Why the U.S. Postal Service Isn’t Feeling the Love

Listening to the U.S. Postal Service’s senior brass this week, I was reminded of the Beatles song, “Eight Days a Week.” “Ain’t got nothing but love babe,” goes the tune, “eight days a week.” Apparently the postal service isn’t feeling the love. In fact, if it’s up to them, your snail mail may be coming to you just five days a week in the very near future.

Finally, the time has come when costs involved in collecting, sorting, and delivering postal mail — your bills, catalogs, personal communications, direct mail, and more — have gotten to the point where it’s no longer financially sustainable to do Monday through Saturday. Think about the number of postal employees who are about to be furloughed out of their positions because of the lack of postal activity. Cutting one day’s worth of delivery on a hundred million households is profound.

It’s yet another signal to everyone in the marketing communications business. It’s well past time you take a look at every piece of direct mail communications you craft — and assemble a taskforce with the sole responsibility of morphing the print version of this communication into an e-mail execution.

In 2009, the mission-critical communication’s need for exchange and delivery is spontaneous, targeted, and relevant to a customer’s profile and need at the moment of sending. Can you imagine if you did a search and the results were mailed to you when the search engine found it convenient to do so, maybe two or three days later? That’s a business model that would be dead on arrival.

That the USPS is even discussing the idea of limiting delivery should be a news bulletin to every marketer. The bulletin reads, “We really don’t care about the urgency you feel in terms of getting your message delivered to your customer at the most optimal time. Please understand that we run the delivery channel, and you are a slave to it.”

The e-mail delivery system, on the other hand, operates every day around the world, consistently and without dependence on any outside entity. There is virtually never a moment where a person or business that wants to communicate is limited in that ability. Here I am banging away on this column late night in New York, and when I ‘m done I’ll send this message to the editors at Click Z — without even thinking about it. While I’m writing, my inbox is being pinged with a range of e-mail messages from friends, colleagues, and retail stores. It’s snowing here and I haven’t had to travel outside to check the mailbox. Into the comfort of my home, my mail arrives without fanfare or issue.

It’s time to get the message and get your act in gear. If you are a cataloger, start leveraging the interactive page-turner technology and e-mail delivery. Sure, the debate still rages about whether people will read their magazines and catalogs online. But don’t be taken in by the dinosaurs. It will happen.

If you are in customer service and haven’t converted service and billing communications from postal to e-mail, go to the back of the class. Bill presentment used to be the largest use of first-class postal mail. Not any more. Most businesses recognize that consumers like paying their bills and managing their accounts online.

Not convinced yet? Consider e-mail’s green aspect. Everywhere we go these days, we are confronted with all types of conservation messages. We speak about fuel-efficient cars and homes, solar and wind power. Yet direct mail is still a multibillion-dollars business. Before you print another piece of collateral or spend another dollar printing anything, think green. Think e-mail.

On top of the USPS cutting a delivery day, it will also raise postage prices. So delivery costs are going up and it needs to pass costs along to customers, yet it wants to cut back on service.

Every trend line in the communications business is pointing toward e-mail and the Internet. Every business metric validates that our customers want us to communicate in real time with great relevance and targeting. The carrier system for direct mail is imploding while its costs are increasing. This is a death knell. For those of you who haven’t taken action as yet, the bell may be tolling for thee.

Al D.

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