Talk Less, Listen More
A month or so ago, I received a phone call from an Inside Direct Mail reader who wanted to discuss my Editor's Notebook, "On Track for Smarter Mailing," from the September issue. While my caller agreed with me that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is headed in the right direction by working to improve its level of service through new technologies, he pointed out a big misstep the organization made. It seems the USPS has once again moved forward with a technological development before it checked with marketers and their vendors to see if everyone can support the new process. While the applications for a universal barcode (dubbed OneCode by the USPS) are highly beneficial to marketersprecise tracking on mail campaigns, faster transfer of address change data, response forecasting, etc.not everyone can reasonably take advantage of this program yet. According to my caller, a tremendous amount of inkjet printing equipment cannot produce a barcode that meets the USPS' testing standards.
It's not the first time I've heard this kind of story about the USPS, which is why many marketers find it easy to complain about the organization. Take MERLIN, the USPS' new-and-improved barcode evaluation system, for example. Many industry experts predicted doom and gloom for the transition from the ABE (automated barcode evaluator) system to MERLIN, noting that the new machinery was overly sensitive and that the USPS was not prepared to deal with the inconsistencies in MERLIN's scanning accuracy. Several years later, the MERLIN issue is still being sorted out.
Going back even further, I can recall a traying problem that arose during the USPS' reclassification effort in 1996. Without talking to the major lettershops and mail houses first, the USPS instituted a new mail preparation requirement that would have resulted in lettershops filling trucks with half-empty trays and caused an amazingly inefficient use of cargo space. Upon notification, the USPS promptly revised the traying requirements, but lettershops and printing companies still experienced some angst in dealing with the proposal.
The message here is that direct marketers, the vendors who serve them and the USPS are all partnerssharing the common goal of using the mail stream as an effective way to tell consumers and businesses about the products and services available to them. As partners, these three groups need to work together to make this process as smooth and mutually beneficial as possible.
I'm reminded of the advice often doled out by relationship counselors to clients seeking to improve their partnerships: Talk less, listen more.
On a similar note, this advice parallels telemarketing consultant Jon Hamilton's recommendations for B-to-C marketers hoping to salvage their telemarketing programs in the face of a national do-not-call list. Check out my interview with Hamilton ("Does Telemarketing Still Work?", page 1) to get his insider's take on how companies can improve their marketing programs by asking customers their contact preferencesand then honoring their requests. As customers are demonstrating by their reactions to the postal and telemarketing industries, respect is a two-way street.