The death of USPS by a thousand paper cuts
Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share
14 December 2011
How does USPS stay relevant?
I have yet to find a company that has succeeded by taking what has already failed at and made it worse in order to achieve improvements. However, USPS looks it will give it a whirl.
“But the lack of any visible brand message leads me to believe that these strategic decisions are not being made to better align the USPS’s operational actions with a new, more clearly defined brand.”
USPS is in a bad spot financially. Trying to regain viability while down economically is a big hurdle to overcome and often causes cautious actions when bold, profound ones are needed. The finances of the postal service have made it resort to number-crunching rather than looking at how it can best create preference in the market. Number-crunching leads to arbitrary decision making, like the removal of Saturday delivery or an increase in price of first class mail (while at the same time extending its delivery time by an additional day) without a clear understanding of what the removal means long-term.
This is not to say that some things don’t need changing or even scrapping altogether. But the lack of any visible brand message leads me to believe that these strategic decisions are not being made to better align the USPS’s operational actions with a new, more clearly defined brand. The changes instead seem like the product of a spreadsheet that lists what services must be axed based on the greatest dollar value achieved while maintaining the least possible resistance. It all adds up to a strategy that buys time, but loses in the end.
The USPS ran a recent campaign touting priority mail and its “flat rate”, pitching the flat rate as reducing hassles in operating a business. The biggest folly of the campaign was part in parcel to the fact that, when the USPS ads mention competitors like FedEx, it used a generic envelope that said “fast” on it. The proposition for the consumer was “fast” versus “flat rate.” The problem with this strategy is that FedEx’s brand is not “fast,” the brand of FedEx is “piece of mind.” FedEx has been successful because its brand represents an emotional context not a procedural one. Real equity is at the highest emotional intensity, and “flat rate” is about procedure not emotion.
With whatever budget it has left, the USPS needs to look closely at the market and find where the value for consumers exists. Only then should they evaluate what should stay, what should change and what should go altogether.
The beauty of brand, and something we stress when talking to companies full of internal politics and silos, is that it not only provides meaning externally to your consumers but it also provides internal guidance as well. It lets you know “strategically” what is the right move for a company, what plans for growth are the right ones, even what acquisitions are the correct ones. Without the guided focus of a “brand,” the USPS will continue to flounder in the dark, cutting what might not need to be cut and basing decisions on a best guess and a bottom line rather then on an understanding of why customers choose or, in this case, have not chosen.
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