Important note: Since this article was 1st published, the USPS has opted to postpone this requirement. No date has been given for future implementation. Be sure to subscribe to our free enews to stay informed about this important topic.
Is bulk mail a critical portion of your business? If so, you need to understand the implications of the Intelligent Mail Full-Service initiative that's being rolled out by the USPS effective January 26, 2014. This short post explains what it means to you as a mailer.
The Evolution of Bulk Mail in the US: At the inception of bulk mail discounts with the USPS, the postal service agreed to provide a discount to organizations that grouped their bulk mailing a certain way and completed bulk mail paperwork. Since the inception of this basic business mail, the expectations of the USPS have changed tremendously.
What's changed with bulk mail? Basically to continue to get a bulk mail discount, the USPS has raised the bar for bulk mailers. Instead of just organizing bulk mail in a certain way, the USPS now requires mailers to update the recipients’ mailing addresses using a “USPS approved” method. If this is new to you, then please take a look at 'What’s the Easiest Way to Get Your Bulk Mail Rejected by the U.S. Post Office?
Another substantial change that's gone unnoticed by many is the automation discount. No this does not mean that your bulk mail needs to be prepared by robots, but there are additional discounts available for bulk mailers who take this important step. For details on this, click here.
After automation was rolled out, the USPS decided in January 2013 that to continue to receive automation discounts, bulk mailers had to adopt the Intelligent Mail Barcode. Of course we've written a post that explains what that is too; here's a link.
For anyone outsourcing bulk mail, use of the Intelligent Mail Barcode has become the litmus test for determining if your outsourced bulk mail vendor is up to par. Ask the simple question "Do you use the Intelligent Mail Barcode?" If the answer is "no" then in my opinion, you should not be working with them.
We use the Intelligent Mail Barcode with all bulk mailings and invite you to contact us if you think we may be able to help you get your bulk mail printed and mailed.
Where are we now, and what's the Full-Service initiative? This is the next in the progression of increasingly complex expectations from the USPS. Really the first step to satisfy this is to purchase some pretty complex & expensive software. Unfortunately, it's not just the purchasing of the software that you need, but you also need to configure your USPS online account a certain way in order to be compliant. Most bulk mail software vendors will walk you through this process via a webinar.
Please realize that it takes time to get set up correctly so you certainly don't want to wait until the deadline.
1) Pay higher postage and mail at the non-automated rate. Note: address-updating is still required even at this level of mailing.
2) Pay for new software and attend webinars to get set up as Full-Service compliant with the USPS
3) Outsource your bulk mail to a Full-Service compliant bulk mail vendor (Hint, like us).
Why is the USPS mandating this? These new requirements supposedly offer superior tracking of your bulk mail as it travels through the mail-stream. Without a doubt tracking marketing dollars is always a positive thing, but I'm unclear if the advertised benefits really outweigh the hoops the bulk mailers have to jump through to be compliant.
What's next? Of course the conversation among bulk mail professionals is that eventually full-service will be the only way to send bulk mail. From a time and labor point-of-view, the profitability of older style bulk mail is questionable. The USPS is under tremendous financial constraints so it's probably not too much of a stretch to envision a future where Full-Service bulk mail will be the only style of bulk mail accepted.
Bulk mail is still a very profitable marketing tactic for countless businesses and nonprofits in the US. Don't let these new requirements confuse you or delay the launch of your next bulk mail campaign. There will be some fallout as a result of these changes which means that your direct mail marketing message will stand out even more as some of the competition falls by the wayside.
How do you plan to handle the rollout of USPS Full-Service requirements? Please share your comments below.