by Peter Basiliere February 13, 2006 -- Pitney Bowes has been promoting its "Mailstream" concept by, among other initiatives, recently hosting an online presentation by Juanita James, Vice President of Direct Marketing Strategy & Business Development and James Vila, a Principal at Peppers & Rogers Group. But what is the "Mailstream" and what does it mean to printers and mailing companies? In a December 7, 2005 DM News article by Melissa Campanelli Pitney Bowes' Chairman/CEO Michael J. Critelli said, "The mailstream is the sum of all mail and documents, both physical and electronic, flowing in and out of a business, as well as the people and systems that enable it. Mailstream content includes direct marketing collateral, bills and monthly statements, catalogs, parcels, letters, invoices, magazines, DVD rentals and anything sold and purchased through eBay." Mailstream content includes direct marketing collateral, bills and monthly statements, catalogs, parcels, letters, invoices, magazines, DVD rentals and anything sold and purchased through eBay." On the surface, this concept appears to make sense not only because it captures the essence of what many of us do today, but it also appears to ratify the importance of printing, mailing and fulfillment services. Whether sending or receiving a gift, each of us gets mail, packages and documents especially at this time of year. Whether we owe or can expect a refund, we will receive tax documents and either mail or receive a check from Uncle Sam. But the idea of a "mail stream" is not a new one at all. A simple Google search turns up tens of thousands of pages referencing the phrase. For example, M. Kallick and W. L. Rodgers, et al, produced the Household Mailstream Study: Final Report in 1978. Ironically, the federal government's Office of Technology Assessment's Implications of Electronic Mail and Message Systems for the U. S. Postal Service published by the GPO in August 1982 projected that ". . . two thirds or more of the current mailstream could be handled electronically. . ." Two thirds or more of the current mailstream could be handled electronically Anyone who has been involved in printing, mailing and fulfillment for any length of time is familiar with the mailstream concept. If you were involved in direct mail campaigns, the mailstream began with "dropping" the advertisements in the mail and concluded with an analysis of the campaign's results. If you produced transaction documents, the mailstream began when you sent out a bill and ended when the customer's payment was received at your remittance processing facility. Ms. James talked about the interaction of data, technology and process, which together bring benefits such as increased profit through business processes such as fulfillment that utilize "business communications." Unfortunately, Pitney-Bowes' mailstream concept has a fundamental flaw, that is, its reliance on physical, mailed communications while excluding even tangential inclusion of other media. By defining "mailstream" as flowing "from your database to printing and delivery," Pitney Bowes is not only confirming that your investment in their mailing equipment is critical but they are also implying mail is the primary if not the sole way that businesses communicate. Unfortunately, Pitney-Bowes' mailstream concept assumes mail is the primary if not the sole way that businesses communicate Emphasizing the "mailstream" does a disservice to printers and mailers, encouraging them to focus on a shrinking portion of the communications businesses have with their prospects and customers. Business communications are not limited to direct mail campaigns, invoices, catalogs or even eBay purchases. Indeed focusing on the mailstream says to the creative, marketing and sales people who are driving today's business communications that physical printing and mailing is "old economy." We should be focused on the total communications stream, rather than just mail stream portion. The CommStream concept better states the potential print and mail has for integrated, comprehensive and fluid B2B and B2C communications. Next month I'll expand upon the CommStream concept and how you can use it to guide your growth.