Despite all that’s been said about the need to learn how to market in an increasingly electronic age, there’s no disputing that hard-copy messaging will remain the primary medium through which most direct marketing takes place for quite some time. And despite all the hoopla concerning the Internet, the Web, e-mail and the technological advances wiring America, the printed word, not bits and bytes, will remain the only medium capable of delivering advertising and marketing messages to every home and business.
Even though it pains many DMers to think of things postal for even a minute, there’s no getting around the simple fact that our industry and nation will need an efficient, reliable and universal method for getting hard-copy messages delivered well into the next century. Consequently, it’s time direct marketers got off their duffs and took responsibility for ensuring that a political environment conducive to the preservation and advancement of a universal mail delivery system is maintained.
Most direct marketers think about our postal system only at postage-paying time. Even then it’s hardly more than an afterthought. While news of an imminent postage rate increase may grab their notice for a moment, the attention soon fades as direct merchants’ thoughts pass on to other matters.
This is a fascinating phenomenon when you consider that postage accounts for the lion’s share of many companies’ direct marketing expenses. What’s bizarre, however, is that unlike the cost of electrical, heating or water utilities, the cost of postage is probably the most malleable to political and customer influence. Yet rather than playing an activist role in the development and implementation of postal policies, most direct marketers remain passive.
We make a big deal these days about developing competency-based criteria for healthcare and education, but many in the direct marketing business care not a whit about competencies when it comes to postal knowledge. Think of any direct marketing conference you’ve recently attended, and odds are that the least-attended sessions concerned postal policies and operations.
This is amazing. There is very little that direct marketers can do to shape the rates he or she pays for gas, telephone and sewer service. But there is a great deal they can do to influence the development and implementation of postal policies and programs, including postal rates.
While there are probably many direct marketers who can tell you about trends affecting the electronic media and customers’ behavior, there are few who can speak knowledgeably about trends that will affect a business’s use of the mail.
How many can talk on the importance of preparing automatable mail as a means of reducing postal costs and improving the quality of mail service? How many realize that the barcoding of letters and larger-than-letter-size pieces must become common in an industry that requires timely and consistent mail delivery? How many can explain to their own board of directors the need to assure that barcoding is extended to every carton, tray, pallet or container in which mail travels to ensure that the postal service will have the data and information it needs to improve the cost-efficiency and consistency of mail service? How many can readily explain the peculiarities of mail as a medium and the constraints that must be observed to use it productively? And how many give enough of a hoot about their own business to ensure that the postal policies and programs developed in the future facilitate, rather than impede, the use of mail as a tool for business communication and commerce?
For well over a decade, industry advocates have talked of the need for postal legislative and regulatory reform. Advocates have tried to get DMers to take seriously the need to get involved in the political debate that will shape our nation’s postal future. Yet many direct marketers have opted to leave the shaping of their business’s postal fates to someone other than themselves.
An often-heard direct marketing refrain goes something like, “Why should I get involved in that postal stuff? My printer handles that for me.”
Great. Then let’s just hope it will be your printer who will save your bacon when the means on which you rely for getting most of your marketing messages before your customers collapses from its long-neglected legislative and regulatory infirmities.
It’s time for people in this industry to wake up to their responsibility to help ensure the continued viability of a universal mail delivery system.
After all, you wouldn’t leave it to your printer, lettershop or list broker to ensure the success of any other phase of your business. Why, then, abandon your postal fate to them?
There’s an old saying about the three kinds of people-those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. If this is not the time to watch or wonder, then you really have only one choice.