As digital native companies seek new marketing channels beyond social media, they’re finding success offline – with the very traditional channel of direct mail.
Online brands such as Wayfair, HelloFresh, Joybird, DoorDash and Casper, to name just a few, now send out direct mailers.
The United States Postal Service is part of this digital transformation. Its two-year-old product, Informed Delivery, sends subscribers an email every morning with scanned images of their mail and package alerts, giving them a heads-up on the contents of their mailbox when they travel or to prevent fraud.
The product makes it easier for these digitally native companies to connect online and offline experiences. And the USPS is even testing a new pilot, "informed offers," that lets brands send offers to customers that have expressed interest in topics like pets, home decor or golf, making it even easier for brands to find the right customers through direct mail.
In the new era of direct mail, the USPS is trying to “make it easier for the customer to move from a hard copy world to a digital buying experience,” said Gary Reblin, VP of new products and innovation for the USPS.
Over 20 million households have signed up for the USPS’s Informed Delivery. First launched in 2017 after a few years of pilot testing, the service now adds 200,000 new households a week.
Informed Delivery offers brands sending direct mail the option to replace the scanned image of their mailer with a cleaner, digitally uploaded mail piece, along with a link to “learn more.” The service is free.
Over 6,000 brands have run more than 31,000 campaigns using Informed Delivery. Many brands find that 15% to 20% of their customers now use the service, making them more willing to do the extra work to customize campaigns for the online delivery of their message, Reblin said.
Plus, 60% of subscribers open up their Informed Delivery emails, compared to a number in the low teens for ecommerce emails, Reblin added. Because the emails come first thing in the morning, retailers can see upticks in traffic as people click on a link to a sale and start shopping hours before they get their mail.
And starting in the spring, a company sending a package can run ad campaigns too. So a retailer could send an offer for tennis balls after it delivers a person’s tennis racket.
Although the USPS can connect an Informed Delivery customer’s email address and their physical address, the federal government prohibits it from sharing that information, Reblin said. (Third-party companies, like data onboarders, can turn an email address into a physical address.)
But onboarding companies also often help companies find people interested in certain products of services. There, the USPS can help. It just started piloting an "Informed Offers" program in Merrifield, Virginia, that will allow brands to reach customers who have said they want to receive coupons about pet products, for example.
In order to keep the physical address of those customers anonymous, any direct mail sent through Informed Offers gets matched to six-digit “license plates” that obscure the physical address of the person. The post office's automated equipment then decodes that license plate, so a piece of mail addressed to Jane Doe at XYZ 456 gets delivered to her house at 123 Willow Lane. And the customer sees a piece of mail addressed not to her, but to the anonymized location.
“One of the most important things in this pilot is ‘Are consumers interested?’” Reblin said. “We have to balance the two sides of this platform. If they’re not interested and not getting on board, it’s not a good platform to do this [idea] on.”
Informed Delivery is also trying to become more helpful to people. Informed Delivery is already available on Alexa to give people notifications about package deliveries. Next year, people can get an alert when their mail is actually delivered – a bonus for people with long hikes to their mailbox.
USPS is also working on "Informed Address," which would allow people to use email addresses to send physical holiday cards -- using those same "license plates" to encode and anonymize the person's real address. And
Innovation like Informed Delivery keeps direct mail feeling fresh. But the marketing channel also demonstrably works, which is driving investment overall.
“We see people make announcements that they are moving away from direct mail. Almost without exception, within a year they come back. They can’t match the results they get from direct mail in the digital world,” Reblin said. “In the end, people will go back to what gives you the biggest bang for your buck.”