Are new postage rates justified in direct mail?

All things being what they are, I am normally one of the first people to bash large bureaucratic entities such as the US Postal Service. The monopoly that they hold over the industry, the civil service mentality and attitude as well as the constant increases in the cost of doing business leave them as a wide-open target.

In thinking about the new Postage Rates, however, I also feel compelled to compliment the postal service for the latest developments that they have introduced. It has been quite an undertaking! Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of room for improvement and a many areas that they can improve on. Today let’s look at some of the positives, because they deserve to be recognized.

One of the most amazing new developments with the US Postal Service is the implementation of the intelligent mail barcode systems. It is mind-boggling to think of the amount of data retrieval, data collection and data distribution that this system is capable of. This helps the post office to track delivery times and pinpoint problematic areas within their system.

It has also been a great tool for mail service providers such as CSG Direct to build systems around for individual US Mail tracking. This is a dream come true for Direct Marketing professionals to be able to track their mailings online. It allows them to gauge delivery times, track individual pieces and better plan their projects.

Another item that I believe bears consideration is the expense of fuel that has spiked and dropped several times in recent memory. As a transportation and delivery entity, the postal service is sharply affected by fuel costs. I know in my household fuel prices have strained the budget considerably. These costs cannot be absorbed for long periods of time – especially at the volumes that the USPS consumes.

I believe that the postal service is working diligently to improve service and delivery times. With some of the new requirements for NCOA standards, enhanced barcoding and ongoing customer relationship building. I am seeing great strides of improvement in a large entity that is slow to change.

If we can only get them to work in a more customer friendly atmosphere in regard to the incessant changes and rules for mailpiece design and construction. They change the rules – industry adjusts – then they change the rules because they do not like the industry adjustments. The recent flat changes are a good example of this.

In May of 2007, the flat rate increase was harsh, so the industry started changing to smaller booklets and slimjims that were subject to the letter rate category. Now the post office is implementing new rules on these types of mailers that will cost the preparers more money to process and slow down the production. This should have been taken into consideration in 2007 when the USPS raised the flat rates to get mailers to change their formats and remove some of the burden from the flat sorters.

OOPS… I am going off on a rant – not the intention here.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate some of the positive changes that the post office and the mailing industry are encountering. The new technologies are very cool, and very useful. If you are not taking advantage of these new technologies, then you are missing the boat! If you would like to learn more about US Mail Tracking, give one of the Direct Mail Specialists at CSG Direct a call. We are here to help!

The 7 Deadly Sins of Direct Mail – Sin #7

…and how our clients avoid them and save thousands

Finally we can confront Sin #7:

Direct Mail Sin #7

Proof sign-offs taken too casually

Every job that we receive with electronic files requires some kind of manipulation or adjustment prior to mailing. RGB to CMYK, resizing, recropping, data merging, font replacement etc…

When your project requires a final signoff we hope that you take this opportunity seriously!

By the time it gets to this stage you have seen it many many times. Take a moment and read every line of your offer and confirm that everything is exactly the way it should be. This is your final opportunity to adjust dates, copy or data before your clients or prospects see the piece.

This is also the moment in time when the mistakes slide though and become major issues when the customers start calling.

We know that you are probably tired of reading at this point but you need to try to read the piece like it was your very first time looking at it. Study the text, confirm the data, dates, phone numbers, call-to-actions and all other components.

Common errors found at this point:

* Right date/wrong day (is it really a Thursday on that date?)

* Brand colors off

* Wrong or missing telephone numbers

* Newest art changes not sent (were we sent the most recent version of artwork?)

* Wrong offers, or error in disclaimers

* Spelling errors/typos

We know this is cumbersome but it also one of the unavoidable steps. We highly recommend you let someone else look at it and sign off with you. This identifies more errors and changes the dynamic if something is missed.

On a personal note, it doesn’t leave you standing alone as responsible for errors if more people on the team miss the same detail. If many people missed it than it must not have been obvious.  If only one person signs off it is easy for everyone to just point at you and steer clear of responsibility.  This is human nature.

Either way, the signoff process and authorization for us to proceed is your decision only.  We will not proceed without it and we are responsible to print and mail it exactly as the proof you signed off on.

Added Note about all 7 Deadly Sins of Direct Mail:
Allow the time needed for the quality and price you desire. This time gives you the breathing room needed to be flexible if  things you plan go wrong. No human process or timing is perfect, however much you try!

You cannot be consistently successful when you are expecting everyone involved to “jump from miracle to miracle”! You’ll save money in the end by not paying for rushed and fixed jobs. Being rushed always creates additional errors as you skip details to meet timeframes.

Our most successful customers have learned to work backwards from deadlines, successfully creating a smooth process from start to finish.

Intelligent Mail Barcodes

This is a new feature from the Post Office that was originally slated as a requirement starting May 2009.  So many mailshops and software vendors freaked out that the USPS has decided to delay that requirement for one more year.  The program is alive and well, however, just not yet required.

We have been using and developing systems around the Intelligent Mail barcode since January 2008 and have had extensive experience in Planet codes before that.

Have you seen our new US Mail Tracking tools?

We are ready for this and have actually lead the way.  Is your mailshop using this technology?  How many other things are coming that your current mailshop is going to wait for, before learning on your project?  Why do they put your mailings at risk as they “figure it out” near deadlines? It’s because most shops are reactive instead of proactive.

You deserve to be kept at the front of the direct mail revolution, not in the backseat.  These new systems create dynamic advantages for the people that partner with us. What if your competition is using these advanced services and you are not?  Mailing with CSG Direct ensures that you are staying at the front of the pack. 

This is another core reason to work with a company that is a mailshop first, printer second.  It just makes sense!

The 7 Deadly Sins of Direct Mail – Sin #6

…and how our clients avoid them and save thousands

We continue along with Sin #6:

Direct Mail Sin #6

Don’t use MS Excel for databases

Excel sucks for databases. I don’t know how else to put it. Sure, everybody has it and it is one of the easiest ways to display your database visually, but it doesn’t hold record integrity and it plays with the numbers in your database. The worst horror stories ever in our business have Excel in them. We like MS Excel for spreadsheets and mathematics, not for databases.

There is no describing the feeling that comes over you when you find out (after the mailing) that your customer had sorted the [Last Name] field of an Excel spreadsheet before sending it to you.  It’s like a bomb goes off and everyone involved gets hit with the collateral damage.

These “bombs” are always from excel. Every single time over the decades I have been doing database marketing, Excel is the culprit. Yes there are ways to use it properly to avoid these mistakes. But, the fact that sortation is possible in this manner means excel is NOT a database program.

You’ve been warned.  This is a Direct Mail Sin.

Direct Mail Flats Postage Rates are Under-Attack

What do you get when you take the heaviest piece of mail possible and force it to either jump through hoops or pay huge postage increases? You get the single largest opportunity for the US Postal Service to increase its income quickly.

As someone who has processed flats and catalogs, I can’t say I blame them due to the backbreaking nature of these heavy cumbersome pieces. But we like to help you save postage at each turn.  So I am here to guide you through this new information.

USPS Poster 182, January 2009 Specifically Reads:

New Address Standards for Commercial Flat-Size Mail
Effective March 29th 2009

Since you can download the document I won’t copy it verbatim. But I do want to talk about what I see and how it relates to all of you.

The first and most obvious aspect of this entire change of mail processing category is the conversation about the “top” of the mailpiece and specifically if it is on the right or on the left of the publication.  Let me repeat that because it sounds so odd (so postal).  The TOP is on the RIGHT or LEFT. *chuckling to myself*

Anyway, once you get oriented about RIGHT, LEFT, TOP and “bound edge” this gets easier to understand.

Look at this example:

Notice the Magazine is upside down to us and the address is vertical and parallel to the bound edge. To us this makes the most sense because if you rotated this 90 degrees to the right it would be envelope shaped and the address would be in the correct area.  Unfortunately, this is with an address block on the front cover. However, “front cover” is not required but the orientation is.  This is not the same place all of you are addressing right now so this was the most important change to look at. Be aware of the address block to the bound edge.

Here is another example:

This is where it goes from obvious to bizarre. First, you now see the “top half” is the bottom half of the magazine. You also see that the address is no longer in the top half and the address block is also inverted.  Interestingly enough this is considered with a “loose enclosure” which means it can slide around, however they want it in a specific location.  I have to imagine this was built very specifically to a certain project or projects because it doesn’t make much sense at first glance.

Here is another example:

This format seems like it makes sense to the Post Office but I imagine they just don’t realize that this is one of the biggest money spots on a magazine. A back cover ad is real estate that we do not want to give up.  It is very common to address on the lower half of the back cover, but rarely ever on the top.

I see this example as the most common money maker for the post office as they struggle to make you give up the largest money makers for you. You’re just going to have to move your customers’ ads to the bottom half and make them happy about it somehow. It is the same square footage ad space but it does feel submissive to the addressing itself.  Remember, this heavy magazine mails at first-class rates without it. $1 or more each.

Perhaps it is time to start addressing on the cover to save this valuable ad space.
Put it where you would put the newsstand UPC for non-mailed versions.

Last Example:

I think the most important part to observe on the large envelopes is that in either example the return address is on the left. The “top half” appears to be whichever side the mail-to address is on. These two formats have the smallest change and the option at the right is already the standard in all the large envelopes we mail.

In summary, the biggest concern from our perspective is magazines. There are so many of them out there that are mailed in the first week of each month.  I imagine that April 1st is going to be April Fools Day to so many of the Post Office’s largest customers. But this time you won’t be laughing.

Casino NCOA is now Mandatory

National Change of Address is now mandatory.

Something VERY IMPORTANT to consider is that almost every mailshop in the country SENDS YOUR DATABASE OUT to have NCOA done. Yes, your mailshop does too.  In my neck of the gaming world this throws up huge red flags. A big no no.

Currently, CSG Direct is the only mailshop in the state of Nevada directly licensed by the USPS as an NCOALink Limited Service Provider.  [Link]  We have been providing this service for casinos for many years and have perfected the process to make your job of cleaning up your in-house database easier.

Of course, we specialize in database marketing and gaming.

We’ve worked closely with Oasis Systems and others to help you find ways to upload your data back into your master database and save yourself weeks of data entry.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Direct Mail – Sin #5

…and how our clients avoid them and save thousands

We continue along with Sin #5:

Direct Mail Sin #5

Permits, postage and endorsements

The US Postal Service requires your postage to be paid at the time they accept your mailing. Here at CSG Direct we help you in advance by estimating postage based on what we know about the project and database.

Work closely with your CSG Direct rep to ensure you have the right permit on your piece as well as the proper return service endorsements for the kind of services required. In order to eliminate any last minute delays, have your postage ready and available.

When customers don’t get us involved we see a wide array of oddities show up already printed and too late to fix. It is so much easier to fix them prior to printing and it looks nicer than the odd fixes we are often required to do in order to get it through the post office.

Our mailpiece analysis is a free service for our clients. If you avoid using it you do so at your own risk.  Heck – it’s free and we have 25 people on staff certified to do it.

Take the time and save yourself a lot of grief and co-worker finger pointing.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Direct Mail – Sin #4

…and how our clients avoid them and save thousands

We continue along with Sin #4:

Direct Mail Sin #4

Varnish or aqueous coatings

Some customers often need stuff printed and mailed much quicker than the normal required time. This crunch often leaves printers with no choice but to varnish or coat the print in order to meet the deadline. The problem is that this process seals out all additional inks needed in the mailing process. Allow the time needed for your print and mail project and require that no varnish or aqueous coat be used on address panels.

OR just have us print and mail the entire project and save yourself lots of headaches and get the speed you need.

Yes, there are inks that “work” on these coatings but they are not only tempermental, but inconsistent and we usually have to run at half speeds to use them.  This is not efficient and it ultimately costs you more money.

Don’t save one day with a printer just to lose a day or more in mailing services or the mailstream and ruin your mailpieces and delivery times from the US Postal Service.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Direct Mail – Sin #3

…and how our clients avoid them and save thousands

We continue along with Sin #3:

Direct Mail Sin #3

Direct mailer approval before printing

Our job at CSG Direct is to help your designs and offers make it through the USPS to your intended recipients. We are your liaison to the US Postal Service. Let us help by getting your final design approved before you get it printed – a free service from CSG Direct.

Direct mail design is an art form of its own.  There are so many things to consider when designing a mailpiece.

First and foremost you want it to go through the Post Office efficiently so it makes it to your customers and prospects.

Second, you want to minimize postage and maximize mail services. Mostly, you just want the lowest postage you can get but you also want to have it delivered within a short time frame as well.  That balance is important.

Third, it is important to have a design that is cost efficient when printing. There is often a way to cut 1/4″ and cut 15% of your costs.  The opposite is also true.  Often you can add 1 or 2 inches of area for the same costs. You really want to know those things.

Not to digress, but I would rather have a higher priced vendor that managed these things for me than save $100 and miss out on all this information and details.

We balance all of these details for you and have taken it one step further.  We have dedicated ourselves to the task by training and certifying 25 of our employees as Mailpiece Quality Control Specialists by the US Postal Service.

We know it is 10 times better to have direct mail specialists that can keep you up to date and ahead of the pack than it is to hire cheap labor and offer substandard service.

So, Direct Mail Sin #3 is not getting your mailer approved and maximized prior to printing. You can no longer afford to pay for mistakes that can be prevented by proper professionals.

Mailing Services Have to Change with New Postage Rates

As most everyone knows, the postal rates for First Class postage rates are increasing on May 11, 2009 to 44 cents. Whenever a rate change is announced that the general public sees, a lot of rates and classifications are also changed for the business mailers (mail houses). One of the significant changes being proposed is the size and handling of self mailers and letter-size booklets. Some of the proposed changes include:

Larger Tabs: The post office is seeking to require two 1″ tabs on self-mailers and three 1 ½” tabs on booklets (2″ on larger and heavier booklets). The placement of tabs will also be a part of the proposed rule change, with more tabs required.

Smaller Size Limitations: The postal service has determined that folded self-mailers and booklets do not process as efficiently as envelopes, and seek to require smaller dimensional tolerances. The proposed rule will limit the size of self mailers and booklets to 6″ x 10 ½” x 0.25″.

Perforated Tabs: Perforated tabs will be eliminated under the proposed rule changes.

Paper Stock: The paper stock that self-mailers and booklets are printed on will likely be amended, and the paper requirements will be based on the piece size.

These changes are intended to assist the postal service in processing mail more efficiently. Unfortunately, it places the burden on the direct mailer and businesses preparing the mailing. The post office will be able to run more efficiently, but everyone else will be slowed down due to increased processing and higher supply costs. Many current mailpiece designs that are set up as templates will need to be revisited as well. As I stated before, the increase in postage is merely a single facet of the changes for the businesses whose livelihood is put to the test with each regulatory change.

This is an important time to partner with an experienced Mailing Services company, such as CSG Direct. We can help guide you through these tumultuous changes. With our staff of United States Postal Service MQC (Mailpiece Quality Control) trained specialists, you can be certain that your project is in capable and caring hands. As marketing budgets grow tighter, customer response and cost-saving methodology are more important than ever. It is critical to market… but even more critical to market wisely. CSG Direct is a leader in direct marketing because we offer experience, value and cutting-edge innovation coupled with individuals who are passionate about our customer’s success.
The difference isn’t just noticeable…. it’s obvious!

Please feel free to share your comments.

Guest blogger Dave Carsten is the general manager of CSG Direct, Inc.