So the news heard round the world this past week is that the US Postal Service is in trouble. Huge layoffs, location closings ... you name it. No surprise, actually, because we've been hearing this coming for quite some time. The response? A once cent increase in the price of a stamp. Are you kidding me!?
What's the problem here?
I don't think the USPS ever thought of itself as a brand. It never did what really good brands do:
- clearly define the business that it's in
- understand its competition and what it's offering
- clearly identify their target customer
- make a concerted, ongoing effort to understand their target customer's needs and how they are changing
- stay on top of the technology curve
- drive consumer behavior, not become a victim of it
Sure, there's a logo and there are products and services. But that doesn't make it a brand. A product or a service is something you offer to your customers, but a brand is an emotional connection with those people that adds meaning far beyond the product or service. It's a continual and consistent experience that adds value to the customers' lives, beyond compare. Beyond what they can get from any other product or service in the category.
In this case, the experience should have been far beyond what FedEx, UPS, or email can offer. But instead, FedEx and UPS created brands that have meaning, that promise beyond the stamped envelope.
The USPS didn't do any of that. Instead it sold stamps and mail services the same 'ole way. There were some advances in overnight delivery, kiosks, and special edition stamps, but not enough to keep pace with changing customer needs and the competition. When FedEx and UPS took hold, the US Postal Service should have done better. When email took hold, the US Postal Service should have figured out a way to offer even better, safer, more secure services. There is a twitter handle, but very little following. The Smithsonian has stamps in a section of the museum, how ironic is that?
They should have taken their brand to new and more distinctive places all along, rather than just increase the price of stamps on a service that is losing relevancy. At this point, they might as well just raise the price of that stamp to $1.00 and at least make a little money on what's left. But then again, that's not very brand-like either.
It's a shame ... what's your experience? Jim.
President of Lippe Taylor
Author of The Experience Effect
Professor at NYU