The Visibility, Predictability and Accountability of the New Intelligent Mail

Managing the in-home delivery window is often a major concern for mailers. Ensuring pieces arrive at their destinations in a predict able and timely manner is especially critical for direct marketers. This predictability is based upon a relatively dependable delivery schedule  for  the  United  States Postal Service®.  However, that delivery infrastructure will soon be changing and with it, so, too, may the predictable delivery of these time-sensitive mailpieces.

Delivery standard changes, which the USPS® has filed with the Postal Regulatory Commission, are just one type of challenge facing the mailing industry. We already know that mail volumes are down and that there is still a growing interest in alternative communication and delivery channels. Yet, most astute marketers still know that direct mail works. Once a mailpiece arrives, it is going to be touched, opened and read. It simply cannot be ignored,and thus direct mail still provides a significant opportunity to connect with customers.

One of the greatest opportunities direct mail provides  is a role as the lynchpin in multi-channel marketing efforts. We live in a multi-channel world, and it has been proven time and again that messaging to customers in multiple ways and strategically tying those together is one of the most effective ways to generate a response or sell a product. Anyone who’s been part of a customer loyalty program has certainly been approached in multiple  ways, whether it’s through a smartphone, an email or a tried  and true direct mailpiece. These multiple touch points help the  marketer stay in constant contact with customers, and they help custom­ers take full advantage of what the loyalty programs have to offer.

Simply put, multi-channel messaging works, but in order to achieve success, timing is everything.A message that arrives in a predict­ able, timely manner and has relevance directly to the recipient is going to generate a response. The message and the ultimate timing of that message are firmly rooted in accurate address data, and what makes direct mail based on accurate address data such a powerful element in multi-channel messaging is its predictability, allowing marketers to coordinate a messaging plan for additional channels, coupled with its visibility and accountability. It is the Intelligent Mail® barcode (IMb) that provides the visibility into the mail­ stream and the accountability that we need to ensure that a piece was created, inducted and is being processed through a network.

Predictability is  based in historically tracking mailpiece visibility. Thanks to the 1Mb, we have been able to gather unprecedented data that allow us to make assumptions based on past delivery performance. We will need to work to rebuild this predictability by gathering data in the new network environment. For now, we have to look for ways that transcend barcodes and addressing, and truly get back to the heart of what I believe is the next frontier: Intelligent Mail.

The Intelligent Mail barcode is just that: a barcode. When we create an effective mailpiece as part of a multi-channel message, and then time the process from production to delivery, that’s where I think we truly begin to get into intelligent mail. The systems we use to measure and monitor that are going to be critical this year. The Postal Service is providing IMb tracking information free to their customers this year, and no doubt they did this as an additional carrot dangled to encourage people to adopt Full Service Intelligent Mail. However,that alone isn’t going to be sufficient to create intel­ligent mail. It takes software. It takes systems. It takes meaningful reports that can decipher a flood of data.Organizations that are able to manege a full supply chain from message creation to address cleansing to astute mail preparation to visibility for tracking and message response are going to be the ones who will emerge with a measurable ROI that’s rooted in truly intelligent mail.

We are excited about this year,end we know that many of the soft­ ware providers will be working closely with the Postal Service as they implement the network changes. Software solutions can help keep customers informed and actively engaged in the rebuilding of intelli­gent mail and effective communication.Yes,mailers now have access to free IMb tracking data for their specific mailpieces. However,trans­lating the 1Mb data into actionable information to drive business and enhance the overall message effectiveness is where software comes into play.That’s where technology needs to be leveraged.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2012 edition of Mailing Systems Technology.