New marketing chief helps USPS practice what it preaches

Wednesday - 11/14/2012, 3:10am EST

Nov. 14, 2012 - Agency of the Month

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When Nagisa Manabe arrived at the U.S. Postal Service six months ago, the agency was allocating just 5 percent of its total marketing dollars toward direct mail efforts aimed at promoting the agency's products and services.

"The surprising thing about that is, what we normally recommend to our customers is 15-20 percent of their investment should be in direct mail," said Manabe, the agency's new chief marketing and sales officer (CMSO).

Thanks to Manabe's direction, USPS is now practicing what it preaches.

"The first change we made was to say we were committed to spending at least 20 percent of our marketing dollars on direct mail and package communication," Manabe said in an exclusive interview on Federal News Radio's Agency of the Month program.

Read full biography. (Photo courtesy of USPS)

To that end, the agency sent a promotional pamphlet to every home in America right after Election Day highlighting the Postal Service's holiday package and mailing services. It was the first national mailing the Postal Service had sent since 2007.

"The truth is, I think that people are not aware of many of the services the Postal Service offers. One of the things that, frankly, I wasn't aware of when I started in this role, is that if I order a flat-rate box online from USPS.com, I can have that delivered to my house, it can be packed, and then I can have a carrier pick it up, which is really pretty surprising. It's really not something I expected. I am convinced, if we let every citizen of the U.S., every resident of the U.S., understand and really walk through the steps with them, they'd find us to be much more accessible."

Despite the tough economy and tight budgets, Manabe said USPS is committed to the marketing campaign it set forward.

"It is true that in a tough economy or with significant budget challenges, every dollar we spend needs to be effective. There's no doubt of that. That said, we're committed to investing in the mail and our package business," Manabe said. "Our commitment is to continue to invest behind the parts of the business that are growing and healthy and to shore up the parts of the business, which with a little bit of nurturing would see better growth. So, we're actually standing firm on our commitment in advertising."

From Campbell's Soup to Captain Morgan and Beyond

Unlike many of the top senior executives at USPS, Manabe has not spent her entire career with the agency. Manabe's road to USPS winds through the who's who of successful companies in the private sector. She began her career at Procter & Gamble and has also worked for Johnson & Johnson, Campbell's Soup, Coca- Cola and Diageo — the company that produces Captain Morgan rum.

"I had the good fortune of starting my career in marketing on the Ivory brand — one of America's oldest brands. But, I have now come to find that the Postal Service is probably one of the oldest brands in the country," Manabe said. "The most amazing thing about the brand, I think, is that like many of the other brands I've worked on, almost every American citizen has touched this brand at one point or the other. In fact, I suppose there's literally nobody in the country for whom they are not a customer of the Postal Service."

Surprisingly, she said, the pace of decision making at USPS is a lot quicker than some of the other companies for which she has worked.

"Some of these big companies are actually pretty bureaucratic — filled with layers, lots of decision makers, many people who weigh in to the decision around marketing," Manabe said. "Here, that process is very streamlined. Really, it's myself [and] the direct reports who report in to the CMSO making recommendations for the executive leadership team and the Postmaster General, and we make decisions every day. ... I think most people think a federal organization like the United States Postal Service would be really bureaucratic. But that's really far from the truth. It's really the fastest paced organization I've ever worked for."

While Manabe's official title with the agency is chief marketing and sales officer, she says chief revenue officer would be more accurate.

"When I started in this job, I said, 'Gee, I wish my title wasn't so long. And, instead of calling me the chief marketing and sales officer, I wish you could just call me the chief revenue officer.' Because my job is to help the Postal Service grow. And that's really my primary focus. Everything I do every day, I ask myself, 'Will it actually help to profitably grow our top-line growth?'"

On a daily basis, Manabe said her job can be broken down into three distinct parts:

  • Customers - "Many of the best ideas for where to take the marketing and the new products of the Postal Service come from our customers directly. Every day I get communications from customers and, in almost every case, we come up with a new idea or a new action that will help to grow our revenue and help their business as well."
  • Marketing and product creation - "The other third of my time is really working the building, is the way I think about it. What that is, is really working with each of the cross-functional teams to really build and create new marketing ideas and new products because new products are the lifeblood of the Postal Service."
  • Development and training - "Many of the folks within the marketing and sales organization need more development and coaching and training. So, I spend a huge amount of my time really focused on making sure the organization gets the input they need, the development they need, and the coaching and training they need."

Innovation is key

In addition to the standard products the Postal Service offers, Manabe said the agency is also focused on developing innovative new ideas to move the agency forward.

"Our bottom line is, every day, we have carriers going to every single location in the country — every business, every household. ... And because of that, we have a huge opportunity to get more leverage out of that existing network. So, my job is really to work with my team, to encourage folks to use the mail and to use our package services but, to also make those services more easily accessible."

It's new Metro Post pilot program is attempting to do just that. The new same-day delivery service launching in San Francisco allows a customer to order products online from companies that have partnered with the Postal Service. USPS then delivers those products to consumers the same day.

"All we're really doing is leveraging our existing network of equipment and capability to deliver something that we think will be a fantastic service for the American public. ... I think it's going to be an exciting new opportunity," Manabe said. "We've already had over a few dozen companies contacting us interested, many of them national companies, who would love to see us be successful in this test and then extend beyond that."

However, she said, there are some challenges as the Postal Service continues to adapt to the new environment it finds itself in.

"I think that the biggest challenge for the delivery industry, in general, is actually our biggest challenge — which is that consumer and customer expectations are changing rapidly. Our job is to keep pace with those rising expectations," Manabe said. "Ten years ago people used to ask the question 'Should I even give my credit card info online? Is that even safe?' Now, to turnaround and say, 'I want to order something and I'd like to have it the very next day or the same day' is incredible. In a world of rising expectations and changing expectations, moving quickly enough and responding to customer and consumer needs is really the toughest task. Keeping pace with that pace of innovation and change is critically important, and having an entire organization move with that change is really a big job."

Manabe said those expectations could change the face of the Postal Service in the future.

"Our commitment going forward, 5, 10, 20 years, is that we will continue to keep pace with the change in the U.S. economy so that we are as vibrant a delivery service in 20 years as we were 100 years ago. That's our commitment," Manabe said. "I believe you might not recognize us 20 years from now because we will have changed so much, but we'll still be there delivering letters, packages and any other form of communications required to every household in America."