Honey, I Shrunk the Mailbox!Big News in 2003's Top Formats
There's a trend afoot in the direct mail world, and if it continues, our neighborhood mail carriers might need extra padding in their shoes to keep the spring in their step. In fact, the trend is so big that it might look as if a Rick Moranis movie went awryand shrunk our personal postal receptacles.
How big is it, you ask? Anywhere from 9-1/2" x 11-1/2" to 10-1/2" x 14" ... and even as big as 12" x 15-1/2". These are the sizes of some mail packages dropped this year by organizations of all kinds: publishers, nonprofits, retailers, you name it.
For example, a Wells Fargo mailing registered at 9-1/2" x 12-1/2"unusual for a financial mailer. One from Naral: Pro-Choice America outsized most other mailers with its 12" x 15-1/2" kraft envelope. Publishing has been going big big-time as well, with magazines like the Smithsonian and Islands among those with billboards with poly-pouched double postcards as their controls; and other big cheeses like National Geographic and Consumer Reports targeted new subscribers with 10-1/2" x 12-1/2" and 10-1/2" x 14" mailers, respectively.
The trend toward bigger seems almost natural in a trying-to-recover economy, suggests John Mora, proprietor of Creative Copywriting and Communications, whose clients have included the likes of Nissan, NutraSweet, Quaker Oats and GNC. "Clients are trying to get the most bang for their buck. I always advise [them] to go for the jumbo size because for the amount of money, you get the most in front of your prospects," he says.
Bigger in size, however, seems to coincide with smaller in scope, he says. "Companies are putting more
effort into narrowing a mailing list to the cream of the crop; they're being more frugal in that sense, but they still want to see results."
As further evidence of an inclination toward more colossal carriers, executives at Mail-Well, an envelope company headquartered in Denver, CO, "have seen a rather significant increase in [orders for] large-format envelopes," says Steve Arloff, Mail-Well salesperson. In fact, the company just purchased another piece of equipment to handle the demand, he explains.
Mailer See as Mailer Do
There are a few reasons large formats may be gaining in popularity; one of which is that some companies that have rolled out a jumbo are already rolling in orders.
This is the case among credit-lending bigwigs, says Kelli Barabasz, director of traffic and forecasting for LiveBridge, an international customer interaction services firm serving Fortune 1000 companies. Seventy percent of Barabasz's work is for credit card acquisition efforts, and she regularly polls response rates among clients to find out which efforts are working best. "The oversized envelopes have had the best response so far this year," she says. After all, they allow the low APRs spawned from "the APR wars" to be run in a larger font, suggests Barabasz. (The best responses also come from the lowest APRs, she adds.)
Publishing also has seen its successes with big mailers, and more publishers are testing the waters with behemoth beasts of their own. Since the success of a 9" x 12" several-year-control package that Tabatch Direct in Yorktown Heights, NY, created for The Economist, partners Terry Talley and Linda Tabatch explain, "We are regularly asked to create new large-format tests ... even in this slim year."
Tabatch Direct also created a large polybag effort for Fitness magazine. "Our large package, which beat our folding billboard and double postcard ... continues to be unbeatable."
Not all industry segments seem to be enjoying such widespread success with larger mailings, however. "In B-to-B mailings, be careful with 6" x 9" formats," suggests business-to-business copywriter and consultant Steve Slaunwhite. This larger-than-usual format may be tempting, but he cautions, "They are working well when targeting home offices, small businesses and low-level managers. But, because the 6" x 9" format looks so much like direct mail, it is often screened and trashed before it makes it to the desk of a senior executive or CEO," Slaunwhite explains.
Being One With Your Envelope
Whether B-to-B or any other segment, if marketers are not mailing big, they might be mailing this year's other popular format. "A lot of companies are going with the self-mailers to save money on printing and postage while taking advantage of the advantages that direct mail affords," says Mora.
In fact, about a year ago, Inside Direct Mail began reporting on more self-mailers in the mail streamfrom the likes of consumer product and service providers like The Home Depot and Terminix, B-to-B mailers like Pitney Bowes, Xerox and Avaya, and even credit card mailers like American Express and Capital One.
Some introduced interactive elements to their self-mailers, such as a sticker or a flap (with a teaser and the "answer" under the flap).
Bob Alekna, spokesperson for Mail-Well, says that such enhancements, along with new interactive devices like Mail-Well's "Rub and Reveal" envelopes (which, when scratched, reveal an otherwise invisible message, without the residue of traditional scratch-off cards) are becoming more popular as marketing-budget belts are loosened. "We have done several orders and test runs [this year with the Rub and Reveal envelopes] for customers ... and, while not all of our customers will share the results, for those that have, results have been favorable," says Alekna.
While more and more customers are looking to reduce costs, he adds, in ways such as opting for the more economical flexography printing, rather than regular lithography, and targeting mailings to refined lists, they also are "becoming more focused on higher quality."
So, along with big-format testing, and outer envelope and self-mailer enhancements, Mora adds, "More companies are putting more money into the outer envelopes with the use of graphics and full-color images."
Magazine and book publisher Rodale certainly spared no expense in a mailer for its "The South Beach Diet" book, says direct mail consultant Sandra Blum of Blum and Co. in Fairfield, CT. "It has a 9" x 9" square, turquoise, glossy back envelope with one burst on it ('Lose Belly Fat First'), and a white #10 tipped on to the 9" x 9" square. I presume it's doing gangbusters since it must cost a bundle."
Dear [Insert Your Name Here] ...
In addition to brighter, more engaging packages, mailers are featuring more personalization than ever, says Paul Bobnak, co-director of the Who's Mailing What! Archive. Bobnak reviews hundreds of mailings every week, and says that this trend, including the use of variable data, has been growing over the last few years.
Along with more personalization, suggests Bobnak, "has been the use of maps on self-mailers," largely among retail-traffic builders.
Return of the Blind Mailer
Some marketers, however, are scaling back on outer details. Rumored to be making a comeback are blind mailings, where the sender is not identified on the outer envelope. "Since the anthrax debacle, more and more companies shied away from direct mail with unidentified outer envelopes," says Mora. "But we're getting back to what it used to be. I'd say the split is almost 60-40," with the use of blind mailers creeping back up in popularity.
Inside Direct Mail noticed an indication of the blind outer's possible return in January, when the Special Olympics dropped such a mailing, and more began surfacing throughout the year.
But whether they are drawing better response is still up in the air. In B-to-B mailings, for example, when targeting senior executives, "a blind, high-quality #10 envelope can work well," suggests Slaunwhite. But, he notes, "there is a strange dichotomy ... [as] so can a high-concept, 3-D mailing with all the bells and whistles. Anything in between, however, is risky."
BTCM (Big, Tall and Colorful Mailer) Seeks Attentive Customers
While our neighborhood mail carriers may not appreciate carrying large mailings (particularly the 3-D type), direct marketers are likely to continue to try them on for size until they lose momentum. Mail-Well's Arloff expects that "these large-format mailings will become even more important" in the coming year.
But why the sudden burst in the use of gargantuan mailers, full-color graphics and the like? "If the increase in response pays for them, marketers are more than willing to use square formats, flats, scratch-offs, stickers, freemiums, etc. Following the 'always be testing' rule, marketers should be testing a sort of repertoire of formats," says Blum.
"National Geographic recently tested a magalog I did that was approximately the size of the magazine. It's just axiomatic to test new formats. Wear-out is a fact of life in direct marketing. You have to keep competing to get attention ... and innovative formats is one trick to do it," she explains.
And, like continuous testing, the fame these formats are enjoying now may be a natural part of the direct mail cycle. "Low-cost, initially high-response formats like voucher packages or double postcards usually have a burst of popularity after someone pioneers their use. [But] the double postcard proved to have two flaws: limited space to "sell and tell" about your product or service, and less power to create a repeat buyer. And so may the voucher. So the tide may have simply turned," says Blum.
So, until big flaws are proven and while jumbo mailers and fancy interactive devices are still, as Bobnak says, "the exception rather than the norm," these formats may continue to catch the eye of the discriminating consumer.
Still, notes Slaunwhite, "Regardless of the format, there is no substitute for powerful envelope copy that entices the prospect to look inside."