A man embarked on a round-the-world speaking tour in 1895. Two years later, he arrived in London. His name was Samuel Clemens — an American humorist, novelist and social critic. You may also know him by his pen name, Mark Twain.
While Twain was in London, a rumor circulated that he was gravely ill. It was soon followed by a rumor that he died. According to a widely-repeated legend, a major American newspaper actually printed his obituary and when Twain was told of this by a reporter, he quipped: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
To that note, some of the world’s most well known and profitable companies owe their long-term success to being able to reinvent themselves when they recognize that the landscape in which they compete is changing or will soon undergo permanent change. Cell phone maker Nokia started as a paper mill in 1865. Wrigley, a leading maker of confections, originally sold soap and baking powder. But, not all changes take companies in such divergent directions.
In order for the United States Postal Service to continue to compete, and even thrive, in an ever evolving digital world, it will need to build upon the great work it has already done and remain responsive to the current and forthcoming changes in customers’ needs. The great opportunity the USPS has in front of it is twofold; help digital communications become more effective and introduce new products in the digital space.
The USPS will need the same laser-like focus that it has shown in the package services arena to evolve its suite of products. As a side note, I often tell the story that when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I worked in the USPS sales organization, we had to compete in the package arena with a product that offered one or two scans per package, pick up only when the carrier stopped to drop off your mail regardless of time and a fee structure that allowed for only one price whether you mailed one or 1,000 packages. Today, you get more scans then you know what to do with, expanded pick-up options and the ability to get pricing based on your shipping profile. These changes, as well as dynamic routing, predictive delivery and upgraded carrier scanning technology, just to name a few, have allowed the USPS to have significant growth in its package services product line.
This new focus will begin with keeping mail relevant in a universe that is using digital communications more and more each day. But, before we begin this thinking, we must first define digital communications. Then, we must define what advertisers want the outcome to be from this type of communication. I recently saw this concept defined as “effective digital communication is the ability to create persuasive communications in different media, be it websites, video, audio, text, or animated multimedia.” I believe we can all agree this is a definition that encompasses a majority of the elements of a digitalized world.
Then the question is: what do advertisers want from their digital communication messaging? Ultimately, we could suppose that the goal is to drive traffic from their messaging and bask in the resulting revenue. What better way to meet those goals then utilizing a channel that has been around since the beginning of hard copy communication? Why would advertisers use an old-school channel in a time when digital advertising is exploding? It is because it works. One example would be the direct mail 3.5% response rate compared to the email 0.12% rate.
Alas, the Postal Service needs to do more… and it is. It is allowing enabling technology that will make digital marketing efforts even more effective through the use of direct mail campaigns. Those technological advances — QR Codes, Near Field Communication, Augmented Reality, Video in Print and Informed Delivery — are just a few of the recent innovations that can successfully drive the lift of a multi-media marketing campaign.
USPS reinvention and change is happening. And as an added benefit, the USPS is incenting customers to try these innovations by offering discounts on mail that utilizes emerging technologies… in effect, putting its money where its mouth is. That is not greatly exaggerated.
And, to quote the late, great infomercial legend Billy Mays, “But wait, there’s more!!” The USPS is poised and ready to take advantage of its lofty place on America’s top trusted brands list, its extensive retail footprint and its ability to enforce security of information through one of the country’s oldest federal law enforcement agencies to build upon and introduce new products in the digital solutions space. The work it is doing under their Digital Platform (Digital Identity Services, Digital Security Products and Digital Applications) can help the USPS generate new revenue streams that augment its core products and services. And, in the end, this will allow the USPS’s story to be one more in line with Netflix as opposed to Blockbuster.
Vincent DeAngelis is Vice President, Postal Relations, Neopost USA.