Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the PostalVision 2020 conference. This conference engages stakeholders in conversation about the future of postal services, both in this country and around the world. As marketers, we know that direct mail is one of the strongest performers in cross-channel marketing campaigns. However, in order for direct mail to continue to provide robust ROMI for marketers, we need strong postal systems to ensure that mail is delivered predictably and affordably. In fact, much of our discussion last week focused on how national postal systems act as “platforms” that can supply a wide variety of goods and services as well as distribute printed communications.
Robert Taub, acting chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission, observed that the traditional marketplace for posts is disappearing and we need to address the question of what sorts of postal services we need going forward. Only when we answer that question can we address how national posts, including the U.S. Postal Service, should be reshaped for the 21st Century.
[Forgive me for using a bit of postal jargon, but it does save space. “Posts” as used in this article refers to national postal systems such as the U.S. Postal Service or CanadaPost.]
The conference was optimistic about the changing role of posts. While posts may be adapting to perform new functions and meeting new responsibilities in our changing societies, they already possess several strengths that position them to meet new demands. As e-commerce continues to grow, the “everywhere, every day,” “last-mile” delivery network of the U.S. Postal Service can easily be leveraged to provide in-home delivery of online purchases. That ubiquitous network could also be the backbone of information gathering networks, such as utility meter reading or environmental monitoring, as vehicles move throughout countless neighborhoods.
Commenting on Accenture’s on-going research on high performing post and parcel services, Brody Buhler, head of Accenture’s global postal industry practice, observed, “Last year it was clearly evident that the tone had changed to optimism.” He went on to note that although the postal industry has undergone recent disruptions caused by new digital communications technology, the postal industry “sits at the epicenter of digital,” being uniquely placed to mediate the interface between the digital and physical worlds.
Posts Must Adapt to a Changing World of Communication
One of the things that posts will need to address is how to adapt to a world of more parcels and less mail. But as many conference attendees reminded the speakers, we also need strategies to grow, maintain and stabilize the core postal functions as we plan for the future. Direct mail has demonstrated its ability to provide value to marketers and will remain an important part of the mailstream well into the future. Despite all the change coming for posts, it is currently letter mail that is paying the bills, and posts must continue to provide consistent, predictable and affordable delivery services for marketing mail.
David C. Williams, Inspector General of the U.S. Postal Service, explained that as the speed of change accelerates, we will all need to remain agile and keep up with the pace of change. He also cautioned that “velocity doesn’t matter without focus.” We all need to understand who we are now and where we are going. He said the job of the U.S. Postal Service is “to pull friction out of commerce.”
Williams said he isn’t worried about the changes facing the U.S. Postal Service; after all, the Post Office adapted to the last big disruption when railroads and the telegraph changed the communications landscape in America. In Williams’ opinion, the future role of posts will be to help people navigate between digital and physical worlds. He commented, “We are identifying the building blocks now. Next we need to identify the structure we can create from those building blocks.”
As the PostalVision 2020 conference emphasized, it’s certainly an interesting time of transition for posts around the world. Stay tuned to SpeakingDirect as we do our best to explain changing dynamics and regulations with the USPS, and what it means for the direct mail industry.
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