Will Publishers Be Ready for the USPS's Data Deluge?
A potentially powerful partner to magazine publishers is arising in the world of data-driven digital advertising: the U.S. Postal Service.
OK, you can stop laughing now. I’m serious. A new USPS venture called Informed Delivery could create huge opportunities for our industry. The possibilities are probably bigger than even postal officials realize. But I’m dubious as to whether our industry is up for the task.
Residential postal customers who sign up for Informed Delivery receive an email early each morning showing them scans of every letter that is supposed to be delivered to them that day. In the New York and Washington, D.C. test markets, postal officials say, the free program is proving popular with consumers and boosting response to direct-mail campaigns. A test that included links to a web site increased response ten-fold.
Now postal officials are starting to add mailer-provided links to the images, so that a recipient may see not only the envelope but also an invitation to click through to the sender’s web site. They’re planning to expand the program to every ZIP code in the country by early next year. They’re also working on adding magazines, catalogs, and other flat mail to the program. And, so far, there’s no talk of charging mailers for the service.
Imagine what this could mean for magazine publishers: Direct-mail subscription offers could link to a digital sample issue, with anyone who clicks on the link but doesn’t subscribe getting a “cookie” that would lead to follow-up offers via ads on other web sites.
For subscribers, a link could provide a look at what’s in the copy of the magazine that will be delivered to their home later in the day. Or maybe bonus content like related videos and additional photos.
Subscribers could receive various inducements to provide the publishers their email address, precious information that can lower the cost and boost the effectiveness of subscription-renewal efforts, among other benefits. A cookie could ensure the subscriber doesn’t see those bargain-basement new-subscription offers on the magazine’s web site but instead is served promotions for sister publications or for gift subscriptions.
Publishers could learn what kinds of content are of most interest to their subscribers and provide them the means and the incentives to share digital samples with non-subscribers. They could amass “first-party data” on their subscribers’ interests, which would boost the rates paid for programmatic ads targeted to those interests.
The Postal Service, presumably for a fee, could provide the publisher a profile of the magazine’s subscriber base – what else the subscribers typically read, what they're shopping for, the type of housing they occupy, etc. That could help persuade companies to advertise in the magazine and enable the publisher to rent better “look-alike” lists for its direct-mail efforts.
Or, forget the list rentals, what if the USPS enabled us to reach those look-alike prospects via ads placed within the Informed Delivery notifications?
The Postal Service could be in the enviable position of having millions of people opening its emails six days a week – people about whom it has extensive data on interests and tastes. That could make the old Pony Express a powerful partner – and competitor -- in the world of digital advertising.
Input from publishers and other mailers, through the USPS’s Mailers Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC), is helping the USPS shape Informed Delivery. Periodical publishers bring a unique perspective to that discussion because we wear several relevant hats – USPS customers, online-ad merchants, buyers of third-party data, and sellers of our first-party data.
But we also have a problem: Capitalizing on the opportunities that Informed Delivery presents will mean getting two disparate groups into the same room: We’ll need the print-magazine experts who understand the Postal Service and the ad-tech specialists who track what’s happening with programmatic advertising and data exchanges.
Unfortunately, at most publishing companies and industry gatherings, the “Gutenbergs” and the “geeks” are rarely on the same planet, much less in the same room. Will our own institutional silos prevent us from reaping the benefits of Informed Delivery?