Who Needs Mail When They Have Informed Delivery?

Our guest editorial is by Dave Lewis, president of SnailWorks, a Frederick (MD)-based provider of mail tracking services. Dave is a veteran of the mail production industry and an MTAC representative for Mailers Hub.

If you don’t already subscribe to Informed Delivery at home, you really should. You will see things you cannot see in the mail – they are digital-only ads that the Postal Service includes for their own promotions.

Who needs to send expensive mail when they can reach the same 45 million people with an essentially free ad? Those mailing contractors are so expensive … and have you seen postage lately? Sheesh!

It’s digital-only for the USPS. Oh, and for certain government agencies with urgent messages … that they prefer not to mail. And, maybe soon, you may be able to buy digital ads yourself to go in the ID feed, without needing to produce any of that pesky mail.

A preview

In one of those awkward MTAC moments during the Informed Delivery user group, the “2022 Working Timeline” slide came up, and listed at #4 was Digital Advertising.

“Huh?? What’s that?,” I asked. “Oh, it’s only in pilot-test-alpha-certainly-may-not-do-it-at-all mode,” we were assured. “But what is it?”

It is, or course, nothing new. We have all seen ads in our ID digest that did not have an accompanying mail piece, but they’ve always been from USPS, or another government agency typically dealing with a matter of national interest.

Lately, those ads have drifted more towards general advertising for the USPS. This latest initiative seems to expand the program to where other advertisers could obtain space in the digest. The USPS folks never really clarified who would qualify for this or how, but they said something along the lines of it being for customers who had a lot of mail. They did not embellish much, but their timeline shows “Prep” occurring January-April, “Dev” taking place May-July, and a completion date of July 31.

One presumes that the Postal Service will be charging for this service. They’ve built up a fantastic email list of about forty million US citizens asking to receive information about their mail, and the open rate is spectacular.

There is no attributable cost for adding a Pepsi ad to Informed Delivery – it costs the Postal Service nothing. If they can get, say, a nickel each, that is pure profit for the USPS. And there’s none of that difficult paper mail to deliver! What’s not to like?

A lot.

Fighting itself

This new channel will directly compete with mail. Even the ad campaigns they’re running for themselves today are taking work out of mail shops.

Opening a new channel to advertisers that cuts out the middleman – the print/mail industry – could put further downward pressure on mail volume. Paper cost and postage increases are quite enough, thank you.

This will also diminish the value of ID itself – a product I love, by the way. Consumers want to see what is in their mailbox – they don’t want to see yet another email full of ads. The effect will be a reduced open and subscription rate. They – the USPS – stand to hurt both mail volume and Informed Delivery at once – no small feat.

Finally, ignore the term “pilot.” The Postal Service doesn’t do pilots. They start a new program, and for the first few months they just call it a pilot. Then it’s just there. There’s no new technology for this one. I don’t expect much of an uptake early on – the Postal Service will do it badly, make it too complicated, and promote it badly. But the direction, the intent, is not a good sign.

The Postal Service is clearly enamored with digital advertising and packages. Mail is just an “obligation,” and not a profitable one. Expect industry opposition and, more important, legal and privacy challenges.

Whoever thought that the disruptive channel that could really hurt the mail would come from the Postal Service itself?

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