Direct Mail Tips & Insights

5 Steps to Budgeting Your Direct Mail with USPS

 

What one factor holds you back from investing in direct mail?direct-mail-budget-usps

Well, if you’re like some marketers, maybe you’d say that “high costs” from the U.S. Postal Service are a big barrier to your use of mail.

But is that accurate? Is it really too expensive? And even if you already create direct mail campaigns, are you sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck?

Here’s some great news! The USPS has a bunch of tools, standards, incentives, and services to help you improve your postal bottom line in some pretty big ways. You just have to figure out how to balance them while still creating successful direct mail that digital marketing just can’t match. Please read on to find out how.

1. Follow Design Guidelines

I know, I know – you or your client had your heart set on that really funky-looking accordion self-mailer, or a thick square envelope. The problem is that it is likely to cost you extra to mail it. The USPS equipment is set up to handle large volumes of mail within specific ranges quickly and efficiently. So to avoid paying a per-piece surcharge for non-machinable mail, stick to established sizes and specifications for your postcards and letters as found in the Domestic Mail Manual.

Tip: If you have questions about whether your proposed mailer will pass muster, consult a USPS Mailpiece Design Analyst (MDA). You can also look for a provider that can verify your mail with Mail Evaluation Readability Lookup Instrument (MERLIN). It automates the acceptance requirements for bulk mailings.

Need a complete walk through of the USPS and direct mail? This all inclusive guide will help!

2. Get Your Data Right

Good data drives direct mail campaign efficiency and effectiveness, so you must get this right! Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) mail can do serious harm to the success of your mail campaign. It means you’re wasting your mail (or your client’s), which equals lost money, both for postage and printing costs. But you don’t need to use data full of old, incomplete, or duplicate records.

To catch new movers, USPS created National Change of Address (NCOA). This database is vital because of the Move Update Standard; USPS requires all Marketing Mail as well as Presort-rate First Class Mail to be updated within 95 days of a mailing. Just be careful – some people move without letting the USPS know – and use other outside sources as well.

USPS also has several pre-processing address file tools to supplement commercial list hygiene solutions that are available. And if your address correction/matching software has achieved Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) Certification, you can qualify for discounted rates. This suite of coding and data products ensures that your mailing lists are as accurate as possible.

Tip: Address Change Service (ACS), as well as data reporting, is free for all mailings with Full Service IMb.,

3. Mail the Right Class

Your direct mail campaign can fall into one of several classes of mail used by the USPS, each with its own features and requirements. So which one should you mail with? Well, it mostly depends on the content of your mailing, and how you want to balance timeliness vs. costs.

Certain types of mail pieces, like bills, statements, personal correspondence, and handwritten material, must use first class. But for anything else, you have to look at the costs of your two biggest choices, Marketing Mail and First Class.

First Class (for mailings of up to 13 ounces) gets your mailing delivered quickly (1-3 days). It also guarantees free forwarding and returns of your mail.

Marketing Mail (formerly “Standard”) is handled a little less quickly but at a substantial costs savings.

Tip: You can compare specific, up-to-date rates for all classes by viewing USPS Notice 123.

4. Automation Pricing

If your mailing pieces are compatible with USPS’s processing equipment, they qualify for discount pricing. They need to meet several criteria, some of which are: minimum quantities (500 mailings for First Class, 200 for Marketing Mail), CASS certification in the last 180 days, and an Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) with the correct delivery point routing code printed on each piece.

Tip: Certain size, weight, aspect ratio, and addressing specifications are also must-haves for automation pricing.

5. Commingling & Co-Palletization

The USPS also encourages two good workshare methods that can help meet your cost challenges: commingling and co-palletization. Mailing campaigns that are prepared by either program get processed more quickly by the USPS by skipping over some of the usual transportation stages. This means that they arrive in-home sooner.

Commingling: Letters and flats (self-mailers and postcards) can be organized in trays and tubs by zip code. The more digits that are matched in the sort, the greater the discount that is applied.

Co-Palletization: combines addressed and sorted mail trays from different marketers or providers, separated by zip code, on the same pallet. This way, each full pallet is completely prepared, then trucked for an easy passage to its destination Sectional Center Facility (SCF). 

Tip: For printers pressed for time, or without the right expertise, logistics companies can take on the task of preparing copal mail before it is sent to the SCF.

Ideas To Use

  • Both First Class and Marketing Mail can include repositionable notes – which stand out more in the customer’s mailbox - and still be eligible for an automation discount.
  • First Class presorted letters weighing up to 3 ounces can still mail for the same rate as one-ounce letters! This is an opportunity to include additional marketing elements in your direct mail package that can inform, help and/or persuade your prospects and customers.
  • Be certain that your address and barcode block fit into the OCR scan area to avoid higher charges.

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