Explore Your Postage Options
Postage can do more than just get your mail delivered. Your mailbox tells the story. Most direct mail bears ho-hum, routine-looking postage, whether it’s a stamp, metered postage or a preprinted indicia.
Sure, it does its job. It gets the mail piece delivered. But if you’re the direct marketer paying for the postage, you also should consider how to make your postage investment work harder to:
- make your mail piece stand out from the rest of the stack;
- make it look important and valuable enough to get past the mail screener; and
- get it opened and read, instead of tossed in the trash.
In some cases, the cheapest postage may not be the most effective for achieving your response goals. Of course, the choices you have depend on factors such as mailing quantities, but even the preprinted indicia used on mass mailings need not look the same. There are opportunities to be creative, with the goal of increasing response. When you do get creative, make sure to get USPS approval at the design stage … not when you’re about to drop a mailing.
Here are some ideas to help you. Remember, you only have a few seconds to capture the attention of your reader, so all elements of the mail piece need to work together.
While the current choice of precancelled stamp designs for large First Class and Standard mailings is limited, you do have a choice.
For Presorted First Class, you can choose between the American Eagle or all-American Diner designs. For Presorted Standard/bulk mail, you have the choice of the New York Public Library Lion or Atlas Rockefeller Center.
What should influence your decision? It could be the color of your outer envelope, the content of your offer, or a thematic link between your company and the stamp design. Think about how to use the postage in conjunction with the address, return address, teaser copy, envelope color, etc., to make the mailing look important, valuable and interesting to your audience.
For example, the New York Public Library Lion stamp is a natural choice for a bulk rate book-related mailing. Or for special mailings, you may choose not to use precancelled stamps. For example, you may want to invest in the 37-cent, First Class Happy Birthday stamp to send birthday cards to clients and customers, or for the announcement of a birthday or anniversary sale.
If you discover spending more on a stamp is a better investment in generating response than saving money with metering or a pre-printed indicia, test using multiple stamps that equal the required postage. This makes your mailing look “hand done.” It also gives you the opportunity to look for a specific stamp design (any denomination) that supports your creative strategy … then add other stamps to meet postage requirements.
Metered postage is another option. While it doesn’t look as personal as individually applied stamps, it’s less expensive. It’s widely used for B-to-B mailings, as well as some B-to-C. You need to decide whether metered postage is appropriate for the appearance and content of your mailing, as well as for your budget.
For example, if the mailing is hand-addressed, metered postage would diminish the personal appearance of the handwritten name and address. Instead, use a stamp. Metered postage also looks inappropriate on an invitation or greeting card envelope, even if it’s computer-addressed. In this case, the postage is an instant tip-off that the mailing isn’t as personal as it first appears, and it may not move to the top of the stack to be opened.
Most mailers using metered postage apply one of the standard designs available from the six USPS-authorized meter providers. However, you have some leeway to create your own, special “slug.” It can include a symbol, such as your logo, as well as brief copy, such as a branding message.
A preprinted indicia can be a big, red flag that says, “This is bulk/advertising mail!” In some cases, that doesn’t matter and won’t affect response. But if you’re concerned a preprinted indicia looks too cold or impersonal for your mailing, you have choices. A preprinted indicia doesn’t have to be a small, square box with type in it.
For example, the indicia used by BlueCross BlueShield is embossed to create the illusion of a stamp’s perforated edges. And because tests show that mail with metered postage outpulls mail with a preprinted indicia, you should try designing your indicia to look similar to metering.
A Sierra Club mailing combines the cost-savings of a preprinted indicia with the look of metering—plus the impact of stamps. In this case, the stamps actually are stickers that have nothing to do with the postage, yet they appear as if they do. All this, coupled with the appearance of hand-addressing, makes the recipient want to believe this is a very personal and individualized mail piece. Because of the added cost of the stickers, I’m certain this was tested against other packages to see if the response generated outweighed the additional cost.
My special thanks to Lee Ingram and Doug King with the U.S. Postal Service for their help in writing this column.
A list of resources to help you further explore your postage options:
U.S. Postal Service:
- to order stamps online or for additional information;
- (800) 782-6724 for a free stamp catalog or to order stamps by phone;
- your local postmaster to special order stamps or request help;
- the district marketing department (ask your postmaster for a phone number);
- a mail piece design analyst for assistance designing mailings that fit your creative strategy as well as USPS postal requirements; and
- USPS Philatelic centers located at main post offices in major cities.
Your Local Lettershop:
- ask for its postal expert.
USPS-authorized Metered Postage Providers:
- Hasler Inc., (800) 243-6275;
- Francotyp-Postalia Inc., (800) 341-6052;
- Neopost, (800) 624-7892;
- Pitney Bowes Inc., (800) 322-8000;
- PSI Systems Envelope Manager, (800) 576-3279; and
- Stamps.com, www.stamps.com.