The U.S. Postal Service, reeling from a sustained decline in letter volume and hefty payment obligations relating to its workforce, could do more to glean value out of one of its most significant assets: its corporate brand.
And the Postal Service agrees, indicating that it is set to begin the search for an outside partner to help it advance its third-party licensing efforts.
So how much money is in play with the USPS brand?
A new study from the Postal Service Office of Inspector General pegs the value of the USPS brand at $3.6 billion, measured by projected cash flows realized over the life of the agency. However, the OIG report also suggests that the Postal Service could up that number by taking steps to burnish the brand, including mobilizing the public relations team to paint the agency in a more positive light, and to increase licensing programs, through which the agency sells branded products like tape and mailing supplies at retailers like Office Depot.
The study marks the first formal effort to quantify the value of the USPS brand, an exercise the inspector general’s office said aims to sketch out the value and potential of an otherwise intangible asset, and, ultimately, to help the agency improve its financial position.
“A major part of our work is to focus on economy and efficiency at the Postal Service,” said Laraine Balk Hope, an economist at the USPS OIG who was the project manager for the branding study.
“Brand is an important strategic issue that is receiving more and more attention” in commercial and academic circles, Hope said in an interview. “We determined that helping the Postal Service develop a baseline a valuation that was formal … could be a very useful tool for them.”
The USPS OIG partnered with Premier Quantitative Consulting to conduct its study, and declined to provide the cost of the effort, telling EcommerceBytes that that figure would only be available through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The report stops short of making specific recommendations for how the cash-strapped Postal Service could better leverage its brand, and Hope declined to elaborate on those points, explaining that the IG’s office does not advise the agency on business practices.
Nevertheless, the report provides a handful of broad recommendations, some of which the Postal Service says it is already working on, such as licensing its intellectual property to boost revenue and stoke brand awareness.
“For example, we currently have licensed shipping products such as envelopes and mailing tape in retailers like Office Depot and Harris Teeter,” a grocery chain, said USPS spokeswoman Zy Richardson.
Richardson added that the Postal Service is planning to issue a request for proposals this spring in search of a partner “to help us strengthen our licensing program.”
“More details are forthcoming,” she said.
Richardson emphasized that the marketing and business strategy teams at the Postal Service are keenly aware of the value of their brand, even if they haven’t compiled a detailed economic analysis to give it a dollar value.
“We think there is a considerable upside to the U.S. Postal Service brand, and have already taken steps to build our brand equity,” Richardson said.
She pointed to several pilot programs underway in the shipping side of the business, which has been a healthy source of growth for the Postal Service in recent years, such as seven-day delivery and delivery of water and groceries.
Richardson said that the Postal Service has been addressing another point the inspector general’s report raised: that the agency should engage its employees – which the report labels as the “face of the brand” – to “represent the brand positively, both on and off the job.”
She recalled the Priority You advertising campaign the Postal Service launched in 2013, employing creative content that showcased employees working on customers’ behalf while highlighting an overhaul of the Priority Mail service that included more precise delivery estimates and complimentary insurance for domestic shipments.
Of that campaign, she said, “we leveraged one of our biggest strengths, our actual employees, to show our relentless commitment to serving the American people – a point of pride for our employee base. We continue to work on new ways to invest in our people and further build employee engagement.”
Finally, the inspector general’s report found that the USPS brand might be suffering from the steady drumbeat of negative media coverage, noting that a great number of the news articles about the Postal Service run along the lines of “doomsday” stories touting the prospect of the financial collapse of the agency. To that end, the authors of the report concluded that the Postal Service’s PR team should take a more active role in promoting the bright spots of the agency’s operations, while also suggesting that the organization continue to invest in marketing and advertising to promote the brand.
“Utilize good news,” the authors of the report wrote. “The Postal Service’s public relations strategies must truthfully relate negative news, but not at the expense of excluding positive news and countering misleading attacks on the brand. Continuous negative messages can undercut the value of the brand.”
“We found that more of a focus on good news and refuting incorrect and misleading news about the Postal Service, particularly the Postal Service’s financial situation, (would improve) the brand value,” Hope added.
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