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Over the Horizon – USPS Looks to the Future

Date: October, 2015 --

Over the Horizon – USPS Looks to the Future 

The horizon! It is at the core of American culture.  The horizon holds the promise of our individual self-realization.  We learn at an early age in America that the horizon is the future, the promise of success, the route to a better and more independent way of life where men and women are free to succeed or fail on their own abilities, unencumbered by rules and restraints.  Go West Young Man!

And the horizon is what marketers try to look over all the time. What will Mrs. Mom buy this year for Christmas gifts? How many people, of what age and income level, will want to visit national parks next year?  Our success is dependent on our ability to accurately forecast. In fact, our entire economy depends on businesses getting the vision right.

This is why it’s important to listen to those who are pretty good at seeing over the horizon, people like David Williams, Inspector General of the US Postal Service.  The Office of Inspector General is more than just the auditing and law enforcement division of the USPS. It also has a sophisticated research mission, seeking to know how people will use the Post in the future, what new communication systems might develop and what technologies will evolve. In short, over the horizon!  

In a speech at PostalVision 20/20 earlier this year in Washington, DC, he suggested that the future would have seven distinct economies, as opposed to the one Corporate Economy we now enjoy.  He described these seven economies and speculated on the role of the USPS in these new economies. Since the marketing profession will also have to deal with these seven economies, they are worth contemplating.    

This evolution is largely driven by massive increases in computing power and the dispersion of that, increasingly nearly free, power, the spread of the Internet of Things, and the inclination of human beings to network.  In fact, humans are “herd animals” for the most part. 

1.            We all live in and recognize the Corporate Economy, where capital is amassed and invested by businesses.  Employees develop, manufacture and market products and services which they continuously modify or abandon as the market signals. This is the largest economy, but it is not expanding.  And it will slowly be displaced, although never completely replaced, by seven other economies which are growing rapidly and are totally new. We, and institutions such as the USPS, will have to accommodate ourselves to that change.

2.            The next largest is the Consumer Economy built on online eCommerce platforms. This is a fast-moving economy with vibrant feed-back loops which keep merchants and sellers of all kinds on their toes in supply terms and integrity terms.  Consumers have good and bad experiences with vendors and are not reserved about sharing their opinions. The USPS carries parcels and invoices generated in this economy. The growth of this economy shows no sign of slowing, and the rest of the world seeks to recreate this economy.

3.            The Collaborative Economy looks like Uber or Airbnb. It is centralized while also being peer-to-peer. Overheads are high (you need a car, or apartment), but this economy is easy to enter and exit, and polices itself through the vigilance of the herd.  The operating system works to minimize risk for the participants.  David sees a role here for USPS in setting up an Uber-like network of private “postmen” to delivery parcels. 

4.            The Creative Economy is made up of free-lancers who provide individualized services. In this economy people who are not career employees of someone else do rapid prototyping of new products and generate ideas at a rapid rate. Many of the participants in this economy operate 3-D printing facilities. They are currently underserved by the logistics networks, including the USPS, and they represent a possible market for logistics services.  As they are frequent users of crowd-funding exercises, the USPS could play a trusted third party role in this environment.

5.            In the Civil Economy, the role of the citizen is expanding as megacities proliferate. Already there are ten cities with populations in excess of 10 million people.  These cities need internal neighborhood “nodes” to enable the populations to create their desired identities. And Smart Cities need many things: traffic control, utilities, air monitoring, and many other services a number of which require city-wide service delivery, which the Post with its many offices could provide. 

6.            In the Crypto Economy, cash is a thing of the past, and new “monies” become the value transfer vehicles of choice. These are untraceable and unusable in dealing with most governments.  There are no fewer than 20 types of crypto coins in circulation, beginning with the famous Bitcoin. Their value is what is agreed by those who possess and use them, which is the case with any currency.  The USPS could serve as an exchange office for these currencies, as well as a trusted depositary for other precious intangible/digital items such as wills, important records, land deeds, etc. It has a large national office network and a massive data processing back-office that could easily manage the task.

7.            Lastly, the Criminal Economy beckons in its shadowy way. An example is the Russian economy of the 1980’s when the “official system” no longer operated.  Attempts to forecast needs and predict demands of the citizens were fruitless.  Attempts to accurately manufacture nearly everything without constant market feedback were in vain. There was always way too much or way too little of everything. Humans are so terribly unpredictable, and governments make poor manufacturers.  It is estimated that this economy today, which works in the “vacuum spots” unsatisfied by normal commerce, is some $2 trillion. The USPS could be a trusted intermediary in that world. 

So, looking over the horizon, the “think-tank” of the USPS sees profound changes in our economy as it evolves fairly rapidly into a complex and fragmented set of new economies.  Like any focused business person, he sees both challenges and opportunities over that horizon, and invites us to imagine what we must do to adapt ourselves to that exciting future.  Remember as you evolve your own messaging and delivery systems to serve your clients and prospects, Data Services, Inc. is there to help you adjust and accommodate your business to the new economies, and to change with you as each new horizon gets closer.