finally, it's important to test and monitor results. While many studies indicate that offers included with transactional documents have higher read rates - and most importantly response rates - this may not be true for all offers.

In light of recent and future service changes at the U.S. Postal Service, it is essential that mailers continually review and evolve their mailing strategies to ensure their communications are reaching their intended audiences as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Stephanie Miracle is Enterprise Postal Consultant, Pitney Bowes Management Services.