Direct mail has a reputation of being a pain to track. It is a big time sink for senders to setup a tracking system for their direct mail. That’s partly why many marketers have focused all their energy on online channels like PPC and email marketing, leaving direct mail behind. But we both know these marketers are missing out, and that’s why we’re writing about intelligent tracing.
With Lob’s direct mail API, direct mail is easier to track than ever. Here’s a behind the scenes look into how we track mail at Lob.
Getting Started: IMb Tracing
IMb (Intelligent Mail Barcode) Tracing is a service provided by USPS that gives near real-time tracking information for your mail. IMb Tracing can be a very time consuming and challenging process to set up. This is tracking data that isn’t available on USPS’s website. IMb Tracing provides raw scan data as incoming and outgoing mail pieces are scanned throughout the mail stream.
USPS provides two types of IMb Tracing that let you know where your mail is, and when it will be delivered. Both keep you in the loop and let you know when mail will arrive:
- For outgoing mail – Destination IMb Tracing service gives you information about when your mailpieces will reach their destinations.
- For incoming mail – Origin IMb Tracing service helps you track when customers’ checks, replies, or orders are on the way back to you.
Creating an IMb Barcode
In order to use IMb Tracing, you must place an IMb Barcode on your mail piece. The Basic IMb encodes the following information in a 20-digit tracking code:
- Barcode ID – Encodes the presort identifier, which is also displayed in an optional endorsement line. This field is typically “00”.
- Service Type ID – Identifies the mail class and any special services requested
- Mailer ID – Uniquely identifies you and your mailing operation. Depending on your mailing volume, you can have one or more six- or nine-digit Mailer IDs. You can request one from the USPS Business Customer Gateway. There is no charge to request one.
- Sequence Number – This identifies the individual mail piece.
- Routing code – The ZIP Code of the address. To receive automation discounts, this must include the correct ZIP + 4 Code and the two-digit delivery point indicator.
An encoder combined with a special font available from USPS converts the converts the digits into a 65-character string that represent the IMb barcode that is printed onto the mail piece, as shown below.
IMb Tracing Reports
Once you have IMb barcodes placed on your mail pieces, the data has to be read in. There are hundreds of different IMb codes that are difficult to parse, so most senders opt-in to using 3rd party IMb reporting software that translates the data. However the raw data is downloadable on USPS’s Mail Tracking and Reporting Website.
Here at Lob, we did a lot of research, and we learned the ins and outs of IMb. We learned how to create barcodes on our customer’s behalf, and deliver real-time results within our system. Lob’s has simplified the IMb Tracing data into several human readable events:
- In Transit – The mailpiece is being processed at the entry/origin facility.
- In Local Area – The mailpiece is being processed at the destination facility.
- Processed for Delivery – The mailpiece has been greenlit for delivery at the recipient’s nearest postal facility. The mailpiece should reach the mailbox within 1 to 2 business days of this scan event.
- Re-routed – The mailpiece is re-routed due to recipient change of address, address errors, or USPS relabeling of barcode/ID tag area.
- Returned to Sender – The mailpiece is being returned to sender due to barcode, ID tag area, or address errors.
Even though IMb Tracing is a simple concept, it can be a huge time sink for direct mail senders. The user manuals aren’t particularly user-friendly. Every single mail piece sent through Lob has IMb Tracing. Today, IMb Tracing is one of the huge value adds Lob has. Lob uses IMb Tracing to ensure all mail pieces are delivered, and ensure that they are delivered on a timely basis.
If you are a Lob customer, you can access this information via our API or Dashboard.
Here are 4 ways you can use Lob’s IMb Tracing to improve delivery rates:
1. Make sure mailings get delivered on time
One of the biggest issues with direct mail has been visibility into downstream activities. If you’re working with a vendor, how do you know they’re sending out all your mail pieces on time?? Sure, they might say they sent out 1,000 postcards yesterday, but you can’t be sure.
Even if you’re the one who sends out the mailings, it’s tough to know if they’ll be delivered when you expect. By using Lob’s API, you’ll be able to figure out where your mailings are in real-time.
2. Integrate direct mail into your omnichannel strategy
In the past, it’s been tough to integrate direct mail with online efforts. Using tracing, you have further visibility into delivery. That way, you can sync up your efforts to better reach your customer.
For example, if you know that a postcard arrived in someone’s mailbox on Tuesday, you can send them an email on Wednesday reminding them of the offer they received. You’re able to deliberately “touch” the customer twice in a small window and increase your conversion rate.
3. Meaningful results to gauge ROI
One of the biggest struggles for marketers is to understand ROI. The best you have may be daily reports from your printer or some semi-frequent deliverability reports. At the end of the day, it’s a manual process. It’s way too time-consuming to extract meaningful reports.
But today’s direct mail tools are making it easier than ever to accurately calculate the success of a campaign. You can now calculate how long, on average, it takes someone to use an offer after they’ve received a mailing (and you’ve received an IMb tracing event). You can use these redemption curves to inform when you send out campaigns.
4. Test offers, then gauge results
Many marketers A/B test direct mail pieces to optimize their direct mail campaigns. But if you don’t know how many direct mail pieces were delivered, and when they were delivered, it can be difficult to gain an accurate assessment of performance. For example, you may believe one message performed better, without understanding that it’s only because the alternate message never reached customer mailboxes.
Final thoughts: Get visibility into direct mail
When it comes to direct mail, it’s difficult to find transparency and visibility. But this visibility can transform your direct mail program. You can improve deliverability, increase conversions, and ultimately understand where your mailings are at all times. When you work with Lob, you’re going to get more a truthful and accurate answer of what’s going on with all your mail in real time.