We’ve received a large number of phone calls and emails about a letter from the USPS. Apparently, they’ve sent this to holders of Business Reply Mail (BRM) permits. To paraphrase, the letter states that you may have to change your reply label to include an Intelligent Mail Package Barcode (IMpb) before January 26, 2014, but there is a grace period until July 2014. The versions of the letter I’ve seen don’t offer much more information than that.

First, the really good news. If you’re only using BRM to receive letters and flats, and you’ve already changed to the IMB (not IMpb), this letter doesn’t apply to you. The changes only effect permit holders that receive parcels (packages).  It wouldn’t be a bad idea to show the letter to your postmaster or Bulk Mail Entry Unit (BMEU) clerk, but you should be fine.

Second, the fairly good news. If you are using BRM to receive packages, the deadlines don’t apply to you. You actually have until January 2015 to comply with the new rules. The dates in the letter apply to persons already using Merchandise Return Services (MRS) or Parcel Return Services (PRS). They have to be in compliance by July.

Now for the not so good news. If you are using BRM, for packages, you will have to change to or add a MRS or PRS permit. As part of that, you will have to use an IMpb on your label. Unlike the old BRM label, the IMpb return labels are not generic. Each IMpb barcode is unique and cannot be repeated for 180 days. Also, there is a certification process. You have to apply for certification and send printed samples to Memphis, TN. There, they will be inspected for format, print quality, and barcode content. It usually takes about a week per inspection cycle, and they are very thorough. I advise customers to allow at least a month for IMpb certification.

This is not quite as bad as it sounds at first glance. The unique bar codes don’t have to be tied to a particular customer. Once you’ve printed a supply, you can still treat them as generic. Alternately, you can print them as needed and perhaps pre-fill the return address, or add other information that will be useful to you or your customer. You will likely have somewhat higher expenses. Variable printed labels cannot be as cheap as generic ones. If you need to receive both letters and packages, you’ll have to keep your BRM permit (and pay the permit and accounting fees), and add a MRS or PRS permit (and pay those, similar fees).

The postage side of things can be similar to what is being paid now. For Merchandise Returns Services, there are options for First Class (lightweight packages), Ground Return Services (Standard Post, previously Parcel Post, 6-10 days), or Priority Mail (Faster, possibly more expensive). The class of mail selected is part of the bar code, so you would have to print separate labels for different services, but this gives you the opportunity to provide the appropriate label for the application. You might have heavy items that could be returned slowly, and other items you wanted to receive more quickly. You can control that by the way you print the label.

So to sum it all up. If your receiving packages by Business Reply Mail (BRM), you need to change your label before January 2015. You should plan on the change taking at least a month. You can change before that, and you can be certified to make the change at any time, even before you open the new permit.

As always, call or write with any questions, and we’ll be happy to help you figure it all out.

The USPS has announced it will offer a 20% discount on bulk rate First Class Mail between October 1, 2009 and December 31, 2009. This is similar to the “summer sale” on Standard Mail.

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Here are some of the direct mail and USPS events coming up for 2009.

Postal holidays are shown in green.

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Well, the details are in on the new USPS rates. As it is every year, there are winners and there are losers.

We all know stamps went up 2 cents (or 4.76%). Overall, the increase is 3.5%. Almost all classes we checked got an increase this year (including the 01/18/09 partial increase). However, not all did.

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On January 18th, 2009, the USPS will increase their rates on certain services. Overall, there will be a 5 percent increase. Most, but not all the “package services” will be effected. All other classes of mail will not increase until the regularly scheduled increase in May 2009.

Specifically, rates will increase for these classes of mail…

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Open That Letter!

August 15th, 2008 No Comments

How to get your customers to read your message.

It’s the biggest problem in Direct Mail. How do you get people to open and read your letter? In this article, we’ll discuss some of the various techniques used.

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A number of our customers use First Class mail solely for the timing benefits. First Class will reliably deliver within about 3 days of the drop date, where Standard Mail will take 3 to 6 or more. The reasons they care vary. In one example, they bring in extra staff to man the phones on the dates they expect the mail to start arriving in homes. This is fine for letter size mail under an ounce. Once you get outside that, the postage goes up a great deal.

What we do in these cases is switch to Standard Mail with drop shipping. The Standard Mail rates are lower, and by dropping the mail closer to its destination, we’re able to overcome the timing issues.

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Move Update is the term used by the USPS to refer to a wide variety of address quality standards. On November 23, 2008, they will change the rules. The requirements will cover more classes of mail, and addresses will have to be updated more often.

Besides the obvious need to stay in line with USPS mailing policies, there are many compelling business reasons to comply, even if your primary class of mail isn’t effected, yet.

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As more details regarding the USPS’ plans for the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) are available, it is possible to start deciding how it will effect you, and planning how to use it.

Originally, the plan was to force the mailing industry to drop the old Postnet bar code and change over to the IMB in January 2009. Even though they have adjusted their schedule, you should begin planning. There are already many benefits you may wish to take advantage of. Currently, you can continue using Postnet  until May 2010. It will still receive the base Automation discounts available with “Basic” IMB. “Full Service” IMB will receive an extra discount beginning in May 2009.

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One of the first steps you want to take when selecting a mailing list is to analyze your customer base. The idea is to find out all you can about them, and then purchase a list that has more people like them. Doesn’t it make sense to mail to the people that are exactly like your current customers?

Developing a mailing list by from your current client database is one of the best ways you can use direct mail. Even if you don’t already have the addresses, there are steps you can take to start capturing this information.

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More details of the May 12 rate increase were released today. With these announcements, the USPS continues it’s shift from a mailing service to a shipping service.

With dropping volume in letter mail, the USPS has been emphasizing their packages services in recent years. They have been particularly aggressive with flat rate Priority Mail boxes, targeted at eBay sellers, and Express Mail services. 

Two rule changes allow them to become even more competitive in the package services (shipping) market. They will now use zones to calculate the postage on  shipments that formerly had fixed prices, and they are now able to offer discounts based on mailing volume and source of sale (online shipments for example). 

Here are some of the details of the new shipping rates…

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Everyone has an off season. The question is, what are you going to do about it? 

By way of example, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the related tourism  industries are fairly close to our location. January and February are extremely down times in their market. Here, we’ll outline some of the ways we’ve developed to help businesses use Direct Mail to combat this.

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Many people are discovering, if you ship books or other materials with the USPS using Bound Printed Matter (BPM) rates, you are in an excellent position to save money on postage. Some of the ideas presented here can give you modest savings immediately, with almost no effort. Others will produce substantial savings as a reward for investing a little more time.

With the recent changes by the USPS to move to shape based rates, Bound Printed Matter is becoming more attractive to catalog mailers, who previously used Standard Mail. Even without the cost saving techniques we’ll be discussing, BPM is now a better option for anyone that mails a large catalog.

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In a letter from Postmaster General John E. Potter, the USPS announced updates to the implementation schedule and other details regarding the new Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB)

The IMB, also known as the 4-state barcode, is a replacement of the older Postnet barcode used to assist the post office in routing First Class, Standard Mail and Periodicals based letters, flats and some parcels. You probably have already received mail using the new IMB code. Where Postnet had short and tall bars that were level on the bottom, the IMB “sticks out” on both the top and bottom. The reason for this is to increase the amount of data that can be stored in the code. In the original implementation plan, mailers were to be required to switch over to the IMB by January 2009. While there are still many reasons for mailers to convert as soon as possible, the new plans are more flexible.

Here is the text of the letter from the Postmaster General…

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The results of our first round of analysis of the new rates are in. Taking several typical mailings, we have compared the 2007 postage rates with the new 2008 rates. As in previous USPS increases, there isn’t a set percentage across the board.

These examples are meant to give you a “first glance” of the amount of increase for major rate categories. It is not meant to be exhaustive. Your results may be different.

Details by rate. Unless otherwise noted, automation, bar coded rates are assumed.

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As per the Postal Act of 2006, the USPS is preparing for their annual rate increase. The new prices are going into effect on May 12, 2008. Both consumers and mailers would be well advised to check out the details.

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Here are some of the direct mail and USPS events coming up this year…

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Mailing Lists 101

January 25th, 2008 2 Comments

The selection of the correct mailing list is one of the most important aspects of a direct mail campaign. An understanding of the basic concepts and options will give you a head start in the process.

 There are three main divisions in mailing lists. There are occupant lists, which simply give you an entry for every address on a carrier’s route, perhaps with the name. Then there are basic and premium lists.

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That quote is from Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Direct Mail Marketing managers might understand how he felt.

A lot of people have been writing the obituary of Direct Mail for a while now. They say email is going to take its place. While email has many useful features, and is quite handy for some purposes, Direct Mail is much more effective in the way it works, and in the impression it creates.

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