Editor's Notes: The Year of 2008
Every month I personally sort through more than 1,000 pieces of mail in the Who's Mailing What! Archive, and some trends definitely are visible over the past six months to a year. Some are positive for the direct mail industry, but, of course, many are negative as well. After all, one year ago, the mortgage crisis was just starting to cause a ripple effect in the economy at large. Well, now we have a full-fledged tsunami on our hands, with failing banks, shrinking 401Ks and a volatile stock market. All of this affects direct mail and response rates. So, along with higher postal increase and production costs, 2008 was a year to remember.
First, not surprisingly, volume is down. Many companies and nonprofits are mailing less, and some are using more integrated marketing approaches with e-mail to lower costs.
Second, size is down. Again, this is not surprising, considering the postage increases that mailers have had forced up on them within the last year or two. The days, for example, of the so-called "lumpy package" are gone. If a flat is not machinable, then most nonprofits—which used such packages the most—are going with new formats. The dimensions are equally down, with the numerous postal incentives to having smaller efforts. Again, in the nonprofit arena, the heavy freemium packages with gift cards and calendars are also way down as a result.
Smaller, slimmer packages has meant shorter letters, often going from a four-pager to a two-pager, for example. It's more common to see less real "writing" in packages, and instead bulletized copy is given on a one-page letter, with a reply form that's perfed to the bottom, for example.
Third, meanwhile, many other elements may be employed in these smaller, slimmer packages. On that one-page letter, you're more likely to see a URL call to action, or even a pURL, to collect e-mail addresses and broaden the customer relationship. Johnson boxes are still common, as are premium offers, the P.S. note and use of bolding and underlining. Sometimes details about a product, magazine, nonprofit, etc., end up getting taken out of the black-and-white letter and are put into the four-color universe of the brochure.
Fourth, there's been a slow growth in the self-mailer department. For example, even a scattering of nonprofits have gone where no nonprofit has gone before: the self-mailer. This means a greatly truncated message, of course, but much more color and the push for multiple ways to respond make this an appealing format for some groups.
Fifth, there's also been a slow growth in personalization, in everything from #10 packages to postcards to oversize, in-line produced efforts. These efforts are more personalized on the outer along with variable imagery that may work for the prospect, and then inside you're more likely to see more skillful personalization than in years past when the prospect's name, sometimes misspelled, was simply repeated too many times.
Sixth, in the last year I've witnessed an evolution of the outer, with more one-color outers in order to stand out in the mail to all the white. Whether it's all black or ING-popular orange or yellow, you're just more likely to see one strong shade of color. The back of the envelope also is getting increased use for key copy and imagery, and sometimes a window is put there rather than the addressed side to entice the prospect with what's inside.