USPS addresses small businesses

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The U.S. Postal Service is reaching out to small-business owners this month, using the U.S. mail to promote its new "Guide to Mailing for Businesses and Organizations."

The 94-page book, introduced in April at the National Postal Forum in New Orleans, was produced as part of the agency’s transformation plan. The book had an initial press run of between 1 million and 1.5 million copies, and about half of those are being sent to customers and prospects in a direct mail package created by Draft/Campbell-Ewald, the Postal Service’s agency of record.

Two hundred thousand packages, which include the guide and a customized cover letter, will be sent to new permit holders and new mailers with addresses on file at the USPS. Another 300,000 copies, with a different version of the cover letter, will be sent to prospective customers. The prospect names will be derived from segmentation analysis of the Postal Service’s in-house database and D&B Inc. data.

"The intent is to open current customers’ eyes to a broader use of the mail," said Pat McGee, USPS manager-marketing development. "It’s our way of cross-selling our services."

Another 40,000 guides are being sent to Postal Service retail locations for distribution in "Business Solutions" displays. The books also will be distributed through events such as the quarterly meetings of the Postal Customer Council and the twice-yearly National Postal Forum.

Massive tome scaled down

The guide is a revamp of the agency’s longstanding "Domestic Mail Manual," a cumbersome, four-inch-thick tome. The redesign effort began last year, after a series of focus groups showed the existing guide was not broadly effective because it was too technical.

"For professional mailers, the guide was fine, but for small-business people who wanted to get into mail for the first time, the guide wasn’t so good," McGee said. "We did a lot of work talking with small businesses on a needs basis. Their awareness about some of our services was not that hot."

USPS redesigned the guide in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design.

"Extensive interviews were done with customers before the first illustration or graphic was sketched to learn how real mailers approach the task of mailing," said Sherry Freda, USPS manager of mailing standards. "The foundation of the book is based on that feedback."

A key purpose of the guide is to encourage the use of the U.S. mail. It does this by walking small-business customers step by step through the process of creating a direct mail campaign online through the USPS. This little-known service enables a company to send out a campaign without spending time and money contracting with vendors for paper, printing, production and distribution. In addition to postage, a business pays an average of 20 cents per item in production costs. An entire campaign can be executed electronically from the business’ desktop PC, and there is no limit on the size of the mailing.

"In focus groups, we found out business customers would really like to use mail as an advertising medium, but weren’t sure how to do it and wanted coaching to get through it," McGee said.

He said the online direct mail service frees small-business owners from the need to secure mailing permits. It also eliminates the need for a mailing house to print and assemble mail campaigns. And, unlike many mail suppliers, USPS requires no minimum mailing quantities.

While the service, called NetPost Mailing Online, has existed for more than a year, the postal service hopes the guide will increase awareness of it, as well as promote other agency services.

"From a revenue standpoint, the guide is a silent salesperson," McGee said. "It gives tangible reasons to consider mail in your advertising mix. It gives information about how to solve fulfillment problems."

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