Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Don’t get Rooked: How to pay less for Postage

Every day someone asks me if I know strategies and techniques to reduce postage. And yes, I do. Lots of them.

But no, there is no “one solution fits all” answer. Getting a mailer to the optimal postage rate (please note I didn’t say “lowest!” rate—the highest rate may really be your lowest cost) is like playing three-dimensional chess.

A chess board is a simple black and red checkerboard pattern. It’s how you move those pieces to get to your goal that makes the game challenging.

Using postage regulations to your advantage is like playing that chess game.

To give you a strategy that will work for you (and generate an accurate postage estimate), I have to weigh your package size, weight and thickness; the distribution of your mailing list; the quantity you want to mail; and the delivery date you’ve got to have. I need to know if you are a for-profit, a non-profit, or running for elective office, as different rules and strategies apply.

Remember: Some chess pieces can move one square in any direction; some move only diagonally. Knowing which to move and when to move wins or loses games.

For instance, in Standard mail there are 27 postage rates for a letter. Even First Class Presort has 5 rates for that same letter. Throw in lumpy mail, thick mail, non-flexible mail, postcards and periodicals and you can see just how many variables I have to measure to get to your answer.

There’s one thing that is not variable, though. Unless you’re mailing a gold-leafed invitation wrapped around an original photograph by Annie Liebowitz, addressed with calligraphy by Zhang Dawo, postage will probably be the most expensive aspect of your direct marketing.

While every technique will not work for everybody—remember, a pawn and a rook can’t move the same way—here are 10 Tips to help you reduce that not inconsiderable postage outlay:

1. Clean your data. For every bad address you get off your datafile, you’ll save printing and postage. You’ll also increase your response rate, but that’s a different story. Data cleaning starts with NCOA, then goes into internal de-duping (look for identical names and identical addresses), running it against deceased data.

If you have the time and will be mailing multiple times, consider getting ACS—Address Correction Service. It will take you several weeks to apply, but will mean that we can use intelligent barcodes for you in the future (that’s another story, too) so you can track your mail in the postage system, AND you’ll be able to electronically get back corrected addresses for FREE.

2. Presort. You’ll save about .10 per letter at First Class Presort rates and twice that at Standard and about 30 cents per letter at Non-Profit rates. Yes, you can have a live stamp in any of these classes.

Of course, we have to NCOA (run your data through National Change of Address software) then presort, and sort/tie/tray, so some of your advantage will be eaten up with post office-required processing steps.

At small quantities—and that depends on the piece you are mailing and the destination address—presorting can actually cost you more than if you mailed straight First Class. Be sure you know the ins and outs of the postal regs before you reflexively say “Standard!”

Standard is not always cheaper and it is almost always slower. Unless you’re running for political office, in which case I’d suggest you mail at Standard Red Tag Political rate. You’ll get Standard postage rates but First Class delivery.

3. Mail Smaller. Flats—pieces larger than 6-1/8 x 11-1/2” cost more to mail. Of course, they stand out in the mailbox, so they have more visible. But that visibility has a price.

Postcards can be as small as 3.5x5 or as large as 6x11. Depending on the size of your postcard, the distribution of your list, and the needs to get it delivered fast, you may do better mailing at First Class, First Class Presort or Standard. Ask us to do an analysis for you.

4. Mail lighter. Keep your mail below 1 ounce in weight if you are mailing at First Class or First Class Presort. If you opt to mail at Standard or Non-Profit rates, you can mail 3.3 ounces for the basic rates. Hence, if you know your mailing piece is a heavyweight, reconsider mailing at First Class.

And of course, if lower postage is your thing, keep your piece thinner than ¼ inch.

5. Mail more. Higher mail volumes typically can reduce per-piece production—and often postage—costs. But not always. It depends on the distribution of your list.

6. Mail in highly concentrated areas. It’s easier for the post office to deliver mail that is highly concentrated; they reward mailers with lower postage rates. The optimal low rate is CRRT—Carrier Route—where the carrier delivers one piece to every address on his route.

7. Be sure your mail is automation compatible. Mail that is too stiff (or not stiff enough) or “lumpy” or square or outside aspect ratio rules or too highly reflective or with insufficient contrast between address and background or otherwise non-machineable will cost you money. Not sure about your mailing? Call us! We will help you figure it out :)

8. Be sure your mailing panel meets USPS requirements. The USPS just changed addressing requirements for self-mailers, newsletters and flats. Put the address panel in the wrong orientation and you’ll pay 10 cents more in postage. Be sure to check USPS design and folding requirements before you put ink to paper.

9. Comingle. If you’re mailing more than 25,000 pieces at a presort rate (ie First Class Presort, Standard or Non-Profit) you may find that using a comingler can save you postage.

10. Dropship. Mail going to a single, specific destination can often save time and $$ by being dropshipped to the delivery point SCF or BMC.

It works this way: We prepare the mail. We then take it to the postal facility where it is entered into the mailstream. But instead of being released into the mailstream at that point, it is put back on our truck with paperwork that says the postage has been paid and the mail passed postal inspection. We then drive the mail (or hire a long distance trucker to drive the mail) to the destination SCF or BMC. The savings per piece: approximately 4.3 cents. Hence, to save on postage, the cost of the shipping must be less than the postal savings.

It’s not just about postal savings, however. Dropshipping can cut a week or more off delivery time—even as it is saving $$. If time and $$ are both important to you, then you should be discussing dropshipping with us.

Like chess, minimizing postage is a game of strategy and nuance. Knowing these 10 tips will put you way ahead of your competition, but be sure to check with your local Mailing Requirements office and/or us for details specific to your own project.

Finally, work with us! We have your interests and needs in mind. We will help you make the right financial decision for your specific project.

And if someone tells you that the job can print and mail for less than the cost of published postage rates, run for the door. They are not your friend. They have you in Checkmate and you don’t know it yet.

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