For marketers that are new to direct mail, knowing when to use First Class vs Standard Mail (or Marketing mail) can be a bit confusing.
Isn’t all direct mail “marketing mail”? What’s the difference? We’ll start with some definitions and then discuss the best uses of first class vs. standard class
What is First Class Mail?
First Class Mail from the USPS offers the highest level of service for the delivery of direct mail postcards, letters and small packages in the United States. All First Class Mail:
- is typically delivered in 2-4 business days
- includes return and forwarding services
- has the most consistent delivery timing from the USPS
- postcards and letters must be rectangular for best pricing
- must weigh no more than 3.5 ounces for letters or postcards, 13 ounces for large envelopes or parcels
- can qualify for lower pricing with “Presorting” with 500 or more pieces (mail must be sorted by zip code and run through NCOA and CASS certification)
What is Standard Mail?
Standard Class Mail from the USPS is a level of service and pricing designed for large commercial mailers where time sensitivity is less important. All Standard Class Mail:
- postage costs up to 32% less per piece than first class mail
- is typically delivered in 5-21 business days
- does not include forwarding and return service
- weighs less than 16 ounces
- must have at least 200 pieces to qualify
- can save costs with Presorting and NCOA and CASS certification
The following scenarios can help you determine whether you’re better sending your direct mail campaign via First Class or Standard Class Mail.
Speed Of First Class vs Standard Mail
The Winner – First Class
When time is of the essence, use First Class direct mail.
Generally, First Class mail will be delivered anywhere in the United States within 3-4 days of being dropped off at a USPS facility.
These delivery times remain remarkably consistent, even during peak times. The USPS gives priority to first class mail over other classes.
On the other hand, Standard Class mail takes longer, and the delivery times are more highly variable.
Standard Class delivery can take anywhere from 5-20 days after being dropped off at a USPS facility. There’s no delivery guarantee, and the USPS states that it is processed on a “time available” basis.
Want to see the latest info on USPS delivery times?
Check out this interactive map from the USPS website: USPS Current Standards Map
Cost Of First Class vs. Standard Mail
The Winner – Standard Class
Standard Class mail is far more inexpensive than First Class mail. When your mailing list is large and delivery time isn’t the priority, it can save you a lot of money.
Up to 32% lower postage costs!
Of course, with any direct mail campaign, there are many factors that can influence total pricing. Postage is a big one. For an in-depth review of everything that can drive the total cost of direct mail, check out:
At Postalytics, we try to simplify the cost calculations for our customers by creating a single price per piece, based on the subscription plan (Free, Marketer or Pro) that works for you.
Delivery & Return Service Data Analytics
The Winner – First Class Mail
If you’re interested in using delivery and return campaign data, use first class mail.
The USPS has some incredible programs to enable direct mailers to trace their mail. Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) is a tool that advanced mailers have used to capture barcode scans on the pallets of mail that move throughout the USPS delivery system.
While the IMB system is used for both First Class and Standard/Marketing Mail, the data that is returned for First Class mail is far more detailed and consistent.
The vast majority (95% or higher) of First Class mailpieces using IMB get full & detailed scan info. In our experience, the scan data that comes back from Standard Mail campaigns is intermittent – ranging from 40% to 90% of a campaign.
Why capture barcode scans? There’s rich data in them that can assist with a number of important direct mail campaign objectives:
- For multi-channel campaigns that need a delivery trigger, use “Processed For Delivery” from IMB (captured 24-48 hours before delivery)
- For list quality analysis, use the Return To Sender scans to find invalid addresses
- You can even capture mail forwarding scans, so that you know that a mailpiece will be delivered, yet to a different address
Holiday Season Mailing
The Winner – First Class Mail
Because of the priority given to first class direct mail over standard/marketing mail, we strongly recommend that marketers send via First Class during the holiday period.
We’ve seen holiday season standard class mail take weeks to deliver, with drastic variations in delivery times.
The holiday season (from Thanksgiving through the New Year) represents the peak mailing season for the USPS. In fact, over 15 billion pieces of mail are processed during the holiday mailing season.
Because local and regional bottlenecks can occur during the peak season, these slowdowns can be completely unpredictable and out of the control of the marketer and/or the printer/mailer.
When Should Marketers Use First Class vs Standard Mail?
The debate should really be decided by a simple analysis of time sensitivity and budget.
Clearly, direct mail campaigns that require consistent and short delivery timelines should use First Class mail. Along with most direct mail being sent between Thanksgiving and New Years.
Triggered Drip Campaigns (Driven from automated workflows in CRM/Marketing Automation tools) are often time sensitive in nature. They’re typically sent using First Class postage. There may be times where your triggered campaign use case doesn’t require speed/reliability. Postalytics can send mail from triggered campaigns via Standard Class postage.
When should Standard/Marketing mail be used?
We typically see Standard Mail chosen when large batch campaigns are being sent without any type of time sensitive offers or requirements. Standard Class works great for big lists used in campaigns that are planned out well in advance.
Direct Mail Automation and Postage Class Choices
Automated direct mail software like Postalytics should make the choice between first class and standard class direct mail easier. Self service tools should speed up your ability to execute, and remove friction from decision making.
The Postalytics Smart Send Campaign type has a cool “Estimated In Home Date” tool that helps marketers get a sense of when their mail will be delivered, and what the cost differences are for First Class vs Standard Class.
Still Have Questions? Get In Touch
If you’d like to strategize about your upcoming direct mail campaign, talk to a Postalytics product expert. We’re here to help you setup automated direct mail that can drive more revenue to your bottom line.