USPS magazine touts direct mail

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The U.S. Postal Service is using direct marketing of its own to reinforce the idea that mail plays an important role in the marketing mix.

In its first foray into custom publishing, the agency introduced Deliver, a magazine that discusses ways marketers can take advantage of the U.S. mail. The March issue of the bimonthly magazine was mailed to 350,000 C-level executives and marketing and agency professionals.

"Our objective was to communicate and establish dialogue with advertising and marketing decision-makers," said Patrick O'Connell, editor of Deliver and a USPS advertising specialist. "They've been focused on general media and general advertising. We want them to look at mail again."

O'Connell said the postal service also wanted to correct "some false views people have about direct mail."

Catalogs remain vital

He cited as an example that many marketers believe online shopping is replacing mail order shopping. He said extensive research by the USPS found that while a growing number of customers ultimately purchase online, they continue to prefer to have catalogs mailed to them and that catalogs remain the first stop in the buying cycle.

"That was a terrific boost and reassurance to catalog mailers," O'Connell said.

Some marketers also believe recipients view direct mail as "junk" mail, but USPS research indicated otherwise.

Jeremy Morris, senior VP-publishing at Campbell-Ewald Publishing, the custom publishing unit of Interpublic Group of Cos. that is producing Deliver, sees mail as an integral daily experience for marketers and consumers.

"We have very solid research that says there is still very much a `mail moment,"' he said. This is the process of going to the mailbox to retrieve mail, sorting it, deciding what is important and what is not, and when and where you will read that mail.

The postal service has seen first-class mail volume decline steadily in recent years, and the magazine is meant to help reverse that trend. "The idea was to grow direct mail volume," O'Connell said.

Morris insisted the launch of Deliver is not a desperate or defensive move by the USPS. "There's no doubt that the mix of the mail stream has changed significantly," he said. "[However] this isn't a defensive strategy at all. It is entirely appropriate for the postal service to seek to maximize their revenue."

Deliver does not accept outside advertising. The only marketing in the premiere issue is a bind-in business reply card that solicits more information about its readers' businesses.

The 32-page premiere issue establishes the magazine's regular columns and departments. The departments include "Number's Crunch," featuring relevant statistics affecting the industry; "Content Connection," which covers content ideas and trends; "One2One," a department dedicated to customer relationship management issues; a technology and products page; and editorials.

"The basic concept of the magazine is to aggregate the best thinking and cutting-edge ideas and strategies and business leaders ... so that we create a magazine that is visually impactful, is a great read, and helps marketers and agencies understand how direct marketing is an important strategic tool," Morris said.

"Because of the emphasis being placed on effective targeting down to the individual level that the mail stream provides, [direct mail] is the best way to deliver in-depth, targeted messages to customers and prospects," he added.

In addition to a network of freelance writers, marketing executives are contributing to the magazine's content. The first issue includes an interview with Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, founding partners of Peppers and Rogers, a CRM consultancy; an ACDelco case study; a column from marketing consultant Ernan Roman, author of "Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing"; and a feature on Southwest Airlines' success with direct mail.

In order to get the magazine into the hands of marketing professionals, the postal service enlisted Campbell-Ewald to rent relevant mailing lists. It selected business lists from several different sources, including infoUSA, the S&P Big Business database and the Advertising Redbook.

O'Connell said he had very specific ideas about how to approach the market. "The idea was to engage the Fortune 1,000 organizations and treat each brand within that larger company as its own entity," he said. "We talked with the Tide people, and we talked to the Crest people, along with the corporate-level marketing folks [at Procter & Gamble Co.], and companies like Boeing and IBM."

Early feedback on the publication has been positive. One reader, Robert Otis, VP-sales at Goodkind & Goodkind Direct, a direct marketing lettershop, said it was a novel and positive step for the USPS. "It expands the awareness that the post office can compete for advertising dollars," he said. M

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