Mailings Become Larger and More Complex
Companies use mail, as a tool for their primary business – providing banking services, selling insurance, managing retail operations, or running a company. As mail operations became more complex, firms did not always have the time or expertise to effectively manage this part of their business. Some companies only needed advice. Others called on specialists to do part or all of their mailing operations.
Imagine Addressing Hundreds of Letters by Hand
Start with one of the simplest steps you can think of in the mailing something. It gets serious when you have to put the address on.
First, do you have the correct address? Keeping a mailing list accurate is a challenging business. Now think about addressing hundreds or hundreds of thousands or even millions of pieces of mail prior to computers, or even typewriters. The cost of hiring an army of men or women to address envelope after envelope, day after day, year after year, was prohibitive. Industry entrepreneurs looked for an answer in the technology of the day.
Early solutions were the Graphotype and the Addressograph, which were both originally manufactured by the Addressograph Company of Chicago. These machines were used to deboss metal tags with the address of a mass mailing recipient. The tags were then sorted and stored in trays. The machines would then work through the tags, stamping mailing pieces with a distinct, inked tag.
A few more sophisticated mail list providers, largely publishers, magazine service bureaus, and big catalogers, found more efficient ways to manage their mailings even before computers were widely available, such as keeping Addressograph plates in trays sorted into output sequence. Tasks such as address changes were done by updating the master file card, and switching out the old Addressograph plate with a new one inserted in the correct sequence. To mark the end of a sort group, the last plate often carried a mark that printed on the label and allowed those preparing the actual mailing to close out the bundle, tray, or sack. All in all, it was quite a manual and labor-intensive process, but the basic technology did not change until after the introduction of computers to the workplace.
The 1960s were a period of great change for both the Post Office and the mailing community, largely due to the emergence of commercial computers, the development of new printing technologies, the introduction of the ZIP Code, the recognition by the Post Office of the need for more interaction with mailers1, and a corresponding awareness in the mailing industry of the need for cooperation and standardization in this new and challenging computerized world.
Mechanical addressing machines were replaced by a device called the Chesire Labeling Machine. Computers were able to print addresses on sheets of paper at very high speed. The sheets of printed addresses would be cut and glued onto individual mail pieces. Then came inkjet printing directly onto mail pieces, which eliminated the need to print, cut and apply separate labels. As computer controls were built into the process, the industry became more efficient and capable
Managing The Nation’s Addresses
Managing the addresses of the nation is a big business. The Postal Service is responsible for maintaining and updating the master list of our addresses. It works with local governments, builders and others to keep current with new addresses. To keep track of the millions of people who move each year, the Postal Service has a system for households and businesses to conveniently file change of address notifications, as well as a system for business mailers to access that list to keep their address files accurate and up to date.
A critical component to address maintenance was the development of the five digit ZIP Code in 1963. Before ZIP Codes, postal employees had to memorize “outgoing” and “incoming” schemes based on street addresses to sort mail. The ZIP Code allowed for a clerk/machine interface that sorted mail faster and more accurately. The Postal Service offered businesses discounts for using the ZIP Code as part of their mail production process. Bundles and trays of mail sorted by ZIP Code made mail processing easier. By 1967, the use of the ZIP Code was required for several categories of mail. Today, the use of ZIP+4 barcodes and computer scanning for sorting and processing mail is standard. The Postal Service and mailing industry are continually coordinating efforts to ensure that the system is working correctly and improving.
The ZIP Code has been successful far beyond its original purpose. Most delivery firms use it as a basis for their systems. It is used by companies and organizations as an identifier in instances where too much information is thought to scare people off. Local governments and businesses use it for applications never imagined by the Postal Service in 1963.
Postal Service and the mailing industry made more changes in information technology and data management in the period from 1995 to 2000 than in the previous two centuries. The first decade of the new millennium has seen an even greater increase in pace and complexity, and the need for ever greater sophistication and capability.
Address Lists are a Valuable Resource
Address lists are like gold, and are mined for their information about purchasing patterns, likes and dislikes, and data that help companies operate more efficiently, target customers with more relevant information, and generate better response rates. Lists can be sold or rented and some businesses specialize in creating targeted lists for those purposes.
Effective list management means that the right mail piece is sent to the right person, instead of costly wasted efforts such as duplicate mailings or mailings to people who have moved. The Postal Service spends several billions of dollars a year to handle mail with bad addresses, and it costs the industry several billions to create and handle mail that cannot reach the right address.
The Industry Depends on Robust Technology
Addressing technology is critical to the mailing industry. It simply cannot fail. The story of the Videograph (introduced in 1961) is the industry’s cautionary tale. It was in widespread use across the industry until the late 1970s when the company manufacturing this workhorse label printer decided it was ceasing production of the machine. The death blow to the Videograph came when the only man capable of creating the imaging tube for this electrostatic process retired. A frenzied buy up of spare parts and search for alternatives followed. All Videograph users had the same problem and cooperated in developing a solution. Ultimately, this led to the development of a number of ink jet machines which could be provided by a number of suppliers, according to a set of industry specifications.
Postal Discounts Drive the Need for Better Information Technology
The ability to sort mail containers, bypass postal processing and transport the containers closer to the point of delivery created a demand for software that could verify the accuracy of the work done. This was not only for postage payment purposes, but also to ensure the quickest transportation and most efficient handling of the mail at the destination postal facility. Today, computer programs can track the progress of containers and even individual pieces of mail throughout the entire system, from mail production to delivery.
Managing Documents is a Big Business
Businesses send and receive millions of electronic and hard-copy documents. It has become important to be able to track who worked on a document, when it was finished, sent, and received. It is just as important to be able to manage millions of documents received by businesses. There are legal requirements for tracking, responding, for storage and record keeping. Documents must be accessible and retrievable. While some paper documents are simply filed or archived, scanning and imaging physical documents converts them into digital formats that can then be managed electronically.