How'd They Do That?
By Mike Maguire
Dimensional mail offers a number of advantages for the marketers who are willing to test it out. First, the format surprises the recipient and has breakthrough "wow power." In addition to initial impact, a well-done dimensional piece invites repeated interaction—pulling the tabs, discovering how it works—so the amount of time spent with your brand imagery and messages is dramatically increased. And finally, dimensional mailers can impart a considerable amount of information to the recipient in an interesting and logical way.
Although every dimensional mail project is unique in its goals and creative content, marketers considering dimensional mail experience similar issues and follow a similar learning curve. By taking a look at the stages every job has in common, marketers who are interested in exploring dimensional mail can gain a new understanding and confidence in the process. Once the initial creative and strategic concepts have been outlined, this integral steps of making dimensional mail work kick in: determining the format, considering postal and production costs, executing the design, testing, production and finishing. A recent dimensional mail piece produced by Structural Graphics for Samsung with its agency 1Roof illustrates this process.
Determine the Format
When Samsung was introducing its e316 cell phone, which was co-branded with the Athens Summer Olympics, it wanted to get its carrier network excited about the product by providing them with a representative "dummy" phone in a unique way. The goal was to create excitement around the phone by not just delivering it, but presenting it. So Samsung's agency, 1Roof, worked with Structural Graphics to create a unique box that not only delivered the product, but had a built-in presentation system revealing the phone to the carrier network recipients.
1Roof invited us into the process early so that we were able to identify quickly a format that fit Samsung's creative and marketing strategy. This is the ideal way to approach a project like this because the format of a dimensional mailer shouldn't be an afterthought; it will be far more effective if it is integrated into the creative process.
The design 1Roof selected was a box format carrying a variation on Structural Graphics' patented Extendo mechanism. The Extendo delivers information in a unique way by moving two panels in opposite directions, simply by pulling one tab. When fully extended the piece is just about three times its original size. This unique mechanism uses a hidden strip of plastic to generate tension between the two entendor panels. The outer shell of the Extendo keeps the panels in place, guiding them out when the tab is pulled, and then guiding them back in when it is pushed. The Extendo is a surprise mechanism, that is how it creates impact. When pulling a tab, recipients expect that what they are pulling will move, but having something move in the opposite direction as well is a total and engaging surprise.
The Samsung box delivered shrink-wrapped as a 9" x 6" x 1" box with a hinged cover. We doubled the cover over so we only had to print the piece one sided. There was a graphic of an Olympic high-jumper on the cover, and it opened to reveal a close-up image of a cheering crowd waving American flags. On the right-hand side of the box was a tab with the instruction, "Pull." Doing so split the crowd image at the center, pulling apart two shutter panels and revealing the phone resting in the no-longer-hidden well.
One of the first considerations in any dimensional mail project is postal cost; postage can consume 30 percent or more of the entire project budget. You need to determine the level of postal delivery service required to meet timing and delivery objectives—Standard mail, Presorted First Class, UPS, etc.—so it can be designed with related size and weight.
The Samsung mailer wasn't unusual in its size and weight. It printed on a 12 pt C1S. The most common stock weights for high-impact pieces are 8- to 12-point SBS, but stocks can be as light as 80lb to 100lb text, as heavy as 24-point SBS paper, or even corrugated board.
Choosing an appropriate print finish also is a key issue. Different print finishes vary in price, so determining which to use may be a significant budgetary consideration. In this case 1Roof and Samsung opted for a varnish. It provided a hard, glossy finish, which enhanced the printing while not requiring special attention during hand finishing, so fingerprinting didn't become a problem.
As a box with a high-impact mechanism, it is no surprise that the Samsung mailer cost more to produce than a flat mailer would. Keep in mind that not all dimensional pieces are boxes. Many may deliver "flat" but carry a high-impact mechanism, such as The Extendo, a pop-up, electronics or other interactive device. It costs on average about 20 percent to 30 percent more to produce a high-impact "dimensional" than a flat mailer; that figure can double for more complex pieces. But you would do well to measure the value equation not in cost per piece, but rather in ROI. The lifetime value of the relationship you are trying to secure changes the whole equation. When comparing the price of a dimensional piece to the lifetime value of a given relationship, ROI's can increase significantly as the impact of the mailer increases. We also have found that timely sales or phone follow up can dramatically increase the ROI of a dimensional campaign.
Execute and Test the Design
Because clients usually are not accustomed to creating dimensional pieces, we work hand-in-hand with them through the design and production processes. Once the format has been approved, we create a white comp that often is test mailed to our sales offices around the country to make sure the mailer holds up under real-world conditions. We also give the USPS an advance look and invite its comments. That's especially important if the piece contains a premium, as this one did.
In order to provide adequate support to prevent crushing and collapsing, the Samsung box required foam support, which framed the inner well and extended to the outer edges of the box. After a white comp was completed for the design, the next stage in the process was creating flat-die layouts, which we e-mailed to 1Roof. Laying out the art to a die drawing for a dimensional project can be a bit confusing at first, so we provided the designers with a great deal of support and coaching during the layout phase. From a design standpoint, it also is crucial to consider critical issues such as color crossovers on components from different parts of the sheet and the grain direction of the paper, which is key for the proper functioning of the mechanisms.
Production and Fulfillment
After 1Roof's Samsung art was sent to our FTP site and our prepress department QC'd the files, we output low-resolution proofs of the pieces, assembled them and sent them back to Roof. This was the first time the marketer had a chance to see the mailer in three dimensions and check the positioning of the art. After this proof was approved, flat proofs were sent for final color approval.
Perhaps an obvious point is that dimensional projects generally are more complex and have more steps than "flat" projects. For this reason, we recommend that marketers doing a dimensional piece demand singular accountability: one party taking responsibility for the whole production process. Otherwise, if something goes wrong, you can find yourself immersed in a sea of finger-pointing.
The Samsung mailers were hand assembled in our plants in Mexico, which are staffed with highly skilled, full-time workers. Marketers should make sure dimensional mail companies have experience in dealing with the materials and process of complex finishing.
An Effective Tool for All
While not all marketing challenges are suitable candidates for a dimensional program, there's typically a place for dimensional mail in every marketing plan. We've done dimensional pieces for life insurance firms, pharmaceutical companies, universities, industrial manufacturers, entertainment companies, technology firms, telecommunications, banks and many for the automotive industry. The single most-common use for dimensional mailers, however, is product launches or relaunches; they typically have the budget and organizational support the project demands, and they need generate the kind of excitement that dimensional pieces deliver. In these cases, the stakes are high and failure is not an option.
Producing dimensional mail has its challenges, but it is a production process just like any other. Understanding the variables and how to manage them reduces the risks and potential pitfalls of a complex project. For companies like Samsung and 1Roof that understand and manage the stages of dimensional mail efforts and work closely with their vendors, it can be a highly effective tool for getting attention and building customer relationships.
Mike Maguire is principal owner and president of Structural Graphics. He is a leading authority on the use and effectiveness of high-impact dimensional marketing and regularly speaks on the topic at advertising
and printing industry seminars and conferences. He has written numerous articles on the subject. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.