Direct Mail Savings are in the Finishing

By on March 16th, 2011

Trish WitkowskiEven though the USPS is struggling, and digital and social media are all the rage, direct mail is seeing renewed interest and technological advancement—for good reason. Printed material in the mailbox, done right, is still the preferred and most effective way to reach a customer. The key to whether or not the opportunity is a wasted one comes down to format and technique. I’ll give you an example:

Recently, I was involved in a collaboration with Sappi Fine Paper. I provided content for their highly acclaimed educational publication series The Standard Volume 4: Scoring & Folding (you can obtain a free copy of the publication by clicking here).

To launch the project, we did a seven-city speaking tour, which included myself and world-famous designer Kit Hinrichs, who was responsible for the design of the piece. Sappi sent out a save the date email blast in each city, which received some response. They followed it up with an exotic “Twist Fold” direct mailpiece in a brightly colored envelope, and the RSVPs skyrocketed the day that piece hit mailboxes. Hundreds showed up at each venue for the events. Print can be powerful.

For this instance, the concept was on target, the design was great, the fold was interesting, and the envelope was attention-grabbing. This was a special piece mailed to a targeted audience and they got the response they were looking for. So, is the moral of the story that you have to spend a lot of money, use a funky fold and an envelope that screams to get good results these days? Of course not. The lesson here is that email alone won’t cut it. Print alone may not cut it, either, but good design and smart decisions along the way can save money, while getting you the response that justifies the expenditure.

Here are a few tips:

  • If you want to use an interesting folding style, go for it—but do your research first. Some folds that are generally hand-folded can in many cases be finished by machine if the quantity is high enough. There are specialty binderies that can do this kind of work. On the flip side, if your quantity is low, the expense of hand folding isn’t a very big deal.
  •  The Sappi piece finished to a square format, which we all know is more expensive from a mailing perspective, but there are many, many interesting folding configurations that can finish to rectangular formats that fit within USPS aspect ratio. Why spend an extra $.20 per piece if you don’t have to? This tip seems like common sense, but I have samples in my folding collection that miss aspect ratio by 1/8 inch. What a careless and costly mistake.
  •  Make sure your list is clean. It sounds obvious, but if your mailing list isn’t current or targeted, then you’re wasting money. The goal should be to spend an appropriate amount of money on a quality piece that is sent to a clean list of targeted customers.  
  • For self-mailing pieces, watch fold placement. If the folds are vertical, the lead edge (the edge to the right of the mailing address) must be closed. Other edges must be closed or tabbed. If the fold is on the horizontal, the fold should be below the mailing address. Also, mailing address should always be parallel to the longest dimension. Defy these rules and you can kiss your ROI goodbye to the tune of an additional $.20 per piece non-machinable surcharge.
  • Utilize as much automation as possible. Ask your printer how you can maximize the efficiency of your direct mail projects. Many have invested in inline finishing equipment that can score, perf, slit, glue and fold inline. Any time you can automate the process, you can save money. And automation doesn’t necessarily mean limited creativity, either. There are some very sophisticated computerized folding machines that can blow through gate folds, stepped accordions, and lots of other interesting configurations. If you’re printing digitally, various forms of customization can be very effective and efficient with some advanced planning. 
  • Don’t forget about the envelope. A great printed piece can be overlooked in a boring envelope. Consider full color printing, personalization, custom windows or pulls—do something to get attention and motivate the recipient. 
  • Spend money to make money. If you’re going to put in the effort and expense to produce and mail a piece, shouldn’t it represent your best efforts? Maybe you saved money with a cheap sheet, a tri-fold format, and a #10 envelope, but if nobody noticed, didn’t you ultimately lose a lot more than you saved? 
  • Lastly, don’t get caught up in gimmicks. It can be tempting to go in the other direction and pull out all the stops, but there must be balance. A really cool folding style with a confusing message will just end up in somebody’s “cool idea file” or maybe even their “circular file.” A successful direct mailer involves many components and those components must work together to send the right message and provoke a call to action. For best results, resist the urge to get sidetracked solely on “wow-factor” and focus on the objectives and the quality presentation of your content.
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2 Responses to “Direct Mail Savings are in the Finishing”

  1. Direct Marketing Case Study Says:

    As any good direct marketer would tell you, testing is the key to a successful direct mail campaign. There are some basic components for testing a lead generation direct mail campaign:
    1. test the list sources
    2. test the offers
    3. test the creative (from paper stocks, to formats, to copy).

  2. Trish Witkowski Says:

    Great point – thank you for adding this valuable tip.