A Format for Every Message (1,036 words)
by Hallie Mummert
Everybody knows that, excluding the more fixed components of audience and product, it's the offer that drives response in a direct mail campaign. But how you present that offer is crucial to getting prospects and customers to respond, by making a purchase, sending for more information, filling out a survey, etc.
For this reason, formats and offers must work hand in hand to provide the right level of information and promotion to motivate people. Review the following round-up of formats—some old, some new—to see if any of them might work for your next offer.
And of course, as always, test!
The most common format used for direct mail offers, the #10 envelope package is also the standard form for most types of communication. These efforts can pass for personal, business or official correspondence, or accommodate graphics and type for a more promotional approach.
6˝ x 9˝ & 6˝ x 11˝ Envelopes
These two formats stand out in a sea of #10 envelope efforts, and provide more room on the outer envelope ("outer") for graphics, teaser copy, windows, etc. Their size also lets you insert larger elements, such as complex brochures and freemiums. The 6˝ x 11˝ size is a good choice when you have an image or design that needs a lot of horizontal room.
9˝ x 12˝ Envelope
The king of the jumbos, this format relies on sheer size to overpower other mailings. While the larger outer envelope offers plenty of room for dynamic images and copy, many users prefer the official or business-like look that a plain, kraft outer imparts.
The double postcard is a highly economical mailing that is all about the quick hit. It works best for well-known products that need little explanation and for offers that require only a yes/no response, i.e., free trial, complimentary issue, free information kit, etc.
This smaller envelope size conveys a personal feel, as it approximates the dimensions of most stationery. This format is used for billing statements, renewals, gift subscriptions, professional discount offers and fund-raising solicitations.
This format follows the same concept as the #10 envelope package, but the larger size gives it a different look. A #11 envelope mailing is particularly suited for efforts where 81⁄2˝ x 14˝ sheets are used, like long surveys or forms with a coupon or the order form attached to the bottom. Also consider the #9 envelope, which is slightly smaller than a #10.
This self-mailer is a cross between a magazine and a direct mail package; the most popular sizes are 81⁄2˝ x 11˝ and tabloid. Magalogs are good for products and services with complex features and benefits that require more selling copy. They also offer a longer shelf-life than the average direct mail package, as they tend to get stacked with the recipient's other periodicals for leisurely review.
Boardroom Reports and Rodale Inc. have successfully mailed tabloid-size magalogs for the past two years for continuity book programs and single-shot offers.
In the same vein as the magalog, bookalogs can be small paperback books that report on a specific subject, such as arthritis research and medical remedies, or they can be half content and half promotional copy, selling prospects on both the "sizzle" and the "steak." They are used primarily by magazine, book and newsletter publishers.
Double Postcard Billboards
To give the double postcard more selling space, larger postcards were introduced as the carrier. They started out as 81⁄2˝ x 11˝ and migrated to 6˝ x 9˝ and 6˝ x 11˝ sizes. Some mailers have innovated further by inserting planting seeds and business reply envelopes behind the double postcard in the acetate pocket.
Another extremely cost-effective format, a snap pack is a self-mailer with its contents sandwiched inside two panels that are sealed with perforation strips. It can be made more inexpensive by using the reply envelope as the back panel of the form. Snap packs are easily personalized and can mimic official mail when the outer is devoid of graphics or copy.
The New Generation
Postcards with Peel-off Cards
These self-mailers give marketers a neat way to add life to the cheap postcard; the cards are part of a plastic-coated paper panel in the card. They're great for membership mailings, retail traffic builders and loyalty efforts.
Envelopes with On-pack Attachments
This format draws attention to a specific promotion, important benefits or a premium with a smaller envelope or pull-strip pocket that is affixed to the front of a larger envelope. The extra element adds expense, but the boost in response should make up for it.
Inline printing allows you to print graphics and type on the inside of a larger envelope with no side seams that can be pulled open to reveal the message. The envelope functions as the carrier and the brochure. Time-Life has used this format for several continuity book lines.
Poly Wraps and Foil Wraps
Ever since the U.S. Postal Service approved poly outers for automation discount rates, packages have been showing up with snazzier outers. Marketers have dressed up single and double postcards with foil or clear outers and enclosed the components from their regular packages in a poly wrap. It's a great way to breathe new life into a flagging control.
For example, Hosiery Corp. of America camouflaged its long-term double postcard control for its Silkies pantyhose product in a silver foil polybag.
Starting at 4˝ x 6˝ and going even smaller, these efforts tend to look like invitations. They work because of their oddball size and because they look so unlike any other package in your mailbox that they seem personal; in fact, many are personalized.
Mini-mailers are used by book clubs, business-to-business marketers and fund-raisers.
Online service providers mailing CDs to prospects brought cardboard carriers into the mainstream, but others have tested solo campaigns with the sturdier material. A box mailing commands attention, but it also carries a hefty price.
Hallie Mummert is editor of Inside Direct Mail, a monthly newsletter providing research and analysis on proven techniques and new trends that shape direct mail campaigns. She can be reached at (215) 238-5437.