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EVP, Marketing at Specialty Print Communications

Against the Grain

By Dustin LeFebvre

About Dustin

A third-generation printer, Dustin LeFebvre delivers his vision for Specialty Print Communications as EVP, Marketing through strategy, planning and new product development. With a rich background ranging from sales and marketing to operations, quality control and procurement, Dustin takes a wide-angle approach to SPC


For Whom the Bell Tolls

I recently read a USA Today front page article by Rick Hampson, titled “Bell tolls for the U.S. Mail, as we know it.” The article serves as a wistful retrospective glorifying the historical significance of the USPS, calling it a “national treasure.”

But things always look better in the rear-view mirror; think how childhood memories gather fondness over elapsed decades. Hampson comes across as a Luddite in one paragraph, yet proselytizes the faster and cheaper communications enabled by the Internet in the next. I know certain people have newspapers to sell, but it may not be smart to throw the $1.1 trillion mailing industry and its 8.4 million jobs under the proverbial bus.

I used to be cynical about marketing messages, but with an economy that relies on consumer spending for 70 percent of its GDP, we need people to keep consuming. Phil Kotler, the father of modern marketing, defeated my cynicism at a recent speaking engagement:
  • “Marketing educates and connects people to products and services that will make their lives better.”

That makes it actually sounds noble, and marketing has helped to create the largest and most vibrant economy in the world. Hampson rightly acknowledges that the mail is, over time, becoming a marketing channel, but he lacks respect for what that means for marketers and for consumers.

Hampson cites specific people’s claims of mail “as an annoyance.” I would take the Pepsi challenge on how getting mail compares to the receipt of a telemarketer’s call in the middle of dinner. My wife prefers mail.

Marketing messages need delivery channels to develop new business and connect needs to consumers, and direct mail is quietly insistent. It doesn’t interrupt anyone, and the “mail moment” is a positive event that happens at the recipient’s discretion.

Hampson cites a website operator in Seattle who alludes that halting direct mail is akin to saving trees. This claim is preposterous to this audience, which knows trees are grown as a crop and that there are more of them in this country now than there were 30 years ago. But the layman is unaware of those facts, and this claim resonates in a similar way that a “do-not mail” list resonates.

We need to do a better job as an industry understanding the preconceptions of those outside our industry and proactively framing the conversation. We can do this by supporting the Print Council and its awareness efforts, and holding the Direct Marketing Assn. to account for its advocacy role.

I’ve read stories of impending doom for the USPS in the New York Times, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, USA Today, The Economist, and many more. The situation reminds me of the recent Chrysler Super Bowl Commercial: Clint Eastwood: It’s Halftime in America.

Let’s galvanize around a powerful message, and take a cue from the folks in Detroit—the folks who know a thing or two about making a comeback. Let’s rally around what is right, and act as one. We too, can find a way through tough times and get fighting again. What is true of Detroit is true of all of us, but we need to start directing the conversation.

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