The term mailstream was coined in the late 20th century to recognize the emerging industry that combined business insight, customer engagement, document workflow and mail production.
Today, the Mailstream is defined as the physical and digital mail, documents and packages, that flow across organizations to their customers and back. It encompasses people, technology and processes from document creation to production, distribution and management. Industry leaders estimate that the mailstream represents a $900 Billion global category. 
The term takes a broad perspective on the mailing process as part of the interconnected media mix marketers, businesses and governments use to reach customers. The process of using targeted mailings lists, printing, inserting into envelopes and mailing communications involves several information systems.
- Customer Intelligence involves leveraging high-quality customer data, including up-to-date address information, demographics and preferences as well as past buying behaviors.
- Production Intelligence integrates this customer data in a production environment, while linking print and mail operations in ways that improve control, integrity and efficiency.
- Channel Intelligence helps deliver this content consistently across all channels using electronic document management and enterprise content management technologies.
Print mail – postcards, letters, catalogues or brochures – drives consumers and business professionals to corporate and retail Web sites. A particularly effective medium for direct marketers is called transactional mail. Financial statements, mortgage bills, credit card statements, insurance premium statements and even driver’s license renewal forms arrive in homes with useful information. Advertising and promotions included in transactional mail a discipline known as TransPromo, are particularly effective in driving consumer behavior.
The term mailstream recognizes the evolution of mail in the Internet-era. Correspondence mail - postcards, personal letters and telegrams - has been on the decline as it has been replaced largely by e-mail. However, direct mail and catalogue volumes have increased as online retailers use market data to target customers who often visit their sites or have specific tendencies. As an example, customers living in warmer climates are more likely to purchase air conditioners in the summer. Businesses track when customers are most likely to make certain purchases, and communicate with their customers accordingly through direct marketing. When businesses leverage this intelligence by synching their communications with customer data, they are optimizing their mailstream.
Internet shopping has also led to a growth in parcel shipping, and today a host of products including prescription drugs and DVDs reach their intended recipients via the mailstream.
Innovations in the Mailstream
In recent years, new applications and technologies are making the mailstream more valuable to companies and government agencies.
Location intelligence combines geographic- and location-related data with other business data, so organizations can gain critical insights, make better decisions and optimize important processes and applications. 
Postal voting applications increase voter participation and strengthen voter confidence in a growing number of states. New technologies, including the Pitney Bowes Relia-VoteTM Mail Balloting Solution, offer integrity across three distinct processes: voter file preparation, outbound ballot assembly and inbound mail ballot processing.
Personalized postage offers consumers and businesses an easy way to add a personal touch to physical mail by designing customized stamps that include photos and logos.
Eco-friendly solutions are also addressing consumers concerns about mail and the environment, including consumer education, reducing undeliverable mail, recycling and reforesting, creating more targeted mailpieces and reducing CO2 emissions.
- ^ http://news.pb.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=3847-Pitney Bowes/Harris Interactive Study – Newswire December 5, 2005.
- ^ http://www.intelligententerprise.com-Ventana Research. Geographical Context Spurs Innovation.
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