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Hybrid Mail Explained: A Conversation from the Future

Date: February, 2015 --

Hybrid Mail Explained: A Conversation from the Future

Many of our readers have doubtlessly heard about ‘Hybrid Mail’ and many may even be superficially familiar with its definition, possibly even the many benefits mailers stand to gain from its implementation, but for those of you seeking a better understanding we here present, rather than a technical rundown that is equal parts long and dry, a hypothetical conversation from the future serving to lay out the finer points, benefits and implications of what many hope Hybrid Mail will eventually become in the not too distant future…

My best friend Postie, who runs a USPS facility in Chicago, glared suspiciously at the printed mail piece I had shown him. He had heard the short version of my story, had gasped in a combination of fear and disbelief, and didn’t speak for a few minutes.  

“OK. Tell me the whole story. If what you are saying is true, it’s either the end of the Post, or its salvation. When did you say this was mailed to you?”

“Well, the question of when hybrid mail is “mailed” is a good question.  It was physically inserted in the US Post late last night. But, the electronic file left Macau at about 3 PM our time yesterday. It’s part of a campaign for Donald Trump’s new casino over there. My brother’s agency does all the direct mail campaigns for the company so he has put me on all their mailing lists. His agency is a long time believer in international hybrid mail.”

“This thing is a massive package,” Postie observed. “Reverse envelope, front of the envelope is one big picture of the casino, window for the address on the package inside, 4-sides on 2 pages of multi-color print and photos, prepaid reply envelope to an address here in Chicago, coupons and tickets for everything from free betting chips to drinks to airfare discount.  Indicia on the envelope is Macao Post but the amount looks like what you’d pay here for local mail.  Phenomenal piece.  And you got this when?”  

“In today’s mail.  Big mailing, too, about 400,000 selected recipients in 50 or so cities throughout US, Europe, Asia and Latin America. High rollers mostly. They’re called “whales” because they bet, and lose, huge amounts of money.” 

Postie raised his eyes from the envelope and said with a voice bordering on fright, “So they mailed 400,000 large, stuffed promotion pieces in Macau at 3 PM yesterday and you got this today in the morning mail?  At a local postage rate? Tell me again how they did the impossible?” 

For over five years he’d been denying the truth of my stories about hybrid mail’s tech-take-off and I suppressed something between a sneer and a good-natured chuckle, and for effect I shook my head “No”, and proceeded once more to describe international hybrid mail.

“Postie, I’ve been telling you for five years about this, and here’s the proof.  This company’s agency in Macao drew up the campaign and designed the mailing.  They then gave the promotion piece digital file and their mailing list to Macao Post. The Post put it into something called “dot Post”, it’s a special Internet domain that’s part of the Universal Postal Union international postal system. Highly secure environment.  The system reads the file and sends the promotion piece production file and the proper bits of the mailing list to dot Post letter shops and mailing houses near the delivery address points world-wide. Those guys then…”  

Interrupting me, he asks, with a bit of astonishment in his voice, “So, there’s no printing in Macao?  No bundling of letters and shipping them out on airplanes?” 

“No, of course not. The digital file goes through the dot Post on-line network, which distributes the promotion piece file to the right printers here in the US and around the world. There are a dozen or so printers here in Chicago licensed by the USPS to do this stuff. ”

A little note of sadness had begun to creep into his voice. “No unloading at Los Angeles? No waiting for Customs and fighting traffic to get to the facility to sort and truck out across the country?” 

“Postie, come on. I told you.  You know what hybrid mail is. This is like that, but vastly more sophisticated because any capable printer can apply to be a printing “node”.  In addition, traffic can come from anywhere in the world and the system literally delivers the file to the printer closest to the post office servicing the address. The file can enter the system in Macao or Miami and the timing is the same. The printer can practically walk …….”

Interrupting, “Overnight? The letter got from Macao to your doorstep overnight…For that price?”  A hint of resignation and awe, as of someone who has been honorably defeated, had entered his voice. 

“Don’t interrupt. As I was saying, the printing partners in the network printed, inserted, addressed and entered the letters at the postal points closest to the addressees so delivery could be made this morning. All over the US, Europe, Asia and Latin America.  In just 24 hours from client campaign sign-off customers have the promotion piece in their hands and start replying. My brother texted me before I came over. They already had 50,000 visits to the dedicated web-page and 50 confirmed reservations for the recreation of the no-limit baccarat game from Casino Royale.”

As sometimes happens among the desperate faced with some inevitable and disagreeable fate, Postie suddenly sat up straight, like a military officer, and said in a voice steeled with determination, “This will never catch on. It’s just for a few big companies and they’re all going digital anyway. This is a one shot experience for them and your international hybrid mail system. How many casinos are there, anyway?”  

“Oh, Postie. I hate to see you this way. You’re delusional.  You knew this was coming, and it’s not taking volumes away from you. It’ll probably increase volumes as mailers learn to trust the file transmission and the printing, inserting, etc. capabilities around the globe. Companies with clients in many countries, like airlines and hotel chains and banks will turn to this offering. It’s more secure and it should be cheaper. And mailers are rediscovering that letters far out produce digital messaging for many things, like invoicing, high-end and bespoke goods, fund-raising, etc., so in fact they’re cheaper to use. And, data hygiene and services companies will be able to do real-time international address verification.” 

Postie looked at me with a slight flicker of hope beginning to appear in his eyes. I’d given him a reminder of some leverage points the post still had. His shoulders squared and the determined look of a man accepting a disagreeable but necessary task swept over him.  Finally, fixing me with a determined stare, he said with quiet conviction in his voice, “We’ll adapt and thrive. You are right, a future like this does mean more mail.” And when the UPU’s network and the printing industry become integrated as in this vision, Data Services, Inc. will continue to be there to help ensure the international address data utilized for your direct mail campaign, hybrid or not, is properly formatted and validated for deliverability before being dispatched around the world.