“In terms of the mail component of it, the complexity of navigating through all that is required to enter mail into the mailstream has [increased],” said Garner. More recently, he explained, as the Postal Service searches for strategies and initiatives that will solve its financial challenges, mailers have observed the development of a wide variety of initiatives designed to try and increase mail volume. “All of these offers hit the market,” Garner said, “and the market has to decide which ones to take advantage of and which ones not to.”
The heightened complexity has not gone unnoticed by mailers or by the federal government. Indeed, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe has indicated that he is aware the process needs to be simplified, and within that simplification more people will be encouraged to use the mailstream as a viable medium.
For both mailing and fulfillment, Garner said, software “probably represents the biggest advancements. On the printing side, the ink-on-paper side, digital is making a very hard move on the ground that former offset press manufacturers and offset printers once enjoyed. Also, the software side is having the greatest impact. There are specific vendors out there that are making more progress than others, but I think a number of them see this as a kind of blue ocean for them, and an opportunity to carve out a specific niche for themselves within that convergence.”
Embracing mailing and fulfillment, Foley believes, permits a commercial printer to augment his or her business. “They can do more. They can also embrace [the technology] to do a better job of self-promotion of their own services,” he said.
What Metzger refers to as “the latest bells and whistles” are being driven by the post office. For example, his firm uses Mail Manager 2010 software technology. “Marrying that stuff with variable print grays the lines a little bit about what we’re doing. We use Pageflex for our variable print, but we have to marry that to other software technologies to make sure the data is cleansed.”
Marrying technologies, he added, has rendered much of the process “smoother and faster. It has got to get faster because in order for mail to compete with online communications venues, we’ve got to be able to print and mail within a couple of days, or the information is too old.”
The lesson is that companies that aren’t in the mailing business— who don’t have customers that mail, or are printers who are not involved with marketing or direct mail at all—have got “a long row to hoe,” Metzger concluded. “But if they already print things that look like they’re going in the mail, I think they’ve got an easy step in there just by buying the right technology and hiring the right people.”
Garner suggested that commercial printers have to look at mailing as a viable way to broaden their value propositions. That said, he added a caveat: “They need to do their homework very carefully before they get into the mailing process. Having been once a printer myself, I think that the appropriate and profitable running of a mailing department within a commercial printer is going to require more time and attention than perhaps a lot of commercial printers anticipate.” PN