Envelope Creative That Won't Quit
With no apparent trends on the horizon, mailers stick to the tried-and-true outer styles he word on the street is that marketers are starting to test and mail more campaigns. But, somehow, this upswing in mailing activity has not given many marketers the undeniable urge to venture into new waters with respect to envelope creative.
"Overall, mailers are being conservative and not 'pushing the envelope,' so to speak," says Rebecca DePriest, a freelance designer in Nashville, Tenn.
Sticking close to proven creative strategies is a sign that while direct mail budgets are getting larger, marketers still have to plan for reliable results. And it also suggests that the fallout of Sept. 11 and the growing resistance of consumers to marketing pitches has marketers in a sort of creative paralysis.
But the lack of any one or two definitive format trends means progress; it suggests that marketers are matching their creative approach to their product and their audience.
Of the standard outer envelope styles in the mail currently, the following creative approaches are performing well for the companies using them.
People like to feel included, says DePriest, and this desire makes invitation-style mailings work. An invitation also taps into the excitement people feel in anticipation of attending a special event. DePriest has worked on several campaigns for books and continuity programs that leveraged the unusual size and creative styling of an invitation theme.
She notes that invitation-like mailings do not need to feature a blatant "you're invited" message, but should use a gracious or formal tone, depending on the audience.
And, this format works well with either simple type or bold graphics.
DePriest advises marketers to invest in the best paper stock they can afford for mailings with an invitation theme. Just as the stock of a real party invitation conveys the caliber of the event, so does the paper of your invitation-style mailing.
The Big and Sorta Big
Jumbo envelope formats are still throwing their weight around, says Tom Meyer, a freelance copywriter and consultant in St. Petersburg, Fla. who works primarily with clients in the financial services, insurance and publishing sectors. The sheer size of these efforts overpowers everything else in the mailbox.
But not everyone can afford a jumbo package, especially since the postage is higher than for that of envelope packages that mail at letter-size postal rates. Meyer suggests marketers consider the biggest envelope size their printers offer that still qualifies as letter-size mail; you get a larger format with more real estate for copy and graphics, but your costs don't go up quite as much.
A size tactic favored by Philadelphia freelance copywriter Jay Van Wagenen of Van Wagenen Direct is to use the standard format sizes offered by your printer, but select the less popular options, such as a #9, #11 or 5" x 8". You will get the cost savings associated with a standard format, but still stand out in the mailbox.
Meyer also likes to use #9 and #11 envelope sizes to give his financial service and insurance clients a different look from the usual #10 envelope efforts in this sector.
Under the Radar and Working
Meyer boils down his assessment of what envelope formats are working at the moment to two approaches that are exact opposites: stealth and obvious.
In the 1980s and 1990s, before mailboxes and inboxes became stuffed to the gills with direct mail, marketers succeeded with benefit-oriented copy on outers, Meyer asserts. Now, direct mail practices have evolved, so that everyone's benefit-oriented copy reads the same. "Unless you have some unique, revolutionary feature or benefit, it's too risky [to use this approach]," Meyer explains.
For this reason, he prefers a "stealth" creative style for his clients' efforts. This includes techniques such as blind outers, the use of bar codes and important-sounding copy teasers to give the impression of an official notice. Or, marketers could incorporate any creative element that helps the package look like personal correspondence.
But don't confuse stealth with the use of only white and Kraft paper outers. One of Meyer's favorite tricks is to use a red paper stock on an outer that will feature little to no copy. The color is eye-catching, and the lack of messaging stops people who cannot easily guess what might be inside.
Nothing Up Your Sleeve
The flip side of being stealthy with your outer envelopes is to be blatant with your copy and graphics so recipients know the offer inside is just for them.
Van Wagenen's experience in the publishing and continuity sectors is that outers that are personally inviting to recipients pull the best response. To get this effect, she likes to use a good deal of copy on the outer that helps the recipient identify with the personality of the product.
If the mailing includes a freemium or offers a premium with response or payment, Van Wagenen steers clear of vague references, such as "free gift inside." People might remember the last "free gift" they were promised turned out to be nothing they wanted, so she finds it's more effective to be specific about the freemium or premium being used.
Meyer adds that the increase in vertical lists allows marketers to be more targeted in their use of graphics and copy on outers, resulting in campaigns that audiences perceive to be more relevant to their needs.
Ring That Bell, Blow That Whistle
You might be tired to death of stickers and die-cuts, but Van Wagenen finds that these direct mail staples never stop working.
In fact, she says she's uncomfortable not using a reply sticker in any campaigns she creates for her clients.
"I think it's important to make mail fun and interesting for recipients," she explains, "so it's a perk in the middle of their dreary day. I'd rather do that than be stealthy and try to sneak past them."
Van Wagenen's favorite direct mail hot spots for response stickers are the front of the outer envelope, or on the order card or letter so that it shows through a die-cut window on the front or back of the outer.
Multiple die-cut windows on an envelope is another technique popping up in various direct mail efforts these days. It's been spotted in all sectors, but seems to be most popular with insurance companies and financial service firms.
These extra openings on the outer are used to emphasize information printed on the letter or order form inside; some are very little windows that spotlight official-looking codes or reply-by dates, and others feature lasered messages or graphics that are personalized for each recipient.
It's a great way to get the effect of personalization without having to spend more money on a match mailing.
Van Wagenen reports that she's seen a few direct mail campaigns that employed unusual die cuts to tease the inside contents. For example, Capital One has been dropping an outer envelope fashioned out of imitation Kraft paper that features a series of small circles cut out across the middle of the top of the envelope; the graphic from the letter underneath is visible, but not discernible. Van Wagenen thinks this kind of envelope treatment offers a new way to create excitement in a sea of similar direct mail packages.
On the Cutting Edge ... or Falling Off?
When pressed to produce a few possible new trends on the horizon, DePriest mentioned seeing more vellum envelopes recently. The see-through carriers were more prominent right after the anthrax scare, and then faded away. DePriest finds that printed vellum is especially dramatic, since marketers can feature a message on the vellum but also show the design of the elements just inside the envelope.
Two other substrates making the occasional appearance in consumer direct mail efforts are thick, printed poly and its shinier cousin mylar. Both were more popular during the dot-com boom, when online firms would try just about anything funky for direct mail efforts.
For mailers that are considering just how long they want to stay in the safe zone with their outer envelopes, DePriest points out that this is an election year. The volume of political fundraising mail will be increasing month by month until November 2.
If your direct mail campaigns for the fall aren't already in the can, think carefully about how your creative can get through the clutter.