BÖWE BELL + HOWELL: Making Mail-Shots Count - Marv Isles

Rising costs mean companies must take greater care to ensure mail effectively targets customers. Marv Isles of BÖWE BELL + HOWELL tells CEO how new regulations and technology are creating opportunities for smart companies and service providers.

Companies are under mounting pressure to reduce the cost of production mail while improving the quality and effectiveness of their mailings. Postal rates are rising and information privacy regulations are becoming ever stricter. Though one might expect such pressures to encourage a wholesale change from printed mail to online marketing, this has not happened. ‘Mail is not going away despite predictions that electronic communications would replace print,’ says Marv Isles, CEO of BÖWE BELL + HOWELL.

Formed in 2003 with the merger of leading players in production mail and document processing, BÖWE BELL + HOWELL provides mailing and document management solutions that help clients boost productivity, control costs, reduce risks and better connect with customers.

In leading the company, Isles has seen the trends in mail volume first hand, and notes that while the volume of US first-class mail decreased from 98.1 billion pieces in 2005 to 97.6 billion in 2006 – a 0.5% fall – standard mail grew from 100.9 billion to 102.5 billion pieces – up 1.5%. Long term, the trends are stronger as first-class mail volume fell 5.7% between 2000 and 2006, while standard mail increased 13.8%.

At the same time, however, the costs are increasing significantly. As a result, organisations of all sizes and in all industries can benefit from reassessing their current document processing systems. ‘In the US, the cost of postage has risen 24% in just eight years, and organisations stand to lose millions in postal savings if they fail to comply with ever-changing US Postal Service (USPS) regulations,’ says Isles. ‘Also, increasingly strict federal and state regulations concerning information privacy have brought document processing to the frontline in the struggle for compliance.

Concern over the security of mail pieces has intensified.’ The stakes have never been higher. Regulatory agencies look for data accuracy and system integrity, and enterprises must demonstrate a clear chain of custody and preserve that chain as evidence.

Relieving the pressure

While they focus on increasing revenue and expanding market share, organisations must optimise their customer-facing documents and ensure regulatory compliance. ‘Documents drive revenue, and how convincingly they perform can make the difference between profit and loss,’ remarks Isles. ‘Adding colour and personalised design attracts attention and improves overall effectiveness.

‘For years, the best many organisations could hope for were mass marketing mail pieces with rather disappointing response rates. Today, with thoughtful data integration and document composition, the ability to produce "one-to-one" documents that command dramatically improved customer responses is within reach,’ Isles says.

Isles highlights the advantages of Intelligent Mail Barcodes (IMB), which will be required by the USPS in 2009. With IMB, every mailpiece has an identity that can be tracked throughout production and delivery. Customer data can be grouped in a highly integrated process that the mailer has visibility into and can track, which improves the mailing’s effectiveness.

Furthermore, better data use avoids inefficiencies that could result in postage overruns. The USPS reports that nearly 25% of all mail contains errors or outdated addresses. The cost of undeliverable mail, including returned mail fees and the postage for resending, can be minimised by cleansing addresses and updating pieces before they are printed and mailed.

‘Companies do not have the luxury of building strategies in isolation from their documents and the systems that create, produce and deliver them,’ says Isles. ‘To leverage the changes afforded by the new regulatory mandates and technology, businesses must shift their view of document production from a cost perspective to seeing it as an important means of communicating with customers.’

Keeping abreast of industry changes, investing in advanced processing equipment and employing new technologies are all challenging tasks, but with the right plan an enterprise can get the most out of its mailings.

Marv Isles of BÖWE BELL + HOWELL.