Average marketers may think of the US Postal Service as a low-tech delivery company and stamp-seller. But today the USPS is an organization that runs on data, just like most other modern enterprises. A major source of postal data is IMb Tracing, the service that provides the USPS and mailers with status and location information for mail across the delivery network.
IMb Tracing logs information including date, time and location for individual mail pieces as the USPS processes and sorts mail on their automated equipment. This is a free service for several classes of mail including Full Service First Class and Marketing Mail. As they process address files, mailers or their mail service providers construct unique piece identifiers and print barcodes above or below the address blocks on the mail pieces. Scanners on the USPS equipment read the barcode data as the mail speeds along. The unique identifiers, along with similarly encoded mailer ID numbers, drive the USPS Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb) data collection and reporting system.
The Mail Goes Out
There are two varieties of IMb Tracing; Destination Tracking helps mailers check their campaign’s progress as mail pieces travel from entry point to addressees. Destination Tracking information allows mailers to predict all-important in-home dates and allocate staff to handle expected phone orders or customer questions prompted by mailings. Delivery dates can also trigger complementary multi-channel messaging or follow-up mail.
Destination Tracking data allows marketers to calculate campaign ROI more accurately. They can measure responses and conversions against the number of verifiably delivered pieces rather than a percentage of pieces mailed. This provides a more realistic assessment of A/B test results or offer effectiveness.
The Mail Comes Back
Origin Tracking monitors items coming back to the original mailer such as payments, renewals or supporting claim information. Many organizations can make better business decisions or lower costs when they know reply mail is en route. An insurer may postpone policy cancellations, for example, if Origin Tracking reports insureds have mailed their premium payments. The company can avoid expensive procedures to cancel and then re-issue policies and prevent unpleasant customer experiences.
IMb Tracing is not perfect. Though significantly better than the “guess method” mailers relied on before, delays in collecting huge amounts of IMb data and returning it to the right mailers sometimes occur. The US Postal Service is aware of the limitations and is rolling out a new version called Informed Visibility. Informed Visibility consolidates the tracking data, adds collection points and uses GPS-enabled devices carried by delivery personnel to pinpoint mail out for delivery.
The US Postal Service is still a delivery organization. But recent developments indicate they recognize they are also in the data business. Programs like IMb Tracing and Informed Visibility supply mailers with valuable data they can use to improve their operations. Expect further USPS innovations in the future.
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