Archive for category USPS
Possible Exigent Rate Increase?
There has been talk lately of the USPS requesting an exigent postage rate increase from the Board of Governors.
What is an “exigent” postage rate increase?
The current law is that postage rate increases are tied to the Consumer Price Index. The rates increases we have seen annually over the past few years fall into this category. While no one particularly likes an increased cost (although USPS remains the best bargain for mail worldwide), tying it to CPI makes budgeting fairly simple.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines exigent as “requiring immediate aid or action” or “requiring or calling for much”. In the case of the Postal Service, this is a request for a postage rate increase above the CPI when there are extraordinary circumstances.
What are the extraordinary circumstances? Uncertain or lack of postal reform certainly plays into it, along with continued financial losses. In addition, the USPS has made efforts at internal cost containment. Is it enough?
The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) reports in its Direct from Washington newsletter:
With reason to believe that the United States Postal Service (USPS) Board of Governors may vote on a potential exigency rate increase in early September, the Affordable Mail Alliance (AMA), including the DMA, sent a letter to the Governors voicing their opposition of such an increase. The letter expressed concern about the negative effects that would come with such an increase, especially for the mailing industry and its suppliers. The letter recognized the continued financial struggles that confront USPS, but also stated that an exigent rate increase is not the solution to those struggles. With recent improvement in the USPS balance sheet, the letter stated that an exigency filing ‘at this point would be premature’.
Strahm will keep our customers up-to-date with decisions and potential rate increases.
Often I am asked by novice direct mailers what elements to include on their mail piece. They are simply looking to design the best mailer possible to yield a high ROI.
Here Are My Top 10 Recommendations
(In no particular order)
- Make sure your list, mail piece and message are all targeted to the correct audience. What is your goal – lead generation, customer retention, a new product roll out?
- A clear, provocative call to action and a nice incentive.
- A compelling message – don’t forget, most people want to know “What’s in it for Me?”
- A First Class mail permit. Don’t skimp on standard mail postage. 10% of your mailing list may never receive the mail piece and you’d be surprised how many people simply disregard any piece of mail with a standard permit.
- Add a PURL, or Personalized URL. This will tie your printed piece with an online experience. Make sure the PURL ties in with your theme.
- As long as we’re adding hot new technology with that PURL, let’s add a QR, or Quick Response, code. You’ve probably been seeing a lot of QR codes on all kinds or marketing – from billboards to pizza boxes. We’ll talk more about QR codes and using them effectively in an upcoming blog.
- Use a fresh, unexpected image and a memorable tag line. You only have seconds to grab the reader’s attention.
- You’ve probably heard it said a million times, and it’s true, your response rate is only as good as your list. We will delve into list effectiveness in future blogs.
- Include a follow up on the call to action. Perhaps include an expiration date. This also makes room for a second communication (perhaps an email?).
- Since we repeated the call to action, repeat the PURL as well. Remind them how to respond to that call to action!
Tell us, what are your thoughts on creating the ideal direct mail piece? We’d love to hear your suggestions!
How To Get More Out of Your Marketing Program Using VDP
Variable Data Printing (or VDP) has changed the way marketers plan their programs and design their mailpieces. No longer are they creating for a mass market, but instead using carefully mined data to make highly personalized messages.
Data can be gathered from customer calls, interviews, emails and phone calls to create targeted messages relevant to each customer/prospect. Data can be organic from your company or purchased from a 3rd party vendor. Put thought into what data you are gathering; while you don’t want to be intrusive you do want to get as deep as possible.
Pay particular attention to aligning the message of your mailpiece with the artwork. Tie the right art and copy to speak directly to the recipient.
A good example would be a program for a car dealership. Say Mr. Brown bought a mini van 5 years ago. You know (and have within your data) that Mr. Brown has 4 small children. You wouldn’t want to send him a message about buying a 2-seater sports car, would you?
Conversely, Mr. Jones bought a sporty little car from you a couple of years ago. Unless you know from your data that Mr. Jones’ situation has changed, does he have interest in a mini van?
Because this type of marketing is more relevant to the customer/prospect, you should expect to see a greater response rate from your mailing. Consider multi-channel marketing as well. Send a postcard, followed up with an email. Within the email, create a customized landing page with the same or similar message and artwork.
So get to work on that data and start building a truly great, targeted mailing!
USPS Continuing Education for Mailers
The USPS currently offers two certifications – Mail Design Professional (MDP) and Executive Mail Center Management (EMCM).
These courses are not only for Mail Center Managers and industry insiders, but anyone who designs mailpieces, manages a mailing/postage budget or wants to help their own customers improve their mailing programs.
Program Overview for Mail Design Professional
The Mailpiece Design Professional (MDP) Online program teaches mailing industry personnel how to design mail to enhance its compatibility with U.S. Postal Service® automated equipment. It also coaches mailers on how to achieve lower postage prices through automation. MDP Online training is 100% free to all users. However, USPS® MDP certification is only available upon successful completion of course assessment, which does have a fee.
MDP Online Curriculum
The MDP Online program provides training specifically designed for mailing industry professionals. The online curriculum provides mailing industry professionals training including…
- Maximizing eligibility for postage discounts
- Discussing the 5 classes of mail
- Deciding Nonprofit eligibility
- Recognizing barcode formats
- Designing mail for automation
- Designing Reply Mail pieces
- Determining mailability, processing categories, and machinability
- Using Address Information System (AIS) Products
Executive Mail Center Management Program
The Executive Mail Center Management (EMCM) program is a comprehensive training program designed for individuals who wish to develop Mail Center Management skills.
The EMCM program provides training specifically designed for mailing industry professionals. The program teaches skills needed to…
- Manage more effectively
- Improve mail center safety and security
- Boost productivity
- Cut costs
Training is offered at the NationalCenter for Employee Development (NCED) located in Norman, Oklahoma. The EMCM course can be delivered in your city through sponsorship by your PCC®. For more details about what is covered in the program go to our Curriculum page.
Check out your local Postal Customer Council, too. They often hold educational seminars designed to help you ace these USPS courses! PCC is a terrific resource for education, the latest in Postal Service regulations and networking.
Find your PCC here: https://www.usps.com/business/connect-with-a-pcc.htm
Significant changes are coming July 28 to the Postal Service’s expedited product lineup.
Express Mail will get a new name, and insurance will be included on domestic Priority Mail shipments. Also, expedited shipping labels, retail receipts and Track and Confirm at usps.com will indicate day-specific delivery information. Finally, USPS will debut redesigned packaging.
The strategy behind these changes — the most significant in the past three decades — is to meet customer requirements, stay competitive, leverage improved scanning and tracking technology and build the package business. USPS also wants to help mailers increase their use of Priority Mail as a reliable, cost effective mailing and shipping alternative. “We’re building on our powerhouse Priority Mail brand,” says Chief Marketing and Sales Officer Nagisa Manabe.
Here are highlights of the July 28 changes:
- Express Mail will have a new name — “Priority Mail Express.” All characteristics of the current domestic Express Mail service will remain the same after the name change.
- Express Mail International will be renamed “Priority Mail Express International,” and Express Mail Corporate Accounts will be called “USPS Corporate Accounts.”
- Insurance will be included — at no additional charge — with most Priority Mail pieces. Retail and commercial customers will receive $50 and $100 coverage respectively.
- Expedited shipping labels, retail receipts and Track and Confirm at usps.com will include day-specific delivery information — 1-Day, 2-Day, 3-Day, Military or DPO.
- Expedited packaging supplies will get a new look.
The new Priority Mail brand delivers an enriched and reliable delivery experience for mailers small and large at significant value. The new and expedited product lineup offers a smarter way to ship more reliably and with greater transparency for customers. “We’re making some changes in our products, but our goal remains the same,” said Manabe. “We want to be America’s shipper of choice.”
This Day In History: U.S.P.S. Established
Can you believe it’s been 238 years since the establishment of the United States postal system? Yep, that’s right. The postal system (as it was originally called) was approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 26, 1775.
You may already know that Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General. Previous to this he was the Postmaster in Philadelphia and one of two joint Postmasters General for the original colonies.
There were no post offices in early colonial times, so mail was typically left at inns and taverns. Nearly all mail was from overseas as the colonists had no need to send correspondence “locally”. Mail deliveries from across the Atlantic were sporadic and could take months to arrive.
Ben Franklin set up new, more efficient routes and cut delivery time between Philadelphia and New York by having relay teams of wagons travelling night and day. He also devised the first postage rate charge with costs based on delivery distance and piece weight.
These improvements were considered so radical that the British fired Franklin in 1774. A year later, Congress made his appointment to Postmaster General of the United Colonies. Franklin remained in this position until 1776, when he left the colonies to become a diplomat to France.
In 1789, President George Washington appointed Samuel Osgood as the first Postmaster General of the United States under the new U.S. constitution. At the time there were approximately 75 post offices in the country.
Today there are over 40,000 post offices and the postal service delivers 212 billion pieces of mail annually to over 144 million homes and businesses. And yet many of the improvements instituted by Benjamin Franklin are still in use.
Way to go, Ben! Your revolutionary ideas of how a postal service should operate make the USPS one of the most cost effective and efficient postal services in the world – handling 44% of the world’s total mail volume.
CASS vs NCOA – What’s the Difference
How can you increase the number of mailpieces successfully delivered and reduce the number of those pesky return pieces? Return mail, or Undeliverable as Addressed (UAA) is costly for you (think printing and postage) and costly for the USPS to handle as well.
So what can be done?
Always, always, always run your mail through CASS and NCOA processes prior to printing.
What is CASS and why do I need it?
CASS stands for Coding Accuracy Support System. The process standardizes address data and certifies that your mailing list meets automation rate specs and USPS presort discounts. Note that this is only improving your address by confirming the carrier route, five-digit zip code, zip +4 code, and delivery point barcode. Name-related fields are not taken into consideration during CASS processing.
What is corrected:
- Misspellings in street and city names
- Street suffixes such as Way, Court, Terrace
- ZIP code and ZIP+4
We let our customers drive what happens if an address fails CASS certification. We receive a report back of any UAA addresses and can either suppress them from the mailing, mail to that address knowing that it will result in UAA mail (some clients must mail to address as given for legal reasons), or return these addresses to client for research/updating as necessary.
What is NCOA?
National Change of Address (NCOA) meets USPS mandated Move Update requirements by bouncing your mailing list against an updated USPS database. The USPS database contains any moves where a Change of Address has been submitted. In 48 months the USPS records more than 150 million permanent address changes filed by postal customers.
In NCOA processing, both the name and address are compared in the database. Strahm receives a report back when a record is identified as having a change of address. This allows our clients the opportunity to update their own database with the new address information. It also prevents mailing to an old address resulting in UAA mail returns.
Keep in mind that you will still receive some amount of UAA mail even after NCOA processing. Not all movers submit a Change of Address to the Postal Service. Sometimes the CoA submitted to the Postal Service is not an exact match to the name in your database (John A. Smith on the CoA, John Smith in your data, for example).
What you gain with NCOA:
- Reduce printing/mailing costs by reducing the number of UAA pieces
- Ability to update your mailing list for future mailings
- Reduce internal processes for handling returned UAA mailpieces
- Speed delivery to mailboxes since USPS won’t need to reroute from an old address to a new address
To recap, you should always use CASS certification part of a process to qualify for presort postage discounts. Use of NCOA will reduce printing/mailing/handling costs associated with mailing to address which would result in UAA mail.
While you will probably not ever eliminate all Undeliverable as Addressed mail, managing the amount will reap rewards!
DC Court Rules on Postage Discounts
One of the many services that Strahm Automation provides our clients is presorting of their mail so that clients are able to take advantage of discounted postage rates. This discount encourages mailers to presort, which in turn lowers costs for the Postal Service, but the current discount is greater than the Postal Service would pay to sort the mail themselves.
The Postal Service is not pleased with this ruling because it believes that it needs to offer mailers large discounts so that bulk mailers (including co-minglers, combined mailers and continuous mailers such as Strahm) will continue to use First Class mail.
“Through snow and rain and heat and gloom of night, the Postal Service delivers the mail,” Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the three judge panel. “But the Postal Service does so under the watchful eye of a separate independent agency, the Postal Regulatory Commission.”
The PRC establishes rates that the Postal Service may charge for mail. The commission states that the reason customers choose to presort their mail is based on the lower price, and a 1% increase in price will cause a “significant change in demand”.
What are your thoughts? Would a decrease in your presorted postage savings cause you to change how you process your mail? Would you reconsider presorting?
Glossary of Common USPS Terms
I thought it would be a good idea to review a few of the terms commonly heard when working with either a presort service or directly with the USPS. If you have other terms you would like addressed, please drop us a line!
Automation Compatible Mail – Mail that is prepared according to USPS standards so it can be scanned and processed by automated mail processing equipment such as a barcode sorter. Postage discounts are available to mail that is automation compatible.
Bulk Mail – The term is generally used to describe commercial mail. The term “bulk mail” refers to specific minimum quantities of mail that are prepared as a specific class of mail at reduced postage. For instance, First Class Mail requires a minimum of 500 pieces for each mailing. Standard Mail requires 200 pieces or 50 pounds for each mailing. The term “bulk mail” is synonymous with commercial business, or advertising mail.
Business Mail Entry Unit (BMEU) – The area of a postal facility where mailers present bulk and permit mail for acceptance. The BMEU includes dedicated platform space, office space and a staging area on the workroom floor. Presort service providers will present their mail to the BMEU for processing. At Strahm, the USPS picks up from our dock area since we have an on-site USPS Verifier and MERLIN for pre-approval.
Certified Mail – A service that provides the sender with a mailing receipt. A delivery record is maintained by the USPS. This type of mail must be sent at First Class or Priority Mail prices. Certified Mail may be combined with return receipt service and restricted delivery service. Extra service fees are in addition to postage.
Commingle – To integrate dissimilar mail into the same mailing. Presort service providers such as Strahm Automation commingle customers’ mail and offer postage savings.
Delivery Confirmation – An extra service that provides the date and time of delivery or, if delivery was attempted but not successful, the date and time of the delivery attempt. Delivery confirmation is available for Priority Mail, First Class Parcels, Standard Mail machinable or irregular parcels, Package Services and Parcel Select packages. Please note that this service is not available for regular letter mail. Extra services are in addition to postage.
Express Mail – A mail class that provides expedited delivery service. This is the fastest mail service offered by the USPS. Express Mail International Service is available between the United States and most other countries.
Flat-size Mail – A flexible rectangular mailpiece that exceeds one of the dimensions for letter-size mail ( 11 ½” long, 6 1/8” high, ¼” thick) but that does not exceed the maximum dimension for the mail processing category (15” long, 12” high, ¾” thick). Flat-size mail may be unwrapped, sleeved, wrapped or enveloped.
Indicia – Imprinted designation on mail that denotes postage payment (permit imprint)
Letter-size Mail – A mail processing category of mailpieces, including cards, that do not exceed any of the dimensions for letter-size mail (11 ½” long, 6 1/8” high, ¼” thick).
Permit Imprint – Printed indicia instead of an adhesive postage stamp or meter stamp. Shows postage prepayment by an authorized mailer.
Postage Meter – A device that can print one or more denominations of postage onto a mailpiece or meter tape. It is available for lease only from authorized manufacturers.
Presort – The process by which a mailer prepares mail so that it is sorted to the finest extent required by the standards for the price claimed. Generally, presort is performed sequentially, from the lowest (finest) level to the highest level, to those destinations specified by standard and is completed at each level before the next level is prepared.
Identifying and Handling Suspicious Letters and Packages
There have been a few recent incidences of mailed letters containing suspicious and/or lethal materials, typically of a powder consistency.
While your mail operation center may already x-ray incoming letters and packages, powdered materials would not be identified.
- Unexpected or from someone unfamiliar to you
- Addressed to someone no longer with your organization
- No return address or one that cannot be verified as legitimate
- Unusual weight given its size or lopsided
- Restrictive markings such as “Personal” or “Confidential”
- Exhibits protruding wires, strange odors or stains
- Postmarked from a city that does not match return address
- Displays distorted handwriting or addresses with homemade labels or cut and paste lettering
- Unprofessionally wrapped or secured with combinations or excessive tape
- Excessive postage
What to do if you receive a suspected explosive device:
- Do not open the parcel
- Isolate the parcel
- Evacuate the immediate area
- Record the specific point in the screening process that caused the alert (excessive postage, no return address, lopsided or bulky).
- Without touching the mailpiece, record from each visible side of the item all available information (name and address of sender and addressee, postmark, cancellation date, types of stamps and any other labels or markings).
- Inform security team, call 911
- If sent through the U.S. Mail, call Postal Inspectors at 877-876-2455 (press 2)
What to do if you receive a biological or chemical threat by mail:
- Do not handle the mailpiece or package
- Wash hands with soap and water
- Evacuate the area
- Isolate the mailpiece or package
- Make sure all persons who have touched the mailpiece wash their hands with soap and water. Record all persons who have touched the mailpiece; include contact information
- If the package or letter has been opened and powder spills out DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CLEAN IT UP. KEEP OTHERS AWAY FROM THE AREA.
- Inform security team, call 911
- If sent through the U.S. Mail, call Postal Inspectors at 877-876-2455 (press 2)