I’ve been lucky to have spent my entire career in the lettershop and mailing part of the communications industry. I’ve seen many changes along the way, from the full implementation of Letter Carrier Presort in the 1980s and the growth in available data and technology for personalization in the 1990s, to Canada Post’s Postal Transformation initiative and the roll-out of machineable mail. I also have lived through Y2K (and survived) watched as mail volumes gave way to the digital revolution followed by a dose of social media.
Public cynicism shifts from mail to digital
Most recently I’ve seen a helping of digital doubt and I have been watching closely as the targeting used within social media is being scrutinized by politicians and the public. I have no doubt this will change the digital trajectory, but over time digital overall will continue to grow.
There was a time long ago when mail was viewed with some cynicism as well, there were more “shady” offers in the mail stream due to the low cost, and “mailers” were often perceived as being “low class” marketers. Over the years as postal costs crept up the number of shady offers shrank. At the same time true direct marketers became more sophisticated by employing better targeting and demographics. Consequently more credible marketers sought out the channel and it flourished because of that targeting and the ROI it created.
Now we see the low cost of digital (social and email) has become the place where many of these less-than-credible entities exist. Emails offering inheritance or worse and pop-ups on line promising ageless youth, to name a few. The clutter of our digital spaces has replaced the clutter that used to be in our mail boxes.
Service providers becoming communications consultants
So we find ourselves and the market in the midst of change. For one thing I think the term “lettershop” while apt 20 years ago is an understatement today. Even “Mail Service Provider” doesn’t quite do the trick.
Today a service provider is really a communications consultant, helping clients on a broad variety of matters from postage recommendations, format ideas, printing, developing timelines for production and (as a Canada Post Expert Partner) to working with clients, estimating delivery times through the postal system and seeking out possible discounts (when they apply).
Add to this is the increasing necessity for data security and procedures that can be a daunting and expensive endeavor to implement and execute. To illustrate: 10 years ago Cover-All’s ISO certifications were a nice to have. But today’s clients are demanding it to protect their data and reputation.
It’s an obvious fact that today’s consumers have a different expectation around timeliness and immediacy that is driven by what the digital world provides. Our clients expect us to take all the knowledge we’ve built up over the years, mix in the valuable elements of targeting and variability and compress it all into shorter timeframes. While this may sound daunting (it is sometimes) it is also exciting. The industry is smaller and there can be more of a fight for business, no doubt. But what we can do today to create relevant communications are really amazing.
What lettershops/providers/consultants can now do
Companies like ours now get to execute communication strategies for and with our clients that are like nothing before. The messaging and formats we can employ can be from basic to pretty cool. Now with automation available we can create programs that react very quickly to needs or triggers from other sources generating physical and trustworthy communication in a very short timeframe. Some might suggest that it would be easier to do via e-mail and while that can make sense in certain circumstances I think the credibility and combination of mail with digital makes a compelling connection.
Here’s an example. I recently attended an ice-fishing event with eight people I’d mostly met online. Before the event I pulled images of our forum members that I had found online, created a collage and then personalized a small poster for each member attending, including their name, username and image. I figured it would be a neat thing for their bar or garage. I handed them out and the following day I saw that several of them had posted pictures of the posters above their work benches and behind their bars.
The posters struck me as this neat combination of physical and digital, and staying power! It led me to come up with a phrase I’ve used with certain customers (auto, banks and not-for-profit) i.e. “do you think your piece is neat enough to earn a place on a wall or the corner of a desk or stuck on the fridge?” The physicality of direct mail can do that and Canada Post’s Expert Partners can help with that.
That’s where I see the state of the industry and the service providers’ role in it. Digital will continue to grow, even with the bumps and grinds of fake posts, data hacks and phishing scams. Our job is helping customers leverage that and the physical mail to create relevant and cost effective communications that generates ROI. While some of the tools and terms are new, that’s always been our challenge, and one that can still be quite exciting.
John Leonard is vice president sales and marketing, Cover-All. John has an extensive background developing, acquiring, on-boarding and servicing clients in data-driven environments as well as a long history of involvement with data and operations and Canada Post.