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Snail Mail’s Last Stand: How the USPS is Welcoming Smartphone Technology

The U.S. Postal Service has a problem. Well, it’s got a lot of problems including the fact that being able to track my package in (near) real time ruins my life in the 5-7 days between ordering something and receiving it.

But it’s got an even bigger problem: people aren’t sending things through the mail anymore. Forget letters between friends and lovers; even the cockroach of the postal system – junk mail – has reached an all-time low.

We were aiming for a Forever stamp.

Coming soon: the Bubba stamp!

In a time where you can get your news, weather, coupons, and personal messages on an electronic device that fits in your pocket, how does the USPS plan to persuade companies that bulk mailing gets results?

Hop on the mobile phone bandwagon by offering a 3% discount in July and August on any letters that include mobile barcodes.

They say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but this seems like a bit of a stretch.

In an interview with Post&Parcel, Thomas Fito, the Postal Service manager of marketing mail said:

We firmly believe that mobile barcodes add significant value to mail – they help increase response rates and they help establish relationships with those that don’t have necessarily already have a relationship with mail – for instance those in younger generations.

Let’s break it down:

This is gonna go great.

9 out of 10 stamp collectors support this move.

PROS
  • A physical object like a bulk mailer envelope or postcard provides a place to start engaging with a potential client. You can’t look something up on your smartphone if you don’t even know it exists yet.
  • The increase (if any) in click-through (scan-through?) to marketing materials via mobile barcode scanning can be easily tracked.
  • Success for the companies who send out mailers translates into success for the USPS. With a steady return on the investment into barcodes, those companies will put more bulk mailers into the mail system which increases revenue for the USPS.
  • The prevalence of barcodes on mail will cause younger people – as Fito said in his interview – to start looking more closely at mail instead of shredding it on the way to their laptop.

I'm not mad. I'm just disappointed.

CONS
  • A failure could be the nail in the coffin for bulk mail. If this campaign to appeal directly to current technology (which will only become more distanced from the USPS model) falls flat, snail mail could be declared obsolete.
  • The USPS has limited control over the volume and type of bulk mailing that advertisers put out. Their idea for the best way to get solid returns on the barcode campaign may not be the same as the companies. Their fate rests in someone else’s hands.
  • More. Effing. Junk. Mail.

What do you think of the new USPS discounted bulk mailing plan for this summer? What kinds of companies would be able to benefit the most from this kind of promotion? Did I miss any pros or cons on my list? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!

Jana



Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.

Comments

  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    I think it’s too soon to speculate whether this will work or not. Personally, I would absolutely pay more attention to something with a mobile barcode. Then again, I’ll scan anything with a mobile barcode because it’s just fun to see my phone jump into action.

    I’m hoping that it works, though. You made great points in your PRO section. I’m rooting for you, USPS. (And I’m sorry that I just switched all of my credit card statements to paperless.)

    • Jana Quinn

      I haven’t gotten into the mobile barcode scanning frenzy (probably because it’ll become fun and I won’t be able to stopped), but I think I’m from a generation that dismisses junk mail so quickly that even a mobile barcode won’t be much incentive to take a second look. We’ll see…

      • Mandy Kilinskis

        Yeah, don’t start. I downloaded the barcode scanner app, and it was the beginning of the end.

  2. JPorretto

    They may need to cut back to fewer deliveries a week or something like that, but I don’t think USPS is going away anytime soon. Unless other companies like UPS or FedEx decide to get more competitive with their envelope delivery prices and offer free pickup. Then snail mail could easily go the way of the dodo bird.

    • Jana Quinn

      I agree that USPS will stick around, but it will be cut back more and more to maybe regional post offices where people need to pick up their mail instead of at each home. But then you get into liability issues… I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    It’s hard to say whether or not this a good move for the USPS. I’m admittedly a little bit in the dark when it comes to smartphones, but I get why the Postal Service would think that this will help them gain exposure amongst younger members of the millennial generation, who have more experience with e-mail than with physical mail.

    Heck, at this point, I’m sure MOST people would prefer to rely on e-mail rather than traditional mail services. It’s just simpler. But at the same time, it would definitely be a culture shock to see the USPS go defunct. I hope that this initiative helps them in at least some small way.

    Great post, Jana! :)

    • Jana Quinn

      Yeah, I think the USPS has been such an American symbol of the hard-working civil servant that losing the organization would be bigger than just some company going out of business. I think the USPS will always exist in some form, but it’s certainly not going to grow in any way.

      Thanks! :)

  4. Chase

    Nice Jana!

  5. Scooby DOO!

    The ONLY hope for the USPS is to focus on parcels, cut service back, and hobble along until all mail is digital.

  6. Chase Pennell

    This is why I get more emails than real mail….It is just cheaper to email than mail.

  7. Bret Bonnet

    I think this is a classic example of too LITTLE too LATE.

    I don’t know if any of you have been tracking this, but the USPS is broke. It has been broke for a LONG time. Like anything the government touches, it’s dying a slow and painful death. Also, get ready for this tax payers, the government thinks the USPS is too big to fail. We’re gonna have to bail it out sometime in the next year as no limited edition stamp (except if maybe it was “Family Guy”) is enough to put the post office in the green again.

    Just read this article:
    http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2011/05/18/next-up-on-the-bailout-list-the-mailman/

    Also, is it me, or is 3% an insulting discount or percentage off? Maybe I’m just a snooty consumer, but when I read the article from “Post & Parcel” (how lame is it that there is a site that actually covers this stuff?), I get the impression that Mr. Thomas Fito doesn’t know his head from his ass, and if anything—probably like 99.9% of the people who work in Washington—got his job NOT because he is good at what he does or that he knows what he is doing, but because he is a friend, of a friend, of a friend who knows a friend of someone who works in Washington.

    God help us all! :)

  8. Lauren

    Wow. That’s a different concept… I wonder how it’ll work out for them. Also, is the Bubba stamp really coming soon!?!? Because I would buy it!

  9. Wim @ Sales Sells

    Hi Jana,

    Seems a bit like an act of despair, doesn’t it? I don’t really think the barcodes will do much in terms of engagement, but I might be wrong of course.

    Now that snail mail is declared dead I believe new sales and marketing opportunities for it arise. Earlier this year I conducted an experiment where I sent out handwritten postcards to prospects and I must say the results amazed me. I wrote a blog post on it, thought you might like it: http://www.salessells.com/prospecting/postcard-mailing/

    Wim

    • Jana Quinn

      Wim,

      I think the best that the USPS can hope for is a double take at a bar code, but tossing junk mail is so reflexive at this point that I doubt even that.

      I’ll definitely head over to check out the blog post. After a description like that, I have to find out how it turns out!

      Jana

  10. mary

    I doubt the post office will die out in the near future. They deliver to every house in the United States. (OK some people have to pick up their mail at a post office but not many) No one else comes close to that kind of service. Try to get any other carrier to deliver anything for well under a buck.

    The post office has financial problems, many of them created by the government itself. The USPS is one of the larger employers in the US. If the USPS were ever to get a bail out at least it will help the service providers and the people of the US, not some fat cat financiers who made up names for funds and sold them to the general public, crashing their retirements and savings.

    My biggest disappointment is there is no Bubba Stamp.

  11. ASneed

    Nice post Jana! =)

    I knew the Postal Service was suffering, but I didn’t realize everything was so bad, including junk mailings. That shocked me! I still get a ton of junk mail at my house…and I hate it! =( It does make for good bonfire start up paper though.

    I do still liked getting mail each day though, it’s the first thing I do when I get home. =) And I do still love sending real, hand written thank you notes! I do also love emailing though too. I just hope the USPS can get it figured out so we can continue to use both. I don’t have anything against UPS or FedEx, but how will we be able to mail regular letter sized things? They don’t accept things with stamps, do they?

  12. ASneed

    Oh, and for me personally, the smart phone scanner thing is useless to me and most of my family. We have not yet gotten into smart phones because of their high cost to buy and monthly costs. So my junk mail will still be tossed into the bonfire pile immediately.

    “Like anything the government touches, it’s dying a slow and painful death.” I like what Bret says here. It’s true. I heard someone say something about letting the head guys at Walmart run the Government, his argument was that it wouldn’t be broke for long, hahahaa.

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