Marketing and intelligent mail go hand in hand

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Imagine coordinating a direct mail campaign and knowing not only when the project is initially entered into the postal system, but also the actual day when a mail piece is expected to reach its recipient.

This type of improved tracking ability is one of the advantages of using the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMB), one of the most significant U.S. Postal Service developments in decades.

Such knowledge could help marketing departments better coordinate their direct mail campaigns with their TV, radio, newspaper and Internet advertisements. Also, marketers could better anticipate when a major offer will land on prospects' desks, and prepare for an anticipated boost in conversions, leads and orders.

As for savings, marketers who wish to qualify for greater postal discounts will be required to switch to full-service IMB starting November 29.

IMB, formerly referred to as the 4-State Customer barcode, is a new Postal Service barcode used to sort and track letters and flats. This new barcode system offers improved tracking of individual mail pieces and greater visibility into the mail stream.

IMB combines into one barcode the data of both the existing Postnet routing information and the Planet Code confirm service information. With much greater overall data capacity than these current barcodes, IMB offers numerous advantages that marketing teams and other corporate departments should be aware of:

  • More space for you. Intelligent Mail barcodes are more robust, capable of encoding more data and therefore minimizing the amount of space used by postal information on a mail piece. In addition to consolidating the Postnet barcode and Planet Code, IMB can lump together other information currently required on mail, such as ancillary service endorsements.
    This offers a cleaner look to mail pieces and affords additional space for marketing purposes. That free space gives mailers more flexibility to design direct mail that is more relevant to recipients.
  • Better mail tracking. IMB provides much more data capacity than the post office needs for routing and tracking. That extra data capacity can be used by direct mailers to encode individual mail pieces with unique IDs, leading to the ability to track each mail piece for great marketing potential. Having improved data about when a mail piece will reach its destination may, for example, help call centers properly staff and manage operations for the expected inbound call volume.
    In addition, IMB will allow for improved tracking of marketing efforts, determining what times of the week, month or year result in the best response rate to direct mail. As more direct mailers become experienced in using IMB, expect more creative uses to arise for this new technology.
  • Improved address accuracy. With full-service IMB, direct mailers can take advantage of free address correction. With OneCode ACS address change service, the post office electronically captures updates on recipients who have moved, and promptly notifies the mailer with address correction information and delivery point validation.
    This should save quite a bit of money. Undeliverable mail can be costly to marketing departments. When an address is undeliverable, the cost of the mail piece is wasted.

Even more money can be saved via postage discounts. This past May, two IMB service levels—basic and full-service—became available early. Still, the complete lineup of full-service features and the greatest IMB postage discounts do not become available until late fall, when First-Class Mail with full-service IMB earns an additional discount of $3 per 1,000 mail pieces. The U.S. Postal Service is expected to eliminate automation discounts for the old Postnet barcode by May 2011.

Full-service Intelligent Mail barcodes have the potential for greater accuracy, control and visibility combined with reduced overall postal costs. For marketers, it's a win-win situation.

David Henkel is president of Johnson and Quin (, a full-service direct-mail printing and production company. He can be reached at

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