The Intelligent Mail Barcode for Beginners

A very hot topic in the direct mail marketing world is the Intelligent Mail Bar code (IMB), a key element in a successful marketing plan.

In a posting in the Federal Register on May 3rd, 2012 under the heading “POSTNET Bar code Discontinuation,” the Postal Service set a deadline of January 28, 2013 to convert all barcodes to the Intelligent Mail Bar code (IMb) format. To continue to be eligible for automation prices, mailings of postcards, letter- and flat-size mail pieces will need to have an Intelligent Mail barcode.

IMb has already been in use for some time by many mailers. The Postnet bar code has been in use for decades and contained the actual carrier routing code which allowed for speedier mail delivery; a boon for mailers at the time. The Intelligent Bar Code allows for the same information plus the ability to identify the mailer, tracking information on the mail piece and data on the type of mail services pertaining to the piece: i.e. Forwarding Service, Return Service, etc.


Curious what the cost implications are for you? Then read on.

To understand all the buzz about the Intelligent Mail Bar code, you must start by understanding that there are two main types of bulk mail in the US: 1) Regular Bulk Mail 2) Automated Bulk Mail. The Intelligent Mail Bar code only applies to the 2nd type of bulk mail: automated bulk mail. Those processing non-automated, bulk mail will still be able to mail even beyond the Intelligent Mail Bar code deadline.

Automated mail is bulk mail that receives an additional postage discount beyond regular old bulk mail. While it’s typically more difficult to prepare automated bulk mail, for your trouble, the post office offers an attractive postage discount-typically at least 5 cents apiece-this can add up especially for larger mailings.

Automated bulk mail requires less processing by the USPS and therefore often gets delivered more quickly. Simply put, fewer steps at the post office almost always lead to quicker delivery. This lower postage combined with typically quicker delivery makes automation an attractive option for many regular bulk mailers. This is especially critical in light of the cut backs and service limitations that the USP is planning for the future.

Curious what the Marketing implications are for you?

From a marketing perspective, the Intelligent bar code offers some real advantages.

There are two distinct advantages. Number 1, the IMb will free up real space where you can add more design elements to your direct mail piece than in the past.

The second advantage comes in the form of tracking and having the mail talk back to you. What I mean by that is you will be able to track every individual piece as it arrives at the post office nearest to the intended recipient. To achieve this same result, the current bar code has to add various codes to go along with the address in order to track at this level. These additional codes take up valuable space. The IMb leaves you with a much cleaner looking piece from an aesthetic standpoint while maintaining the functionality of the piece itself.

Using the IMb will allow marketers to set up automated triggered events. For example, once a mail piece is scanned for actual delivery it can trigger an event such as an automated email to arrive in the recipient’s in-box. That email can be nothing more than a “be on the lookout” type message which will allow marketers another opportunity to communicate with their audience.

For the print and mail industry, anything that gives end-users better, faster service is a necessary and welcome development. In order to compete with digital communication, we need to be able to provide as many advantages as possible. The IMb increases the value of printing and mailing. How is that not a good thing?


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