Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An interview with the Director of Marketing of Zumbox, the new promise for paperless mail

If you didn't hear yet about Zumbox, you need to recheck your news resources.

In the last couple of weeks you hear about them everywhere - from an announcement on two new clients: the cities of San Francisco and Newark (NJ) that will start using their web-based mail delivery system to an announcement on a partnership with New York City for Five Borough Pilot Program.

So what is exactly Zumbox? according to their website "Zumbox delivers paperless mail online – from street address to street address. What used to only be sent as paper mail can now be sent without the paper. How? We’ve created a nationwide paperless postal system with a Zumbox for every street address in the United States, including yours."

Well, it sounds very promising, but paperless mail is just like the paperless office - something we believed for many years to be just around the corner but somehow it never happened. Their success to partner with cities like New York and San Francisco showed skeptics that these guys shouldn't be ignored, but will Zumbox succeed in making an impossible mission possible? Will they revolutionize the mail system?

I decided that I need to learn more about Zumbox (still, we're talking about saving paper and trees here..) and asked their Director of Marketing, Joergen Aaboe, to answer couple of questions on our blog and tell us all about the new promise of paperless mail.

Hello Joergen. Firstly, where does the name Zumbox come from?

As far as I know, Zumbox is actually just a made-up name. Having said that, there has been a lot of speculation on this topic. Some ask if “zum” refers to the German preposition, while others wonder if it’s some sort of play on the word zoom. Sadly, we may never know the real meaning or origin of the name.

What is the main added value of Zumbox for businesses and organizations in comparison with the traditional option of sending emails instead of mail?

What we have learned from several of the organizations we have been talking to is that they are truly struggling to get the email addresses of their customers and supporters. In fact, many businesses have email addresses for less than 10 percent of their customers. But these companies already have the street addresses of their customers on file, which means they can start sending paperless mail via Zumbox immediately, as we have created a Zumbox (a digital mailbox) for every street address in the U.S.

Another key value is that Zumbox is a closed system with bank-level security that allows businesses to send sensitive mail like bills directly to their customers. As we all know, with email we simply get a message that lets us know we can view a bill at another website where we have to log in with a separate username and password, but Zumbox offers the security required for all sorts of transactional mail and other sensitive information to be delivered directly to a recipient’s Zumbox.

What will be the incentives for people to adopt Zumbox?

We’ll see the value of Zumbox to people evolve over time as more organizations start sending mail and as we develop the product further, but the most immediate value we offer is the opportunity to join this paperless movement. Through our campaign – Paperless Please ( – people can, among other things, request paperless mail delivery from several of the largest mail senders in the U.S. It’s a way for everyone – people, businesses, non-profit organizations and government – to get involved in the conversation about paperless mail and our corresponding preferences.

Control, and the ability to manage a transition from paper to paperless mail, is a key part of the value Zumbox offers both businesses and individuals who want to make that transition. And now that paperless mail is being delivered, people who claim their Zumbox will start experiencing the convenience of accessing their mail from anywhere and anytime, practically speaking.

Are you planning to have a rewards program similar to RecycleBank's one in the future?

We’re not planning to offer points for using Zumbox. Instead, we’re focusing our efforts on continuously enhancing the user experience through our relationships with third party mail senders and content providers as well as the development of new features within Zumbox. While reducing paper waste is a key goal for us, we want that to only represent one of many benefits associated with Zumbox.

In the cities where we’ve now launched – San Francisco, New York and Newark – mail is currently being sent from the local governments and other organizations, giving people there the ability to start receiving, organizing and storing their mail online. We’re essentially offering everybody a paperless mail option that’s convenient, secure and environmentally responsible.

What's your comment on the findings presented on the New York Times by Prof. Randall Stross about the effectiveness of using the stick approach to converting customers to paperless billing?

Well, I think that was a very interesting piece, as it underlined the challenge faced by most billers. Incentivizing people to go paperless has not really moved the needle, but apparently a company can get people to convert faster when a paper bill fee is introduced. However, the stick approach doesn’t always stick (pardon the pun). And as the article points out, T-Mobile had to quickly respond to pressure by putting an end to the paper bill fee, and the company has since gone back to the carrot approach or simply the voluntary approach.

But the real issue here is that the voluntary approach does not work for a reason. Current paperless options are just not cutting it for most people. The notifications that are sent via email typically only include a link to the bill, and having to go to different websites and keep track of numerous usernames and passwords just to view bills is highly inconvenient.

Personally, I think people would respond better to the idea of going paperless if there was a better way to go paperless. With Zumbox we’ve created a secure environment where bills and statements (and all other mail) can be sent as digital files and presented online exactly like they appear on paper. In that way, Zumbox mirrors the experience of receiving paper mail; the bill is actually delivered to a customer and appears the way we’re all used to seeing it, only without the paper.

While the stick approach may work temporarily for some, I believe the real solution to the challenge of getting people to go paperless is to create a better option than what has been pushed on people up until this point, which is a big part of what we’re trying to do.

What's the percentage of paper mail you think you can eliminate with Zumbox?

We have not done any calculations on this.

How do you see junk mail? Will you provide businesses sending it to use Zumbox instead?

First of all, we define junk mail as irrelevant mail, and we have built our system to increase the relevance and reduce the waste associated with paper mail. Having said that, Zumbox is an agnostic delivery platform, which means we offer all mail senders, including marketers, the ability to send paperless mail.

But Zumbox offers a unique kind of control that lets recipients decide what mail they want to receive. Specifically, if you receive a special offer in your Zumbox from a business you do not care for, you can permanently block that mail sender so we will ultimately only receive the offers that are relevant to us.

What is your plan - are you going to focus in the short-term on collaborations with municipalities (such as San Francisco and Newark) to get people use Zumbox and then move over to the business sector?

After a successful pilot in a smaller market earlier this year, we started the first stage of our national rollout in September, with San Francisco and Newark being the first cities. Over the next weeks and months, we will announce other cities that will be a part of this stage of our rollout, and the municipalities themselves will be involved in most cases.

Simultaneously though, we are talking to several national businesses and non-profit organizations about sending paperless mail to their customers and supporters in these markets, and we are also inviting local businesses and other organizations to participate. The goal is to create eco-systems, if you will, in the rollout markets so there are enough senders and recipients of paperless mail to make it meaningful for both sides.

Meanwhile, Zumbox is already available nationwide so anybody can start using the service right now.

What is the required penetration rate of Zumbox to make it work?

I’m not sure there is a general penetration rate required for Zumbox because these eco-systems can be created anywhere, all with different levels of participation. For instance, a community may embrace the service even if there are only a few critical mail senders initially, and most businesses will find Zumbox meaningful as long as they can start reducing their paper usage and the cost associated with that.

What will happen with USPS if you guys win?

While Zumbox is the first paperless postal system and clearly the first all-digital alternative to traditional postal systems, it is not the first competitor the USPS has ever seen. FedEx, for instance, started offering speedier delivery, but the Postal Service still offered a valuable service. Our service obviously represents a more dramatic shift, as we offer digital delivery, but we do not aim to replace the Postal Service and we certainly do not expect to do that. All we want to do is offer people a paperless alternative. We expect the world to be big enough for both paper and paperless mail.

Thank you Joergen!


Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: promoting sustainable reading!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope this takes off! GREAT!