Postal Service Wants A QR Christmas

Mr-ZipMy wife, six years my junior, has made a hobby of reminding me that I am older than she. There is just enough space between our ages so that her pop culture memories are wholly different from mine. The "Batman" TV series, original "Star Trek," and "Ed Sullivan Show" are all outside her range. “Who the hell is Adam West?” she often asks when I make an obscure TV reference. Imagine growing up without knowledge of Adam West.

A world without postal ZIP codes is also unknown to her. “How did the mail get to people?” she asks innocently when I identify for her the Mr. Zip cartoon that USPS used in the 60s to promote its new routing convention to consumers. “Those poor postal workers,” she says.

Indeed. But at least they had jobs. The quickly shrinking and terminally challenged USPS of today is scrambling to update its business models for a post-print realm. It is embracing mobile techniques this holiday to give us all a QR Christmas. In a new promotion, the company is giving merchants discounts of 2% on mailings that include a mobile code leading to a mobile-optimized Web site. The 2012 Holiday Mobile Shopping Promotion reiterates similar plans the company has been putting into place over the last year. The idea is to complement and reinforce the direct mailing industry with digital enhancements. Like magazines and newspapers, which are also flocking to mobile codes, the USPS is striving to keep analog media relevant.

The postal service has a dedicated site for the program. It has the design sense and welcoming style of a military armaments manual, so it is hard to see how fully marketers might embrace this effort. The “Program Requirements” is itself a single-spaced 11-page document that has a revision history and pages of requirements.

To their credit, the USPS has a friendlier site dedicated to examples of mobile codes on mailings and suggested best practices -- just in case you do decide to vault the 11 pages of requirements, exclusions and warnings to get your mailing discount. Missing in all of this are compelling reports of results.

In my house, mail is meant to be ripped open, and the likelihood of scanning anything seems unlikely. Postcard mail, envelope prompts with immediate calls to action and discounts, of course, might attract someone’s notice. To be sure, QR codes at least have become recognizable enough so that most smartphone users know how to leverage them. But it would be more convincing if USPS didn’t just ride the mobile bandwagon but lead it a bit with real-world case studies involving results. 

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