It’s common in the retail world for a store to have a special promotion – signage, advertising, and reduced prices – to build sales of a given product or to drive more customers into stores – or both.
In the world of the Postal Service, where its “products,” their prices, and their specifications are regulated by the Postal Regulatory Commission, the notion of putting mail “on sale” was always considered infeasible. However, that changed in May 2009, when the USPS filed with the PRC for a three-month “summer sale” on Marketing (Standard) Mail letters and flats. The innovative proposal was approved and ended up being repeated the following year. In subsequent years, the promotions increased and were expanded to include First-Class Mail. By 2013, the agency was proposing six promotions to the PRC, and has continued the practice of offering multiple, overlapping, limited-time promotions every year for both First-Class Mail and Marketing Mail ever since. (There were no promotions in 2018 because there were no sitting governors to approve the annual filing.)
Over the past decade-plus, the recurring question has been whether the promotions actually work – whether by increasing the volume mailed or reducing volume that otherwise would not have been mailed.
Understandably, the Postal Service believes they do. The promotions’ managers cite three benefits, saying the promotions: 1) encourage mailers to try new technologies and techniques to drive better response and enhance mail’s value; 2) keep mailers innovating in the marketing ecosystem, to explore, integrate into, and keep pace with other marketing channels; and 3) allow mailer owners to use fresh approaches, keeping mail top-of-mind in their businesses’ marketing mix.
The USPS also cites the growth in participation as evidence of the promotions’ value. For example, from fiscal year 2017 through fiscal year 2019 (October 2016 – September 2019), though results varied for specific promotions, total participants increased by three percent and total eligible mail volume grew by six percent.
In the most recent full year (FY 2019), repeat participants were about half of total participants, suggesting that the promotions satisfied their objectives as well as the Postal Service’s. Surveying the participants also revealed that 1) 81% of participants in the Tactile, Sensory, and Interactive promotion agree that incorporating TSI treatments into their mail pieces will increase the effectiveness of their direct mail campaign; 2) 68% of mailing service providers would recommend incorporating Emerging and Advanced Technology into their clients’ future direct mail campaigns; and 3) 60% of Informed Delivery promotion respondents plan to conduct interactive Informed Delivery campaigns outside the promotion period.
The agency also states that it consistently sees that promotion participants have more positive mail volume trends than do non-participants. If customers mail more, the USPS assumes, they’re both seeing success in the mail and achieving more value and ROI.
Those looking for more concrete proof can turn to the PRC. Its role requires it to examine the Postal Service’s proposed promotions, and their past results, more dispassionately. If history is any guide, the PRC finds the promotions are worthwhile, generating more contribution to postal revenues than the related discounts cost.
Cynics might still ask how much volume mailed under the promotions would have been sent anyway. Given the continued ebb of all hard-copy messaging, the notion of “anyhow mail” might be less applicable now that a decade or two ago but, even if a mail owner had planned some volume of mail anyway, the promotions might allow sending more (given the discount) while exploring ways to improve the effectiveness of messages. In such a scenario, mail volume that was at risk may have been preserved.
For commercial mailers, including printers who mail, the promotions provide novel ways to engage new customers, build business with existing customers, explore new offerings, and expand the value-added services that can improve margins. If the USPS promotions both retain mail volume and support mail producers’ businesses, it seems logical to conclude that the promotions do work – for everyone.
Leo Raymond is Owner and Managing Director at Mailers Hub LLC. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2020 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.