Envelope Manufacuters Association’s Tonya Muse on Envelopes
Copywriting legend Herschell Gordon Lewis has said that envelopes serve two purposes: to get themselves opened and to keep their contents from “spilling out onto the streets.” While sound production makes the latter a simple goal, the former poses a more formidable challenge. Understanding this, Alexandria, Va.-based trade association Envelope Manufacturers Association (EMA) and its nonprofit research arm, the EMA Foundation, set out in late 2005 to conduct a study that would offer some insight into how people view and relate to envelopes.
Since I know you love envelopes—in 2005, 63 percent of efforts received by the Who’s Mailing What! Archive were envelope packages—I thought it would be interesting to talk with Tonya Muse, senior vice president of the EMA and executive director of the EMA Foundation, about some of the study’s findings. Here, she reflects on the important role personalization plays in that vital first impression, the impact gender and race have on what a prospect looks for in an envelope, and where she sees envelopes headed.
TG: What did the study determine were the most effective tactics for getting an envelope opened?
TM: We found the name of the sender and return address is the number one reason why people pay attention to an envelope and look inside. Another effective tactic is personalization. People are more inclined to open an envelope when there is some kind of personal element to it, especially if it’s handwritten or has a postage stamp; people seem to respond to elements that exude a personal touch. Also, when mailers personalize their envelopes to a hobby. For example, if we know that someone is an avid book reader and the text on [the envelope] keys into that, that will capture their attention. People also are definitely more inclined to read print if it has color, if it’s vivid and if it’s an odd shape, not just the typical #10 or 9˝ x 12˝ mailer. What the study found, beyond just the linear personalization, is the importance of how envelopes personally engage someone. Maybe it’s packaged in such a way that is a little mysterious, or it’s distinctive in the shape or the texture. How the envelope personally engages the recipient and evokes emotion has a lot to do with [its] ability to get opened.
TG: The study breaks out results by cohorts, including gender and race. Can you speak to some of the differences you saw?
TM: What we found that was very interesting is how women respond to envelope personalization. This keys into research done by the U.S. Postal Service in its Mail Moment study. USPS designated the “household mail CEO” and in most instances, that is a woman. Not surprisingly, when it comes to envelope personalization and the criteria we talked about before—the sender’s name, whether or not it’s hand-addressed, if there’s a real postage stamp—women in particular respond to these kinds of personalization. If women are primarily the mail CEOs in their household, then it would behoove mailers to really pay attention to how to personalize envelopes.
Another interesting thing we saw is that direct mail is an important call to action for people of color. Also, when you look at whether or not something is marked special delivery, that resonates more with African-Americans than Hispanics and Caucasians. Caucasians are more likely to respond to hand-addressing and real postage stamps, while African-Americans and Hispanics respond more to the way a piece is designed, including color, size and shape. Hispanics are more likely to open an envelope that offers protection for its contents, such as padding.
We see some stronger pulls on certain elements among certain groups, but we feel pretty strongly that all consumers respond to personalization.
TG: Where do you plan to take your research next?
TM: What this study confirmed is what we already suspected. It just gave us a quantitative way to confirm it. But we have learned new things from some of the ad agencies and mailers [about] what’s important to them as mailers. They are interested in innovation in the industry. And we hope to build on that and share that information with envelope manufacturers as they develop new products.
TG: You mention innovation. What kinds are you seeing?
TM: One of the things I do is go out and visit with members and see what they are producing, The colors that are out there and the type of papers are innovative. There are a lot of alternatives to the standard, #10 white wove envelope, [like] the brown kraft and some glassine-style, very thin, very light-weight envelopes, which helps in the mailings costs. There are also some nice linens. In the United Kingdom, they are moving to shape-based pricing for the mail, and I’m hearing the United States could move down that road too, with postage based on the shape and not just the weight of the envelope, so that could bring a lot of changes.
[From the June 2006 issue of Inside Direct Mail, a sister publication to Target Marketing. To learn more about Inside Direct Mail, visit http://www.insidedirectmail.com.]