The USPS is changing. Direct mail, packages and letters still drive the business, but now the postal service is adding a digital dimension. Intent on providing digital marketing value to marketers and recipients alike, USPS has recently introduced Informed Delivery (ID). ID is an emerging USPS service that connects direct mail campaigns to digital users.
Surveys and statistics show people care about their mail, and the USPS is working to enhance that connection by providing a digital touchpoint for recipients—so they know what mail is coming. Leveraging its sizable mail-scanning and parcel tracking technology, ID provides visual notification of upcoming mailpieces to customers before they arrive at the physical mailbox. Whether it’s via website, email digests or the Informed Delivery mobile app, customers can preview incoming mail.
This digital dimension gives marketers the ability to add digital calls to action and interactive content that provide offers and messaging to targeted customers. The service currently boasts more than 13.4 million users across the US, with a growing user base every week. But where did this offering come from? What are the plans for the future? What benefits will marketers gain from using ID? We interviewed Gary Reblin (USPS VP of Product Innovation and head of the ID project) to get all the details.
History and Development
SPC: How and when was ID first conceived?
GR: I had the idea for 10-15 years. I was originally an engineer, designing postal equipment. The question for me was how do we get visibility into different members of the household? I knew the equipment and knew that we could utilize existing technology. We ran it in Northern Virginia in 2013-14 as a pilot program and the server to run it was under my desk! We built it by word-of-mouth—we had 1,000 users and did it to see if consumers would respond. In 2016 we brought it to New York City. It launched nationally in 2017.
SPC: What research, technology, cost, and training went into launching the service?
GR: The front end imaging was already done. The split images were stored in a local database. At the end of the processing, it goes to a national server and matches it up with the person, then cross references with the replacement images. We didn’t have to change the mail processing at all.
SPC: What has the initial response to ID been?
GR: The growth is incredible. We are averaging one million new subscribers per month. There are 800 brands that use ID—in donations, retail, insurance, credit cards and universities. Direct mail averages 5% response rate and an addition of .5% is a 10% lift in a campaign! Now 8.7% of the US has informed Delivery. The demographics of ID users are that they’re people who get a lot of packages and letters, so that is the best of both worlds!
The Future of ID
SPC: What new features are you planning?
GR: We’re considering twenty new offerings we are looking to launch. Our goal is 40 million users by 2020. We will have a pilot program in the spring for customers to indicate that they are interested in getting more mail in specific categories, like campaigns their neighbors are already getting. Another is the ability for consumers to give a time window of when they want to receive mail in a specific category, like if they are interested in electronics for a month, leading up to a major purchase.
SPC: How will you market ID and grow its user base in the coming year?
GR: Our holiday direct mail campaign went out to all US households, and we are promoting ID with change of address activities, PO box signup, when getting passports, and we have also used radio for awareness building. USPS has a lot of touchpoints with its customers, so it’s easy to advocate for Informed Delivery.
SPC: What would you say are the main benefits of ID to marketers and printers?
GR: More impressions. We can target the right person within a household, which is more specific than just getting into a house. 45% of people who are signed up for ID are not the primary mail caretakers in their household. ID helps get messages past the “mail gatekeepers” who might intercept some pieces. People spend three to five minutes a day going through their mail, and we can get more targeted impressions.
SPC: At the National Postal Forum (NPF) it was well-articulated that ID is offered to marketers “at no cost to you.” Will there eventually be a cost to marketers? What can you tell us about this?
GR: We have no intention of charging for the service. We are doing this to compete with digital marketing. Every other form of advertising is growing, and we have to keep up! We might charge for added features, but the basic service will always be free.
SPC: Can marketers view ID user lists before creating/launching an ID campaign?
GR: No, but we can give post-campaign info.
SPC: Which data, statistics and user demographics will the USPS be sharing with marketers in order to help them best utilize the service?
GR: We can’t give addresses back to marketers, but we can share the 20-digit serialization, as well as share how saturated an area is with ID users.
SPC: There have been some concerns raised about bad actors exploiting ID for identity theft. What is the USPS doing to safeguard users and provide security?
GR: Their identities were already stolen, and the culprits used that stolen info to sign up for Informed Delivery. We already have an inspection service in place to deal with this. This is not a new crime, but the added sophistication is that with ID they knew the exact date of when the credit card offers would come.
SPC: What do you see as the future of the marriage between print mail and digital communications?
GR: Our whole strategy is paper to pixel—going from hard copy to the digital world easily.
At SPC, we believe it’s a good time for marketers to try out the free ID service while the competitive space is still very open. The SPC team is glad to explore the possibilities of Informed Delivery with you, including a suite of USPS pricing promotions launched for 2019.