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.