Addressing direct-mail deliverability and anti-marketing initiatives

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Nanci Langley is the new vice chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission, after being nominated as commissioner by President Bush in February. BtoB recently asked Langley about the evolving nature of direct mail, and recent changes at the United States Postal Service that impact direct marketers.

BtoB: The new Move Update Standard, which went into effect Nov. 23, requires that mailers claiming first class mail commercial prices have updated mailing lists 95 days prior to the date of mailing. How do you see this impacting direct marketers and mail delivery?
Langley: The Move Update Standard is under the authority of the Postal Service, and our responsibility at the PRC is rather limited unless the USPS files a proposed price change or fee with us. But I do think it leads into the whole issue of keeping your addresses as accurate as possible.
Obviously reducing undeliverable-as-addressed mail is important for direct marketers. Undeliverable mail feeds into the notion that mail isn't good for the environment. If addresses aren't cleansed and are redundant, unwanted mailings will reinforce the idea that advertising mail is bad. No one wants that.

BtoB: The Direct Marketing Association, in particular, is working closely with the Postal Service to smooth out the direct-mail process, to reduce rates, unbundle services and to affect other business-friendly initiatives. How is that going?
Langley: The Postal Service is looking for direct mailers to come to it with ideas, to develop rate structures that will be beneficial to them. One of the key features of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 is that the Postal Service now has a great deal of flexibility in rate-making. So various options like negotiated service agreements, contact pricing and niche classifications are all possible.
There are great opportunities out there for business mailers to make their needs known to the Postal Service. After all the USPS wants to grow its volume and revenue.

BtoB: One of the challenges to direct marketers is various consumer efforts to restrict marketing mailing. Some of it seems intended to give consumers more control over what they receive, but other initiatives seem almost anti-marketing. What is your view?
Langley: Catalog Choice is a service that helps recipients reduce the frequency of catalog mailings, or eliminate unsolicited ones. It lets direct mailers show their customers they're acting responsibly by eliminating duplications, and that they're also environmentally friendly with recycled paper.
However, there also have been do-not-mail initiatives in 15 states this year alone. Some of it is driven by environmental and privacy concerns, but some have looked at the national do-not-call issue and want that for mail as well. The Direct Marketing Association and the American Catalog Mailers Association are tackling these issues head on.

BtoB: Clearly the Postal Service wants to balance the needs of consumers with business and its own financial health. This month the Postal Service reported a net loss for its just concluded fiscal year of $2.8 billion, due largely to reduced volume.
Langley: There are some concerns that if do-not-mail is implemented it could have a major impact on postal volume and revenue. If regulations like these are passed, it could threaten the Postal Service's ability to deliver to all addresses at an affordable price.
Direct marketers have a real role to play here. To me, the main thing that business wants to do is to get its advertising to the right people at the right time. Direct marketers have products and services to sell, and the more the marketer can harness technology and use something like Intelligent Mail barcodes, which will come on line in May, they'll be able to help meet their goal.
In addition, businesses are looking to encourage an efficient mail stream, lower costs and improve service, so personalized mailings should have a significant impact on the value of mail for the direct marketer, taking advantage of the changes in printer and computer technologies.

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