Creating a Direct Effect™ at the U.S. Postal Service


The United States Postal Service is the only delivery service that reaches every address in the nation: 160 million residences, businesses and Post Office Boxes.

With more than 34,000 retail locations, 600,000 employees, and one of the most frequently visited websites in the federal government, the Postal Service delivers 48 percent of the world’s mail and has one of the world’s largest computer networks.


As technology and industry standards change, the Postal Service has sought to position itself as a service that customers value in a digital economy. However, with the migration to digital marketing and its ability to quantify and track customer interactions, mail is often perceived as an outdated marketing mechanism. As a result, the study of direct mail in undergraduate marketing curriculum has taken a backburner to digital tactics.

To capitalize on the Postal Service’s modernized vision and new tools it has developed to close the digital divide, USPS launched a task force in 2017 to create an academic program to bring the value of direct mail to the forefront of marketing classrooms across the country. Together with partners in academia and industry, USPS created a modular curriculum designed to teach integrated direct marketing to undergraduates, with mail as a key channel working hand-in-hand with digital.

With the curriculum materials established, USPS retained Throughline to recruit faculty in marketing, business, entrepreneurship and design programs to engage them in the coursework. To do so, Throughline engaged USPS in a comprehensive program branding process, new communications and outreach efforts, and an ambitious suite of multidimensional live events that engaged not only faculty, but students, industry partners, and businesses in demonstrating the value of mail in integrated marketing.

Brand Strategy and Creation

Mail is a direct-to-consumer marketing approach. Together with the Postal Service, we co-created the curriculum’s brand name, Direct Effect, to further promote direct mail’s tangible and memorable effect on consumers.

After asking the right questions, understanding the audience and rounds of creative exploration, Throughline created a Direct Effect visual identity that both captures its relationship with USPS and allows it to operate as a distinct entity: a collaborative, public service partnership among the Postal Service, academia, and industry.

Integrated Educational Experiences

With the brand in place, our aspirations for a more interactive and educational experience led us to the idea of creating a series of day-long innovation "hackathon" events. This concept evolved into what is now known as the Direct Effect Innovation Challenge.

Delivered in an intensive, day-long format, the Innovation Challenges pilot the university-level course to groups of students and faculty from multiple colleges, engage local businesses and non-profits as live-clients, and facilitate direct interactions between the Direct Effect team and its target audience.


Thousands of students across the country have experienced the Postal Service’s curriculum and the power direct mail brings to the integrated marketing mix. Nearly 100 colleges and universities are now using the co-created curriculum content in their courses. Seven colleges have incorporated the content into a total of 15 courses. 22 Colleges have committed to adopting parts of the content into over 34 courses , and we continue to pursue others.

Since the Direct Effect curriculum officially launched in 2018, it has created an insurmountable buzz around direct mail for marketing students. The most notable lesson learned is how the program creates job opportunities for graduates. Hiring happens almost every day of the year, across the country, in the printing, marketing, and direct mail industry. This is a critical proof point supporting use of the curriculum content. 

Direct Effect Innovation Challenges

Teams of college students design and develop resume-worthy, multichannel marketing campaigns in response to real business cases. Innovation Challenges give a compressed, real-world experience in direct mail marketing design and implementation, skills that, according to a 2018 nationwide survey of Postal Customer Council® (PCC) community, 75 percent of industry employers say they want new hires to have but are difficult for students to obtain in regular academic environments. Innovation Challenges provide an engaging pathway to recruit new schools to use the Direct Effect curriculum and allow students and faculty to experience it firsthand.

University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Bell Direct Effect Innovation Challenge

Adapting to COVID-19 with a Webinar Series

To adapt to social distancing and remote learning brought on by COVID-19, we co-created a 14-week webinar series to further promote the influence of direct mail in integrated marketing efforts. The Direct Effect team recruited a distinguished crop of guest presenters from academia and industry to discuss best practices, new technologies, strategies, opportunities, and results around modern integrated direct marketing. We also adapted key content and lectures from the series to integrate into the curriculum, providing lasting benefit for the program, faculty, and students.

"You helped our program and the U.S. Postal Service look and be more agile. We could not do this without you."

-Heather Snead, Director, Direct Effect®, U.S. Postal Service

Training & Learning
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