Successful Outers in Troubled Times
It has been a mere five months since anthrax contaminated a supermarket tabloid office in Florida, and six months since terrorism took an unfathomable grip on America's consciousness. Contending with these impediments, direct mail marketers also confront a frigid consumer climate brought on by the rise of unemployment. The challenge still remains for mail efforts to be noticed, beginning with the all-important outer envelope. But despite all of this, experts say, not much has changed in direct mail campaigns.
"Everyone panicked at first about the anthrax thing," said Barry Bogle, vice president of Imaged Products, Quebecor. "For the most part, the adjustments have been relatively minor. Just course corrections."
Stop the Presses
Based on Bogle's observations, one major alteration took place on the outer envelope. It was the acute avoidance of creating a package to look like it was handmade. The use of cursive writing for the return address and teaser copy, Bogle says, has momentarily waned from usage. A more blaring use of brand recognition, logos and bold fonts for the return address has been a recent trend on the outer.
"What [the recipient is] receiving, they could trust," Bogle said of the scant likelihood that someone would be alarmed by a mailing on which the brand is adequately displayed. "The perception is you're safe," he said.
The mystery mailing, or the blind mailing, has also been in hiding, for the obvious reason that it might arouse concern among consumers.
"The most significant thing we've seen was a request to go back and jet image a logo on the return address," said Debora Haskel, vice president of marketing for Instant Web, a multi-integrated printer headquartered in Chanhassen, MN. "We've even done some requests for transparent envelopes."
On the cusp of the outbreak in October 2001, The Direct Marketing Association (The DMA) advised direct marketers to use a clear and identifiable return address. The trade organization also asked mailers to consider including a company logo on the outer envelope.
The USPS "Guidelines For Suspect Packages" and The DMA's "Suggestions To Address Security Issues in Direct Mail Campaigns" together aimed to offer structure for direct marketers upon launching their efforts.
"Those [suspicious attributes] are the things people want to stay away from," said Bogle. "They don't want to generate any fear."
Other DMA suggestions included adding a toll-free phone number on the outer and utilizing an e-mail or telemarketing campaign in conjunction with the letter drop to notify consumers that mail will be coming.
A New Approach
During this time, the Gilder wax paper envelope emerged as a popular outer, said John Pollicino, national account manager, United Envelope in New York City. "Two weeks after the anthrax scare, I saw a little pop with the wax envelopes," he said. "Surprisingly enough, I saw some really nice mailings going out [at that time]."
The transparent Gilder did not retain popularity due to its high cost to produce. But another physical modification to the outer that entered the fray in light of the anthrax scare was the "open window," where all the envelope's contents are revealed. This too, according to Haskel, has seemed to taper off.
"We have not seen a dramatic change since the anthrax scare," she said. "We probably had two clients who were doing the open window, then moved to the poly patch."
GreenPoint Bank was one company that utilized the open window outer envelope to quell any consumer suspicions. This was especially affective because through the window a line of copy reads: "View envelope contents at GreenPoint.com!" GreenPoint's effort was a clever approach to a sensitive situation, most likely yielding consumer trust.
Other companies like CitiBank, World Press and Verizon, have also used a similar format. But much like the Gilder, the open window isn't cost-effective and has already been phased out of rampant use.
"Strings of people who are doing like-size and format mailings won't last, because it won't stand out," said James Cozart, director of marketing, Mail-Well Envelope. "Somebody finds something that works and they hit it hard. But you have to be noticed and get the mail opened."
An Interactive Standard
Haskel shared that another type of envelope gaining popularity is the zip strip, an ideal interactive outer that stands out from other mail. Haskell said she saw this format used frequently prior to the anthrax scare, most commonly for financial services efforts. "It's a device that ultimately says no one has opened this envelope," she said.
Yet another recent trend is to design the outer envelope to look more official. The snap pack is being used more steadily now, experts say, due to its official look and the fact that it's paper thin, which will halt any suspicion of anthrax or similar substances. "You can often get a very nice lift from outer envelope tests by utilizing copy that teases the recipient into opening of the envelope, as well as 'official looking' approaches that seize the recipients attention," Bill Baird, direct marketing consultant, told Inside Direct Mail in December.
Aside from techniques to alleviate a recipient's anxiety, John Pollicino believes the greatest change in mail efforts today is the greater application of marketing data.
"Everyone is watching cost, but now more than ever," he said. "I think people are mailing less with more targeted lists. Companies have realized the value of their existing customers and concentrated on retention."
James Cozart concurred: "There's no doubt in the last couple of months we've seen a drop in the market."
A commonplace practice is to design the outer envelope of a retention drop to look more like a prospecting or welcome package, placing more thought into the creative.
Keeping with the Classics
Notwithstanding the innovations and variations that took shape in order to restore healthy mail efforts, the industry standard 6" x 9" and #10 outer envelopes still remain popular. These outers have become fixtures for their cost-effectiveness and response-winning formulas.
"The paper cutout of these envelopes is advantageous to the mailer's budget," said Pollicino.
And what is common now among the traditional envelope formats is to incorporate a company's logo with a strong benefit. Teaser-style copy that piques curiosity and phrases that alert recipients to the product brand are entwined together on these outers.
Even though prospects have been conditioned to anticipate what's inside these traditional envelopes, powerful copy in a narrative form, experts say, can override that constant. Some successful copy has posed solutions to problems that prospects may be experiencing.
But one forte of the traditional #10 outers is its perfect format for blind mailings. Although the "stealth mailing" has been temporarily halted from use, it should make a return, experts say. The reason being is that people are creatures of habit, who will continue to be curious about the unknown. Plus, it's only a matter of time before prospects tire of the mailings they receive, and start responding to the occasional blind outer.
"I know I'm intrigued when I get something and there's no return address,"
Regardless of what message you're trying to sell, and what kind of pay-off you deliver inside the package, the recipient will be surprised -- but maybe not quite as much due to recent events.