Understanding What’s Really Going on at the Post Office

thinkstockphotos-104247545If you had a tough time during the Great Recession of the last few years, you are in the same boat with many, including the United States Postal Service. With computers, e-mail, and the rise of similar types of technology, total mail volume was already on the decline – and then, the most troubling economic times in decades hit. All types of mail volume dropped dramatically in a short period of time.

According to the official USPS website, total mail volume in 2006 was roughly 213.1 billion pieces of material. The total mail volume in 2015, on the other hand, was 154.2 billion. While that’s still a lot of mailers, flyers, and other items being delivered across the country on a daily basis, a drop of that magnitude is still pretty staggering.

What is an Exigent Rate?

Because of this situation, the USPS asked for something called an Exigent Rate Case. That meant that due to demanding circumstances, the Postal Service was allowed to “raise market-dominant prices above the CPI-U (consumer price index) price cap” for a limited time. After an approval process that required a submitted proposal and a hearing conducted on the record with an opportunity for public comment, that increase was granted – leading to the current rates that we’re experiencing.

So Why are Rates Dropping?

Exigent Rate Cases are not permanent – they have a limited lifespan as, theoretically, the special circumstances that required them in the first place will resolve themselves eventually. This is exactly what is happening. When the emergency rate expired on April 10, 2016, most of us experienced the first postal rate drop in our lifetime. With the price of a first-class stamp dropping to 47 cents, it represents the first decrease in nearly 100 years.

The good news is that mail volumes have actually recovered pretty significantly. This is especially true in terms of packages, as more people than ever before are choosing to buy their everyday items online at retailers like Amazon.com. The news may be great for consumers and marketers, but it is doing little to actually relieve the problems that the Post Office is still going through.

Megan J. Brennan, the current Postmaster General, said that multi-year revenue declines are still a very real concern and were in excess of $7 billion in 2009 alone. In a statement she would go on to say that “Removing the surcharge and reducing our prices is an irrational outcome considering the Postal Service’s precarious financial condition.”Not to worry, though. The United States Postal Service isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – however, exactly what these rate decreases will do to their bottom line remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure, as previously stated, there has never been a better opportunity to truly experiment with the benefits that direct mail has in terms of your overall marketing efforts. If you’ve moved more in a digital direction due to increased mailing and shipping rates over the last few years, this rate drop is the perfect incentive to dip your toe back in these proverbial waters.

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Staying Relevant in a Social World Means Embracing All It Has to Offer

Despite the fact that we’re well into the 21st century at this point, there are many businesses that are truly afraid of addressing exactly what that entails for whatever reason. It is not uncommon to meet a marketer that is still relying on the tried-but-true techniques of yesteryear, while at the same time turning a cold shoulder to the advancements of the last decade: namely, the social media-centric society in which we now live. If you distill the goal of marketing down to its most bare essentials, all professionals operate with the same end result in mind. Marketing is a quest to stay relevant. It’s a battle to keep a brand at the forefront of a customer’s mind and to engage with an audience in new and meaningful way. It’s an attempt to create a world in which the customer cannot fathom living without Product X or Service Y. In the 21st century, that means embracing social media and technology in general.

Social Media is Meaningful

By staying firmly ingrained in the techniques that have always worked in the past, the “old school” segment of the marketing population is forgetting that these new technologies bring with them a huge variety of advancements that can’t be ignored. For starters, social media eliminates much of the guesswork that marketers used to have to contend with. You no longer have to guess which conversations your customers are having and try to interject in any way that you can. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and other sites, you can literally see the conversation as it’s taking place. You don’t have to attempt to steer the conversation in a new direction to attract attention – you can attract attention by contributing meaningful content to something that is already taking place.

If a customer is having an issue with a particular product and posts about it on Twitter, a marketer is, at most, three mouse clicks away from solving that problem and creating a meaningful example of brand engagement at the same time. Social media also tears down the obstacle of geography, creating a world that is literally as large as it’s ever been but figuratively much smaller. Do you want to quickly get a message out to customers in Cleveland, Ohio? Filter Twitter accounts based on location and send away – they’ll receive it in seconds.

Most importantly, social media allows you to make use of one of the most widely used platforms for any type of activity in existence today – mobile. People spend a massive amount of time on their smartphones each day thanks to their ease-of-use, small size, convenience and more. You don’t have to fight for their attention anymore – if you’re putting the right content out in the world using the right social channels, you’ve already got their attention.

Social Media is Not a Replacement

One of the biggest misconceptions that the “old school” marketers have is that social technology, in general, is replacing the way things used to work. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The timeless, best practices that worked in the 50s and 60s still work today. They will always work. Social media and other digital marketing techniques are not a replacement to the techniques that you’ve always depended on, but a compliment to them. When used in conjunction with one another, they’re creating an environment where success is practically a guarantee.

A properly designed direct mail piece will be just as effective in 2025 as it was in 1975. If you also add a hashtag or a QR code or some other type of digital element to that mailer, however, you’re performing the most important task of all: You’ve given the customer an option regarding where and how they’d like to continue the conversation. You’ve included them in the process in a meaningful and organic way and, rest assured, they will thank you for it. That is what social media is all about.

Finding the Recipe for Successful Marketing

Sara was excited. Her grandmother had just given her the recipe for her famous peanut butter cookies, and she could not wait to make them for her friends at school. She had never been much of a cook, but she figured that with the recipe she should be ok. After all, how hard could it be?

Sara enters the kitchen and begins to gather her ingredients. She notices that the recipe says she needs two bowls, but when she looks in the cabinet and sees that she only has one, she figures that should be ok. She then sees that she needs some baking soda, but only has baking powder– that should be close enough.

Sara begins to get everything into the bowls. The recipe calls for her to mix the sugar with some softened butter, so she sticks the butter in the microwave. Thirty seconds later, the the butter is just a puddle. Well, that will make it even easier to mix it into the recipe, right?

Twenty minutes later, she sticks everything into the oven and triumphantly sets the timer. When she returns after the ding, she pulls them out eagerly and then stops. Wait a minute, these do not look right. They did not rise properly and just look ‘off’. Confused, Sara thought back to her cooking. Did those little details about the butter and baking soda really matter that much? She supposed so. She decided to try again the next day. Tonight, she would pick up some more butter and some baking soda.

Developing Your Marketing Recipe

If you have ever made cookies, you most likely noted Sara’s mistakes right away. You knew that those cookies would not turn out right. Recipes use very specific ingredients because they have particular roles. If you do not use the right ingredients then the food will not act the way it is supposed to.

When you are creating a marketing campaign, you will similarly need to follow a recipe. The difference is that you will need to develop the recipe yourself. You know that you need a variety of different ingredients, such as direct mail, social media, online content, and paid advertising. You then need to mix these different techniques together to engage your intended audience and create the perfect recipe.

Often, determining the exact recipe of success will require some experimenting. You will need to explore where your customers spend their time online and what types of information they are seeking. What types of designs and offers do they respond to best in direct mail? What social media platforms are the most important to them?

Unlike with baking cookies, when you mess up a marketing recipe, it will often not be as obvious that there was an error. If most of your marketing campaign has a decent amount of success, you might not notice right away that your paid advertising campaign was not bringing in customers unless you closely monitor your different channels. If you do not identify the problem, however, you risk needlessly spending money.

To be successful in marketing, you are going to combine several different techniques into a unique recipe that helps to get your message in front of the right people at the right time. To ‘taste’ the recipe, however, you need to make sure that you regularly use analytics to gauge how well the campaign works together. You can use this data to refine your efforts and become even more successful.

Creating a successful marketing campaign does require careful thought and the precise combination of different parts. If you are interested in starting a new campaign, contact us today to get started.

Predictive Analytics: One of the Keys to Direct Mail Marketing Success in 2015 and Beyond

Direct mail marketing is still one of the best and most efficient ways to connect to your target audience, even in this social-media-centric world. But that doesn’t mean you need to eschew technology altogether. Case in point: predictive analytics are quickly becoming not just a recommendation, but a requirement for anyone running a direct mail campaign.

What Are Predictive Analytics?

At their core, predictive analytics leverage statistics, data mining, and similar techniques to create a prediction about future behaviors. The idea is to take the past behavior of your target audience and use it to make educated guesses about future activities.

The concept is used in Internet advertising on a daily basis. Have you ever wondered why you suddenly see advertisements for home audio and video equipment or Blu-ray movies right after you purchase a high-definition television set online? It’s a combination of programmatic advertising and predictive analytics at play. Marketers know that based on your purchase, there are certain types of accessories you can definitely use.

If you just bought an HDTV, it goes without saying that you could probably use some shiny new Blu-rays to play on it. By targeting you with advertisements based on that information, businesses know they have a much better chance of making a sale than if they randomly targeted 10,000 people, many of whom might not have an HDTV at all.

Many businesses don’t realize this same idea can also play a very important role in how their direct mail marketing campaigns are conducted.

How Do Predictive Analytics Help in Direct Mail Marketing?

The major benefit predictive analytics brings to the world of direct mail marketing is one of precision. You no longer have to spend time and money each month to send mailers out to all 3,500 people who live in a particular ZIP code. The fact you were sending out materials to many people who ultimately had no interest in your products or services was always just an accepted “cost of doing business,” but that doesn’t have to be the case any longer.

Thanks to predictive analytics, you now have a better chance of targeting the RIGHT people within a particular ZIP code based on their past interests and behaviors. Instead of sending out 3,500 mailers and achieving a 20% conversion rate, you can save time and money by only sending out 1,000 mailers while achieving an 80% success rate at the same time. It’s about giving you a much smarter way to spend your marketing dollars. It’s also about empowering you to stretch your marketing campaign’s strength even further.

In direct mail marketing, success doesn’t mean spending as much money as possible. Instead, true success and market penetration are achieved by spending every dollar the right way. Whether you have $10 to spend or $10,000,000, that theory will always hold true. By making excellent use of advancements like predictive analytics, you can make sure your important materials are actually getting in front of people who find them valuable. This will go a long way toward increasing not only the efficiency of your campaign, but also its general return on investment.

3 Mistakes You Could Be Making With Your Offline Marketing

Do you think offline marketing is obsolete? It isn’t…not by a long shot. In fact, you need to pay just as close attention to your offline marketing as you do to your online marketing in order to achieve success.

Used in conjunction with online marketing, offline marketing can help ensure your message gets across to your audience in a variety of ways, making it more likely they will become customers. However, you have to go about offline marketing the right way for it to be effective.

Here are three mistakes you could be making with your offline marketing and how to correct them.

1. Giving Up on Direct Mail

What’s the point of using direct mail when you have the Internet, right? Well, the point is that people still appreciate the personal touch an attractively printed card in the mail gives them. It shows you care enough to take the time to get a contact’s information and send them a card the old-fashioned way. People can take their time looking over a direct mail ad, considering it for days or longer before making a decision. Direct mail gets results.

2. Not Carrying Business Cards

Business cards are still the accepted professional way to introduce yourself and your business to other businesspeople. They’re an industry must at trade shows and a courteous thing to provide to new contacts. Don’t just assume everyone is going to type your contact information into their smart phone when they meet you. Most people don’t have the time. Get good-looking business cards printed up. Include your phone number, email, and website, and hand them out to everyone you meet. An attractive business card still commands respect in the business world.

3. Avoiding Community Bulletin Boards

All of those flyers and business cards posted on community bulletin boards get more attention than you’d think. Flyers get the most attention because they’re large and easy to see. Print some bright, eye-catching ones with engaging graphics and a bold phone number in plain sight. Before you know it, your phone will start ringing with new customers. You’ll probably get some new ones coming through your door, too.

Offline marketing is still important. It works best when used in conjunction with an online marketing campaign, so you can reach more people and present a unified message. Make sure your ads are attractive, engaging, and intriguing, and you’ll get new customers from them.

Top 5 Secrets of Successful Direct Mailers

Savvy marketers know that direct mail offers a cost-effective and potentially profitable marketing method — but in order to work, it must be done right! In fact, some of today’s most innovative and creative advertising is sent through the mail, according to Entrepreneur magazine.

An effective direct-mail campaign can accomplish several goals, including:

            • Generating leads
            • Attracting new customers
            • Engaging with current customers
            • Expanding the reach of your brand
            • Producing profits

Here are the top five secrets of successful direct mailers.

1. Focus, Focus, and More Focus

The success of any direct-mail campaign depends in large part on your audience, so you need to target the right people. A direct-marketing rule known as the 60-30-10 states that 60% of success depends on the list, 30% depends on the offer you present, and 10% lies in creative elements. This highlights the importance of choosing the right list for your mailing.

If you’re building your own list, start with your past and current customers. After all, they’re a known factor — they’ve purchased your product or service before, and you probably already have all of their info. (If you don’t, now’s the time to start collecting it!)

If you’re purchasing or creating a list, consider your target audience’s characteristics carefully. Who’s your “ideal” customer? Look at demographics such as age, gender, locale, interests, buying patterns, climate, and leisure activities when compiling your mailing list. The more specifically targeted you can get, the better.

2. Keep it Updated

If it’s been a while since you updated your customer data, a direct mailing is a good place to start. People change addresses more than you might think! Simply add a request for address corrections onto the label; the post office will send undeliverable mail back with the recipient’s new address. It costs a bit more, but doing this at least once per year keeps your database updated.

3. Determine Your Goal

What do you want this particular campaign to achieve? Do you want to generate orders, build your brand, or produce leads? Setting a clear, measurable objective will help you drive the creative portion of your campaign. If your goals are too broad, your message is likely to be vague — and less effective — as well.

4. Grab their Attention

You only have a few seconds to grab their attention — and if you don’t, they won’t even open the envelope. Take a look at your own mail; what are you most likely to open? Are you enticed by offers of “FREE MONEY!” or “AMAZING PRIZES!”? Probably not, and your audience is similarly jaded to cheesy, gimmicky headlines. Instead, pique their interest with a creative headline, interesting use of color, a hand-addressed envelope, or a bit of humor. In other words, go for elements that stereotypical “junk mail” doesn’t have.

5. Develop a Relevant Offer

Now that you’ve gotten your customer to open the mail, present them with an offer that appeals to them. Here’s where knowing your audience is key. Be brief, but include the information they need to make an on-the-spot decision. Why do they need your product? How will your service benefit them? Testimonials from satisfied customers can be powerful in this capacity.

Above all else, make it easy for them to respond. Provide multiple contact channels, including a website, email address, and phone number, but don’t leave it at that. Always (ALWAYS) include a call to action. Tell them to call, email, or visit your website. Remember, if you don’t tell them what you want them to do, they simply won’t do it.