If you would have told me that 70 days before “the most important election of our lifetime,” the big issue would be the U.S. Post Office, I wouldn't have believed you.
Yet, here we are on the precipice of that election, and mail delivery has turned into a controversial issue that has inflamed opinions on both sides, no matter your profession or lot in life.
Today marks the day when the new U.S. Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, testifies before the Senate; on Monday, he'll show up to face the House of Representatives. Maybe they'll get it sorted out.
The odd part about this episode turns out to be how Americans perceive their postal service. Last month, a Morning Consult survey unveiled their annual list of the “Most Loved Brands of 2020.”
It's an extensive survey conducted this past June/July covering more than 1,900 brands. Each was ranked on the following measures:
- Favorability – That's the percentage of respondents with a favorable view of a brand
- Trust – The percentage who say they trust a brand “to do the right thing”
- Community Impact – The percentage who say a brand has a “positive impact” on their city or town
- Net Promoter Score – Yes, the same 10-point recommendation score Jacobs Media uses in all our Techsurveys
As you'd expect, the results are fascinating. Morning Consult says nearly half (48%) of their most loved brands fall in the Food & Beverage or Household & Personal brands.
But the brands with the best scores – the most love – fall into Morning Consult's Shipping & Logistics category. To that end, UPS (#3) and FedEx (#12) score exceptionally well.
But the #1 brand of all those surveyed is (drum roll):
The United States Postal Service
That's right – the government-run, much-maligned service that's been there our entire lives, bringing everything right to our door – paychecks, prescriptions, bills, and direct mail advertising from radio stations.
When I first saw this ranking, I did a double-take when I realized who was sitting on top of the heap, beating out popular tech brands like Google, Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube, as well as some of my favorite food groups – Cheerios, M&Ms, and Oreos.
In case you're wondering, this year is not an anomaly or a fluke. Last year in the same study, the USPS came in at an impressive 6th place. In 2019, Amazon was top dog, but lost four positions in the ranker this year. So, these aren't sympathy votes from respondents, as most of the kerfuffle about the post office occurred after these surveys were back from the field.
Not surprisingly, there's been some COVID-related movement among certain brands that have stepped up to become more essential and appreciated. Again, the USPS has shown impressive growth from February/March (before the lockdown) to June/July (during the heart of the pandemic).
It's interesting that Netflix isn't among this group, and it was disappointing not to see Lysol. Given the buzz over toilet paper during COVID, it was not a surprise to see Charmin in this “most improved” group.
If there's not a Ries & Trout “law” about the insanity of attacking a much-loved brand, there should be. LeJoy himself has attacked his own agency's “financially unsustainable position” and “broken business model.” Apparently, most Americans don't see it that way.
When brands come under fire, having a lot of “banked love” is essential to warding off attacks. That may be what we're seeing happening right now with the USPS.
We often talk about the late Clay Christensen‘s “job to do” philosophy of brands with the stations and organizations with whom we advise. Yes, USPS's job is to deliver mail and packages every day. But the reason we “hire” them and appreciate them is that they keep us connected – no matter where we live, no matter where we are.
It is much the same way Kodak isn't in the photography business – they are in the “making memories” business. That's their job. Thus, the “Kodak moment.”
It is much the same for USPS with an added dependability factor. They know their role – their “job to be done.”
We all remember fateful trips out to the mailbox to get important news that impact our lives. School acceptances, credit approvals, a letter from an old friend, birthday and anniversary cards and gifts, the results of a medical test, and yes, sometimes tragic news.
In case you were wondering, USPS has a “mission statement” that is the clearest of signs they “get” what it is they're supposed to do. As Christensen would say, it's why we “hire” them:
The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.
It's not just about delivering the mail – it's binding the Nation together.
And it's notable the famous USPS motto – carved above the entrance way at the New York City Post Office on 8th Avenue – isn't attributed to any ad agency or focus groups.
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”
Those words actually come from ancient Persia during that country's war with Greece (500-449 BC). It turns out the Persians cobbled together a system of mail couriers who dependably and courageously delivered correspondence throughout decades of battles. Over time, it became associated with the dependability and dedication of our postal workers.
It's another reminder branding is not just about selling T-shirts and hats, or creating your own beer. It's about making good on the promise of performance, especially during tough times. It about doing your job, consistently – no matter what.
It's the act of forming strong connections with a target audience. In the case of many of our radio stations, it's hundreds, thousands, or even millions of consumers in a local marketplace. With the USPS, the challenge is fulfilling that mission with everyone.
Branding matters, and so does proof of performance. The U.S. Postal System isn't perfect by any means, but most Americans realize the enormity of its task, especially in these difficult times. Like so many other essential workers, postal carriers and those who work in offices around the country do their appointed tasks – no matter what.
Even in a pandemic.
When you mess with the United States Post Office, you mess with all of us.
And you wouldn't want anyone to go postal, would you?
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