Combine the brand strength of UPS with their trusted driver network and you just might have the best way to date to deliver your message to a promising audience.
By Stuart Elliott
Since 1907, United Parcel Service has been delivering packages ordered by consumers. Next week, the company plans to deliver packages they have not ordered, in a test of an effort to expand into direct marketing.
Beginning on Monday, U.P.S. will experiment in five major markets with a service it calls Direct to Door, giving advertisers and retailers a chance to provide offers and product samples to U.P.S. customers. The marketing materials will come inside small boxes labeled Direct to Door Paks, and will be delivered to customers along with merchandise they actually ordered.
The test, to run through Oct. 2, is intended to gauge whether there is interest in having U.P.S. serve as an alternative to marketing mail delivered by the United States Postal Service or by companies like Valpak.
If Direct to Door goes forward, the added revenue could help United Parcel offset declines in demand for its mainstay package delivery service since the recession started.
In July, U.P.S. reported its sixth consecutive quarter of lower package volume in this country. The decline in the second quarter was 4.6 percent compared with the period a year earlier, which Bloomberg News described as the worst result since United Parcel went public in 1999.
“I wouldn’t say it was developed as a result of the economy,” said Lisa Lynn, marketing director for new-product research and development at United Parcel in Atlanta.
Rather, she said, it stems from “some opportunity we saw at the heart of what we do every day working off our delivery network.”
The test is also meant to see if U.P.S. customers welcome unsolicited packages or dismiss them as some new type of junk mail.
One effect of the economy is that “people are very receptive to offers right now,” Ms. Lynn said.
An experiment in figuring out how to better aim traditional, tangible marketing materials at consumers may seem quaint when so much of the buzz along Madison Avenue is about aiming virtual pitches at them online.
But direct marketing remains a lucrative business. According to the Direct Marketing Association, it accounted for $176.9 billion in ad spending last year in the United States — 52.1 percent of the total, by the association’s tally.
“We did some focus-group research and it really indicated that people were receptive to receiving offers from U.P.S.,” Ms. Lynn said. “What we heard was, ‘If U.P.S. brings it to me, it’s not junk.’ ”
Still, the company is taking several steps to try to ensure that a Direct to Door Pak is received more like a gift than another application for another credit card.
For one thing, the offers inside each box are intended to be special rather than “mass offers distributed through other channels,” Ms. Lynn said.
For another, no Direct to Door Paks will be delivered unaccompanied by packages ordered by that household, she said.
And the boxes will not bear the addresses of the recipients, Ms. Lynn said. Rather, they will carry phrases like this one: “Inside are premium offers from some of America’s best-known brands.” They will also include a photograph of the familiar brown United Parcel truck next to the words “Delivered to you by U.P.S.”
About a dozen companies — advertisers and retailers that use United Parcel to deliver orders to customers — are taking part in the test, Ms. Lynn said. They include the Finish Line; Men’s Wearhouse; Sephora; two Williams-Sonoma home furnishings brands, Pottery Barn and West Elm; and Zappos.com, the online retailer of shoes and housewares recently acquired by Amazon.
“It’s an interesting way to reach out to our customers and partner with one of our closest business partners,” said Aaron Magness, director for business development and brand marketing at Zappos.com in Henderson, Nev.
“We are an online retailer,” he added, “but we want to maintain a high-touch relationship with customers, constantly trying to find different ways to interact with them in whatever means they’re comfortable with.”
Mr. Magness said he liked the idea that the boxes would not arrive “out of nowhere, from random people knocking on your door.”
The offer to be made by Zappos.com during the test will invite recipients to “become a member of our V.I.P. program,” he added, entitling them to “free next-business-day shipping on every order.”
United Parcel plans to deliver about 250,000 Direct to Door Paks in about 150 ZIP codes in Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami, Phoenix and Washington.
Those chosen to participate in the test are “high-opportunity consumers,” Ms. Lynn said, meaning that they often order merchandise delivered by United Parcel Service.
“Our drivers have relationships with these people because they deliver to them frequently,” she added. “There’s a lot of trust in the driver and the brand.”
Mr. Magness also cited the trust factor as a reason Zappos.com was interested in the test.
Ms. Lynn described the customers to receive Direct to Door Paks as ages 35 to 54 in households of two persons or larger and living in single-family, owner-occupied homes.
As for what the service will cost marketers, “I can’t go into specific pricing,” Ms. Lynn said, “but the pricing model is similar to other media.”
The goal is for the cost to reach each 1,000 consumers — a common media measurement known as cpm — to be “comparable or less than an equivalent piece of direct mail,” she added.