When it comes to the mail, the snails fail. How do organizations, like the postal service, keep up the pace in a world where software, and technology are speeding up our lives? With more eyes on the postal service now than ever, how do they ensure they deliver on time sensitive tasks like test results, stimulus checks, and even possibly voting for the next president? They, and the businesses who rely on print communications, have to adapt.

“As crucial of an industry as it is for both consumers and businesses, there hasn’t been significant software-driven disruption in the world of direct mail, and the industry still largely functions the way it has been for decades. This is especially true when it comes to the handling of mail data and the act of preparing the mail, where outdated, laggard processes like FTP are still being utilized. As a result, companies are left without a way to send mail quickly, personalize content, or effectively track and measure their mail,” Harry Zhang, co-founder of Lob, a direct mail automation and address verification provider. 

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“Snail mail” is still a strategic component of businesses looking to contact and connect with potential customers through multiple outlets. Because of its lack of innovation, Zhang explained mail campaigns can take months to launch. Beyond just marketing campaigns, the transactional communications such as bills, invoices and account statements also face long lead times, inefficient production and limited visibility. 

“So, why does it take so long? The answer is twofold: One, printing and sending a large volume of mail is inherently a complex task. There is a lot of work and coordination involved with developing creative, acquiring and validating data, and physically printing millions of pieces of mail. But also two, the process that companies use to produce mail at scale hasn’t changed in years. The result: companies are operating a complex workflow using antiquated and very manual processes,” Zhang explained. 

Zhang’s company Lob is working on speeding up and enhancing “snail mail” campaigns through the use of APIs. “By making mail programmatic in real-time, APIs power an entirely new way of sending commercial mail—transforming what has been a slow, manual, and difficult channel into a modern communication tool with the same dexterity as digital channels. This unlocks mail for a wide range of data-driven use cases from customer acquisition, to transactions, to retention and advocacy while saving companies time and money,” he said. 

For instance, APIs can be used to determine when customers should receive mail and what type of mail they should receive, if the mail is arriving on time and to the right address, and [then to] integrate it into existing digital systems and marketing tools. APIs can also transform mail campaigns into an automated service, and link to the U.S. Postal Service so businesses can keep track of what’s being sent.

“The impact of developing for the offline world like direct mail is often underappreciated, but with the rise of technologies like AI and machine learning, the opportunities for more interconnected businesses are being exposed everywhere. APIs represent the chance to connect all these disparate workflows, and developers and engineers who can think disruptively are valuable in creating these connections,” said Zhang.