After years of decline, direct mail marketing may soon be getting a nice boost, courtesy of the United States Postal Service.
This fall in New York City, the USPS is testing a new service called Real Mail Notification (RMN). Combining old-fashioned physical mail with digital technology, RMN sends subscribers (users have the option to opt in or out) a daily email at 8:00 each morning. The email contains digital pictures of the mail they’ll find in their mailbox later that day.
At first blush, the whole thing may seem a bit unnecessary. Has our need for immediate gratification gotten so far out of control that we can’t wait a few more hours to find out what’s in the mail that day? But as marketers, if we’re presented with a tactic that can speed up and enhance results, we’re all ears.
Turns out, RMN does some have real, concrete advantages. Not only does it provide extra convenience for mail recipients (imagine you’re out of town and expecting a letter, or want to know what’s inside your P.O. box before making the trip to the post office), but it could also be a pretty big deal for marketers, too.
Studies show the average marketing campaign gets a 37% lift when both print direct mail and email are used in tandem. So by providing marketers with an additional—and free (the USPS hopes the service will bring more revenue by increasing overall mail volume)—opportunity to get in front of their audience, RMN can help boost marketing campaigns while establishing the USPS as an integrated marketing channel in its own right. On top of that, RMN allows marketers to add interactive features so people can link to websites or make online purchases.
It’s a clever little idea by the USPS. After all, they already take photos of all the mail as it whizzes through the sorting machines. The USPS realized that if they emailed these high-speed, black-and-white photos to recipients, they could actually facilitate a multichannel marketing campaign that would increase marketers’ response rates and ROI. And from the USPS’s point-of-view, the added digital component could give marketers a new reason to send out more direct mail pieces, ultimately helping their own bottom line.
So far, RMN seems to have a lot of potential. Earlier this year, a test of 6,600 users in Northern Virginia showed that 93% opened the emails within two hours of receiving them. Nine out of 10 said they’d continue using the service, and 86% said they’d recommend it to others. But the most important findings were in regard to the response rates. The average response rate of RMN subscribers was 5.9%, compared to just 0.5% for a control mailing. Much of that (4.8%) came via click-through options.
As more and more people screen or block out TV commercials, radio, telemarketing, emails, and mobile ads, direct mail is one vehicle that continues to reach its audience. But while excitement builds for RMN, it’s hard to know whether it will be a service that people will embrace long term. Once the initial curiosity wears off, will people find it relevant or annoying?
While many marketing emails get deleted without being opened, RMN has one very important thing going for it. People love to find out what’s in the mail. There’s an inherent curiosity about checking our mailboxes that just may give RMN a good chance at survival. As long as people want to know what they’ve got in their mailbox each day, the USPS has a built-in reason for people to click open their emails. Whether they choose to interact with it or not is another thing. But for increasing the sheer number of eyeballs on a given marketing piece, RMN seems to add value.
Should we all expect to be viewing our daily mail on our computer screens soon? Time will tell. But in the meantime, there’s reason for marketers to be optimistic. RMN just might be a great new tool for giving their bottom lines a little bump.