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New Product Signals USPS Future as Data Provider

Date: April, 2014 --

The Office of Inspector General of the USPS is not simply an auditor and inspector, it is a very sophisticated and knowledgeable think-tank. For many years it has regularly generated intriguing suggestions for new postal activities and products. The latest of such suggestions to emerge from The Office is the “RIC”, or Redeemable Info-Coupon, and with it comes some interesting data-related possibilities for the USPS. 

            As suggested and outlined in a recent paper published by three highly respected economists with long histories of advising the USPS, Marshall Van Alstyne, Geoff Parker, and Tushar Shanker, the Redeemable Info-Coupon would provide value to consumers who respond digitally to offers contained in promotional direct mail. This system would take the USPS into a new field of digital development and consumer service, expanding it from a mere platform for hard copy mail to one where consumers have the ability to volunteer information on their wants, needs and interests. Moreover, before you jump up and down and call 60 minutes with the next chapter in their data industry misinformation hatchet job, information would be given to mailers only as authorized by the individual mail recipient.  

Here is how it works: The promotion pieces of participating mailers would contain a QR code, Image Recognition code or other device that would take the tablet or mobile phone-equipped consumer to a website. From there they would be offered the opportunity to provide information about their needs, preferences and their responses to the mail piece. In return, the carrot, participants would receive real value - a “digital Info-Coupon”.

This device is given the enticing name of Redeemable Information Coupon, or RIC.  The Coupon might be in the form of points redeemable for merchandise from a variety of vendors or in any other form commonly understood and employed by companies. The consumer’s willingness to participate would earn him/her economic value of some nature. In exchange, he/she provides information, which quite possibly could involve responding to something as complex as a questionnaire concerning needs and wants and willingness to receive direct mail offers. 

While obviously constituting a source of opt-ins for further promotion, the system could conceivably also provide valuable feedback to companies on the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of their direct mail promotion(s). For example, the system could elicit feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the direct mail piece itself, something otherwise unobtainable. This would help establish a “virtuous circle” of new data enabling the drafting of better promotion pieces, more refined targeting, and improved ROI.

            But wait!  There’s more!  The consumer would be invited to register for more offers or information on the motivating offer/product, as well as a potential smorgasbord of commercial information on other products.  In short, this would be an opt-in preference registration system whereby the consumer digitally expresses their willingness to receive information on certain products and services.  

            As is well known to Data Services’ business partners, direct mail is a powerful advertising medium, with an overall industry response rate of 2 percent. Like no other addressable medium, it is targetable to the individual, tangible in form, and measurable across a range of characteristics. This idea is intended to further improve that response rate by empowering the consumer to confidentially express interests and needs in a highly secure, responsible, and responsive, environment: the United States Post Office. The latter will serve as the guardian of the wishes of the consumers, providing their names and addresses (on a totally opt-in basis only) to relevant companies. 

Why the USPS?   The theory is that the USPS is so highly trusted by the American consumers that they will be willing to entrust their expressions of interest and opinions to the institution in exchange for (i) current value in the form of the digital coupon/credit, and (ii) future offers and information that are relevant to them at the time of registration. Their names and addresses would be provided to known companies who would mail them offers, and presumably these offers would be more relevant than otherwise. 

We know of only one somewhat similar system in effect in the postal world. In New Zealand and Australia the Posts conduct extensive annual consumer lifestyle surveys. Mailers can obtain addresses of households segmented by a wide range of lifestyle question responses. This OIG proposal would constitute a marked improvement on that model.

  Would the American consumer respond positively to the prospect of receiving more targeted offers by trusting the USPS?  Is the RIC enough to shake the data loose? 

Whatever comes of this idea, it can only serve as an additional source of data to inform your customer and prospect databases. Rely on the data management platforms, technology and processing solutions provided by Data Services, Inc. to ensure your data is not only accurate but that you have to necessary tools required to effectively mine and leverage the contents of your most valuable asset, your database.