By Noel Ward, Executive Editor Our friends at the U.S. Postal Service are focusing some of their energies on helping businesses better leverage the power of direct mail. I was in my local P.O. last week when I spotted a rack of tri-fold brochures containing numerous tips on how businesses, especially small operations, can use direct mail. Much of the information provided is Direct Mail 101, but considering plenty of small business owners have no idea how to use mail as a effective marketing tool, the brochures, under the banner of “Simple Formulas,” are a great way to help businesses grow. The half dozen brochures in my local P.O. are just a third of the 18 offered in all. They are available online at http://www.usps.com/directmail. The menu includes: * Stirring up Sales with a Simple Catalog * The Recipe for Creating a Successful Mailing List * Turn Customer Data into Profitable Information * 8 Tactics to Trim Printing and Mailing Costs * Turn a Good Customer into a Loyal Customer in 7 Steps * 7 Pointers on Sales Prospecting Through the Mail * The 6 Features of Graphic Design that Sell * The Who, What, When, Where, Why of Getting Your Message Out * A 5-Step Plan to Win Business * 5 Plans to Partner for Savings * The 5 Habits of Highly Effective Postcards * 4 Ingredients of Mail that Sell * A 3-Part Test for Every Mailing and How to Grade It * 3 Facts About the Mail and Growing Your Business * 30 Minutes Online and Your Mailing Like a Pro * 12 Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Store * 12 Secrets to Getting More Response from Your Mail * The 11 Gold Mines in Your Customer List This Post Office web site does more than provide basic tips and tricks. There are templates for a variety of direct mail pieces that can be downloaded for use with Microsoft Word or QuarkXPress, along with an assortment of layout and design tips and guidelines. There are links to direct mail service providers and a very complete guide for any kind of company that is using direct mail. What seems to be missing is the part of interest to most of us in the printing business. There is a single web page devoted to printing but it doesn’t mention digital printing at all. The pre-press section talks about retouching, stripping and proofs. I know this all has to be in there because most direct mail is still printed offset, but I am more than a little surprised by the complete non-mention of digital printing and variable data printing. (And yes, I already have a few calls into the USPS to see what it will take to bring them up to date.) Beyond their lapse in ignoring the most powerful means of using direct mail, the site has a lot of good information that print providers can use to help customers create and print more effective direct mail. With many quick and franchise printers and more than a few commercial printers adding some level of mailing services, it makes sense to use the information and knowledge provided on the USPS site and in their collateral materials. Then as you show your customers how to use direct mail more effectively, you can show them how digital printing and variable data can make their DM campaign even more powerful. The various guides and brochures are also a great way for your sales people to raise or refresh their own knowledge of direct mail and prepare them to solve customer problems and challenges. With mail volumes dropping due to increased use of email, the Postal Service is clearly making an effort to build some revenue. This program is part of that and while there are nuances and details left out, this is a good approach and worth a look. That way when your customer comes in and starts talking about what they’ve learned and how they are applying their knowledge on their next print job you’ll already be a step ahead.