USPS Informed Delivery Patent

This page was updated on Thursday, July 8, 2021 at 4:19 PM GMT

Wait, There’s More — 39 Million Users

The US Postal Service was granted a patent for its Informed Delivery service that sends you images of the mail you can expect in your mailbox that day, US Patent 11,055,653, System and method for providing informed delivery items using a hybrid-digital mailbox.

The representative drawing of the USPS system and method for informed delivery.

As Ron Popeil, the great American inventor and marketer used to say, "Wait, there’s more." The patent presents a method for, "Enabling digital advertising to mail item recipients, as well as other objects, may be achieved by systems and methods for creating, managing, and distributing supplement content, in addition to distributing physical mail items, according to embodiments of the disclosure as described herein." The supplemental content is, "supplemental content can refer to digital coupons, graphics, videos, emails, webpages, hyperlinks, text messages, instant messages, social media messages, text, augmented reality interfaces, and the like." USPS will coordinate the delivery of physical advertising material with "supplemental digital content". You’ll get the digital content in your digital mailbox with the catalog or other physical catalogs and other material in your physical mailbox. Digital marketing content, aka supplemental content, goes with the physical marketing material.

The Invention On the Kitchen Counter

An image of a physical catalog and the USPS Informed Delivery email.The first reaction was geez, just what I need, more email spam and more junk mail but wait… I started looking for an image to add to the FedInvent newsletter, I didn’t have to go further than to the kitchen. I remembered that I saw this ad in my email and that the catalog was sitting on the counter. (Isn't that how marketing is supposed to work?) The taxpayer-funded invention was on my phone, in my email, and on my kitchen counter.

The recycling bin is on the trajectory from the mailbox to the house. I am an avid junk mail tosser. But here’s the deal, I love a good catalog. I like the tactile experience of turning the pages. I still dog-ear the pages of the things I want to buy. I had a little intellectual vertigo. Did I remember the email because of the catalog? Did I remember the advertisement because I opened the email? Did I bring the catalog into the house because of the email? What’s going on here?

Marketing gurus tell you that it takes seven views of an online ad before someone engages with a brand. How does this new paradigm work? Does walking past the counter where the catalog sits count as an ad encounter? Does picking up the catalog count? The direct mail marketing companies, the ones who actually run the marketing campaigns that result in the catalogs and coupons ending up in your mailbox market their products by pointing out that we all have email marketing fatigue, that we still love the tactile experience of holdiing a well done piece of direct mail. If they get you to bring it into the house, how long will it lay on the counter or on the coffeetable calling out, "read me," to each passerby by? You can't do that with an email.

Patents travel from Technology Center to Art Unit to Group Art Unit to Patent Examiner.

We did an informal survey of friends and family and found that most of them use Informed Delivery. It seems to run more female than male in our unscientific survey. Even the millennials are using it. When we asked why they said they don’t check their mailboxes regularly but use Informed Delivery to see if it’s worth the trip. There is USPS user enthusiasm about the ability to see what packages are going to be delivered that day to give the USPS customer an edge in the never-ending battle against the Porch Pirates who are stealing their stuff.

A Compelling Value Proposition

When you look at government patents you usually need to ponder licensing, university technology transfer, and a whole bunch of other rubric of complex stuff to analyze whether the invention will make it to the marketplace. Here we have a patent for a functioning product that is generating revenue. And we have public budget and performance information we can analyze.

USPS has the address of every mailbox in the United States and goes to each one daily. According to USPS’s datasheet on Informed Delivery, more than 39 million customers have enrolled since the service launched in 2017. How many brands have a 39 million customer mailing list?

According to the USPS, Informed Delivery emails have a 64.7% open rate. That’s a lot of impressions that create brand awareness. The average open rate for marketing email around 18%. So 64.7% is amazing. Most digital ads have about a 2-3% click-through rate. It’s unclear from the USPS material what their click-through rate is. Some internet prognosticators claim it’s less than 1%. Half to the 2-3% numbers reported by Campaign Monitor. But here the question is do you need a user to click-through when later the same day the physical mailing piece is in the hands of the customer.

USPS sends the email to its Informed Delivery customers early in the morning, mine arrives like clockwork each day at 7:30 AM EDT. Our two New Jersey correspondents get theirs between 8:30 and 9:00 AM EDT. Eighty-two percent (82%) open and scroll through the email when it arrives in the morning; 16% in the afternoon; and 2% in the evening.

Brands have the email addresses of their customers as well as a trove of data on your internet search and website visit habits as it relates to their and those of their competitors. Brands have the demographics of their customers, USPS has the mailing and emailing addresses for its customers, a lot of them.

Patents travel from Technology Center to Art Unit to Group Art Unit to Patent Examiner.

Brands are already engaging with direct physical marketing based on your internet search and website visits. I have been getting direct mail pieces that seem to correlate to my internet browsing. (I had been looking at chairs and then the Ballard Design catalog showed up.) I got a direct mail marketing piece with a discount from Wayfair while I was looking at chairs, too. Adding a digital ad for Informed Delivery customers may be a force multiplier. The brand’s customers will see the ad in the morning and know that later that day something coming to their mailbox today.

The program is an interesting vehicle for traditional mailers to enhance the digital components of their products and services. Mail Service Providers (MSPs) that support mail owners with mail printing, addressing, barcoding, sorting, distribution; and Advertising Agencies that support mail owners with media decisions, campaign creative, mailpiece design, as well as digital marketing creative can now deliver a new type of integrated campaign.

I asked the FedInvent digital marketing correspondents for their reaction. A very ho-hum response. "I get banner ads on the emails when I get delivery notices from FedEx and UPS." I asked if they use Informed Delivery themselves. Yes, they are opening those emails every day. USPS gets six opportunites a week to get in front of its Informed Delivery users and another six when the direct mail marketing piece arrives in the mailbox. They only engage with FedEx and UPS delivery email when the chairs from Wayfair are on their way.

In closing, a little patent geekery. USPS filed two provisional patent applications — No. 62/467,679 and 62/508,931, filed March 6, 2017 and May 19, 2017, respectively. The non-provisional patent application was filed March 5, 2018. (That's cutting it close.) Direct mail marketers who collaborated with USPS have published their own marketing material saying that the advertising part of the Informed Delivery program started on September 1, 2019. The nationwide roll out of the Informed Delivery program without ads looks like it started April 1, 2017. (Also cutting it close.) The priority dates may be tight but then who is going to try to invalidate their patent? They have a monopoly on the in-mailbox market.

The taxpayers can expect a return on this investment.

You can read more about the Informed Delivery program here.