It’s easy to understand the underlying motivation behind the U.S. Postal Service’s digital strategy: use data to make mail a much more powerful marketing and communications tool. Hard copy and digital working together to make each other better. So what if the Postal Service is a little late to the party. At least it has showed up, which, as Woody Allen reminded us, is 80 percent of life.
A key piece of the Postal Service’s strategy is Informed Delivery, a free email service currently being tested in New York City and Northern Virginia that provides recipients images of the outsides of the envelopes they will receive in their home mailboxes later that day. A “digest” arrives in the participant’s inbox at roughly the same time every morning with simple black and white photos of mail slated for delivery later that day.
For now, Informed Delivery is just for letters, although testing recently got started on flats (larger envelopes, catalogs, and magazines). And postal officials have promised the service will include catalogs and packages by the time it goes nationwide in 2017.
So far, customers are reacting positively to the pilot tests. Postal data shows a 70 percent open rate of the email digest within 3 hours of its arrival. This means users are effectively seeing mailpieces twice – once in their emails and again in their mailboxes. No wonder early testing indicates a higher response rate to mailpieces. An Informed Delivery campaign improves overall response rates between two and 10 times compared to a direct mail campaign without Informed Delivery.
While the program is promising, advertising experts say certain enhancements are necessary to make it profitable. As Direct Marketing News noted, Informed Delivery doesn’t yet provide pictures of catalogs and packages. And it needs color renditions. “Both of those deficiencies need to be corrected for USPS to profit from the service. If brands are going to pay for interactive services linking digital images of mail to sites or landing pages, they're going to demand high-quality creative,” the trade publication said.
Postal officials promise enhancements as soon as technically feasible. They’ve recently started testing added bells and whistles to Informed Delivery, including tests of interactive marketing pieces with a few brands in the New York City Metro Area. Although the Postal Service is not charging the companies in the test, it is able to collect information on click through rates and increased engagement, which should help it sell the product to marketers in the future.
Would you like to test Informed Delivery in your area? If you are part of the Informed Delivery pilot test, what do you like about the product? What other hybrid mail products would you like to see?