Industry experts in the United States will gather next month for another “PostalVision” conference examining the long-term future of the US mail.
The PostalVision 2020 event began in 2011 aiming to bring “blue skies” thinking into discussions about how the US mail system will develop up to 2020.
The first event opened with the question “What Would Google Do?” if it were running the US mail system. During that inaugural event, Google’s own “evangelist in chief” Vint Cerf was on hand to reply that Google was avoiding getting involved in physical delivery, but thought that USPS would do best focussing on its strengths of physical delivery.
Year three will see a welcome return of Cerf to the PostalVision programme. In the mean time, Cerf’s Silicon Valley-based company has made a number of moves to get involved in the physical delivery of goods, notably as its Google Play division looks to take on Amazon in the e-commerce world, with moves that have included acquisition of a parcel terminal company.
The Internet and how it engages with the process of physical delivery will form a key theme within PostalVision as it takes place next month across the plaza from USPS headquarters in Washington DC, as will the question of how the US mail industry engages with the Internet and digital communications.
PostalVision organiser John Callan tells Post&Parcel that significantly at this year’s event, participants will be looking to engage with US lawmakers within Congress, and also with the younger generations of Americans.
Postal reform advocate Senator Tom Carper is to participate in this year’s PostalVision 2020
Among the top speakers this year will be the chairman of the influential Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Senator Tom Carper, who is currently attempting to steer major postal reforms through Congress to save the cash-strapped US Postal Service.
With its attention on record national debt, the US Congress failed to pass much-needed postal reforms last year after much debate, leaving the Postal Service facing annual losses of almost $16bn, with much of the losses caused by overly aggressive benefits pre-funding.
This year Congress has it all to do again, with some areas of cross-party agreement, such as the need to reform healthcare and pension funding arrangements, but some areas where Democrats and Republicans disagree, or where disagreement does not necessarily fall along party lines, such as the abandoning of Saturday delivery.
Callan says participation of the Senator from Delaware within PostalVision would offer him important insight into the needs of mail users, as US lawmakers debate postal reform this year.
“Senator Carper is committed and eager to take part in this,” says Callan. “He appreciates the independence of this discussion – Congress hears enough from lobbyists and [Postmaster General] Patrick Donahoe and the unions. It’s not so good at finding out what American society and the users of the mail want.
“We’ll have Congress there, and I would hope that other members of Congress send their staffers along so we will get active discussion between all stakeholders.”
Experts on communications technology returning to PostalVision this year include the likes of renowned media commentator Jeff Jarvis, public relations heavyweight Larry Weber and email pioneer V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai.
New voices will include Scott Burns, founder of GovDelivery, a firm working to help government better communicate via electronic means, and Jonathan Grubin, the founder of SoPost, a company working on linking consumer Facebook and Twitter accounts to physical mailing addresses so that people can send items physically via social media addresses.
A discussion involving representatives of younger generations will be led by Drew Barkiewicz, the CEO and co-founder of lettrs.com, a company making it easier for the Internet generation to create physical letters as a more “meaningful” communications channel.
Barkiewicz tells Post&Parcel that he believes the US mailing industry would have to make the postal offering “more exciting and more accessible” for the younger generations.
But he stresses the continuing value of physical correspondence, particularly for important communications.
“I’m in my 40s, I grew up as a letters person and in my case wrote and received letters as a soldier sent overseas to Iraq and Italy,” he says. “But this is about the next generation – how they communicate.”
Lettrs.com provides “letters experiences” according to its co-founder, and for consumers and younger generations it highlights the power of a letter to communicate in a meaningful way, perhaps in place of a greetings card. It is essentially a hybrid mail service in which users submit a message electronically and pay $2-$6 to have it converted into a physical mailpiece.
Barkiewicz said around a third of Lettrs users were people in the younger generations.
“These are guys who have never written a letter in their lives,” he said. “I have a son who is 15 and in high school, and there’s a proliferation of communications in his age group with platforms like Facebook and Twitter. They are communicating a lot – but saying less and less each time. Lettrs is designed to get young people writing letters – help them slow down. Technology has accelerated everything in our lives, but in some ways we need to slow down.”
Lettrs.com aims to make it easier for the Internet generation to send physical letters
The Lettrs co-founder said his company was currently looking at ways to target business customers, offering the ability to send hand-written thank you letters to high-value clients. “We think a letter can be a really powerful engagement tool for businesses to thank their customers,” he said.
Barkiewicz described the US Postal Service as a “tremendous platform, a great asset for humanity”, and his suggestion for how it can engage with the younger generations was to open up its business to more external innovators.
“The Postal Service has its strengths in scale, it has less strength in innovation,” he said. “If you look at what large companies have done to avoid becoming inflexible – the likes of Google and Microsoft – what they do is engage with innovation on the outside. They have start-up funds to support entrepreneurs, they give seminars and open up certain aspects of their business models to entrepreneurs, who can enhance the capabilities of the platform overall.”
PostalVision 2020 3.0 takes place from 23rd to 24th April, 2013, at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, DC, under the theme “Positioning America for the New Millennium”.
Among its speakers, the event will feature the new Secure Digital Solutions vice president from the US Postal Service, Randy Miskanic, and the co-founder of Internet analysis specialists comScore, Linda Abraham.
The programme will also hear from USPS Inspector General David Williams, Postal Regulatory Commissioner Robert Taub, PostCom president Gene Del Polito and international postal policy expert Elmar Toime.
Source: James Cartledge, Post&Parcel