The U.S. Postal Service seems to be under siege from all quarters lately. Its infamous budget hole, slow adoption of new and more competitive delivery ideas, and proposed cutback of Saturday delivery seems to have made all possible consumer and legislative constituencies mad at the mailman.
But come on -- there are signs of life and innovation here. To wit: the summer 2012 program around using mobile 2D barcodes on commercial mailings. Following up on a previous campaign, the USPS is instituting a series of bulk mailing discounts aimed at encouraging the use of snail mail in the interactive marketing mix. The 2012 Mobile Commerce and Personalization Promotion will give business mailers a 2% postage discount if they use a 2D barcode on Standard or First Class letters, cards and flat packages.
What is really interesting about this promotion is that USPS is also using the program to promote good 2D barcode practices but actively discouraging the use of the mail for the full slate of mobile marketing practices. It is requiring participants to provide their end users with mobile-optimized experiences. The destination Web page of the barcode must be optimized for mobile. But even more than that, the program requires that the landing page be directly related to the mailing itself. And more to the point, the destination must offer the direct purchase of the service or product promoted on the device itself. The mobile complement has to close the transaction loop.
Good for them -- at least in part. But at the same time this program considers ineligible for the discount any of the other common uses of mobile codes, including simple registrations, payments for prior or regular purchases, email/SMS.mail sign-ups, coupon downloads, contest entry, newsletter sign-ups, surveys, and social “likes.” The complete set of specs is here.
What gives? I am sure there is a logic of some kind here. Perhaps the USPS does not want to make the mail merely another media platform? But any mailing can also hold any number of call-outs and offers on the outside of the envelope. The mail is already a media platform. Or perhaps the USPS is reserving these other models for future programs. Or is this another instance of the USPS not being able to help itself from going only halfway into the 21st century?
Whatever the thinking behind the UPS scheme it will thrust QR as a tool for purchasing into the minds of the masses. There seems to be very little research around showing the incremental sales to be gained from putting a mobile checkout on your Direct Mail. The ROI of mail could go through the roof if some of those who intend to buy but never do start scanning their mail and buying over breakfast.
There has been much talk of "closing the transaction loop" by the european mail services but few case studies or financial incentives. I'm hoping those who do try this is the US will share their results.