Direct-Mail Primer: How to Get Your Envelope Opened
“To the Order of ,” cries one envelope. “To be opened by Addressee only,” cries another. “Personal information,” peeps through the window of yet another.
Direct mail — or junk mail, as most of us call it — has grown into an industry that generates more than $350 billion a year in sales and hits Americans with an average of 1.7 pieces of mail every day.
Just the volume of mail alone has made consumers less receptive to it, and mailers are finding it difficult to make sure their pieces get opened. So they're going to new lengths of creativity to gain attention. And much of this creativity has moved from the copy to the outer envelope or carrier itself.
Does it surprise you that 75 percent of all direct mail you receive ends up in the trash can … unopened? Think about that for a moment. What mail do you actually open when you get home at the end of the day? And why do you open it?
Then think about what your own organization sends out in the mail. How do you know yours isn’t being tossed in the circular file? What are you doing to give your mail piece enough needed impact so it gets opened? And what type of impact does it actually take to get opened?
There are actually two reasons why your letter won’t produce results for you:
- It doesn’t get read.
- It never gets delivered.
Consider the mail process and these figures. When sending a letter via bulk rate, meaning you do a lot of the work to get a discount in postage, one out of three pieces is not delivered. The USPS figures 66 percent of all bulk mail is delivered.
Even when you mail is deivered, it's read over a trash basket, then put in priority piles. Of the 66 percent delivered, 75 percent is thrown out because it looks unimpressive. This leaves 16.5 percent left to read.
Don’t get me wrong: Direct mail is a great tool. One of the greatest innovators of direct mail, Richard Viguerie, once said, “Direct mail is like a water moccasin — silent, but deadly.”
Three of my favorite reasons for using direct mail are 1) you choose who you reach, unlike TV and radio; 2) you control the message — it is not filtered by the press or face-to-face conversation; and 3) results are measured more accurately.
I spend a lot of time creating a mail piece. I consider it a work of art not unlike a painting. I’ve learned over the years to put a great deal of effort into the carrier envelope. It’s initially what the reader sees when it’s pulled out of the mailbox or is laying on the kitchen counter.
Pique their curiosity with your envelope. As a direct-mail writer, you’re in the business of competing for the reader's attention. Color and size are the most basic ways to get it. Here are some ideas that will liven up your carrier.
Mix up your standard carrier
If you’ve used a No. 10 in the past, try using a 6-inch-by-9-inch, 6-inch-by-10-inch or even a 9-inch-by-12-inch. I’ve found that 9-inch-by-12-inch envelopes are getting opened and responded to much better than the standard envelope. Why? They stand out from the crowd. They do what the other pieces of mail in your mailbox don’t do.
The “brown kraft” envelope is still a good choice to use. Because of its deep yellowish color, it conveys importance and officialdom, as it’s akin to a government delivery.
Remember who your audience is
The average donor responding to direct mail is older than 55. If your audience is a conservative mature consumer, you’re probably not going to want to use a hot-pink or strong-color carrier envelope. On the other hand, this might work great if you’re mailing the 20-something crowd.
Direct-mail designers follow trends with the color they use
They test one color against another with the same mailing, just to see if a purple carrier gets better response than a brown kraft. Fifty percent of the list gets a brown kraft and 50 percents get a purple carrier.
But you can use a test of your own. Watch your mailbox for the next 30 days for colored envelopes. If you see a certain color being mailed to you on a rather consistent basis, it probably means it’s working for the pros in direct-mail houses. It might be worth you trying yourself.
Postage is another way to give impact to the carrier
First Class is always preferable and will always get better returns. I’ve done mailings that have three commemorative stamps on the carrier and then four more on the reply envelope. It conveys a personal touch — like one letter being written to one friend, not 10,000 — and it always gets better response.
What if you just can’t afford First Class? Easy … make it look First Class. I’m currently mail-shopping an eight-page letter with a carrier envelope that has two First Class stamps on it, adding up to 5 cents. It’s then sent through ink-jets and given a cancellation mark over the stamps. The package would have cost $1.22 going First Class, but we spent less than 20 cents sending it bulk. It’s getting a bulk price and a First Class look at the same time.
Another recent trend is to use a faux stamp with a bulk stamp. You can have a stamp made to order and have your association’s emblem on it, a logo, even your photograph. Of course it carries no monetary worth to the post office, but it gives your carrier envelope that First Class, highly personal look that makes it stand out in the big pile of mail on the countertop.
Believe it or not, fonts play an important role in whether a carrier is opened. I use Courier New 12 point on most of my carriers. It’s easy to read, and it conveys simplicity and a high degree of personalization. How do I know this? I test the fonts, dividing half my mailing list into two groups. One half gets courier; the other gets Times Roman. May the best package win.
Take it a step further though in personalization
Computerized printing technology makes it possible to make addresses and letters look handwritten when they are not. You now can have your own handwriting printed out via laser or ink-jet in various colors.
So to take your mail to the next level in getting it opened, try dressing up the carrier. People judge you by your outer appearance before they get to know what’s on the inside. Why whouldn’t they judge your mail the same way? Try making it look friendly and highly personal, like you’re sending one letter to a really good friend.