The Ins Of Outers
Cost-Effective, Response-Driving Bells and Whistles for Your Outer Envelope
By Paul Barbagallo
As part of the pressure to maintain the vigor and allure of long-term direct mail packages under budget constraints, mailers must vet the outer envelope.
Don Schoenleber, vice president of sales, new product and business development for Vertis Direct Marketing Services, says in today's rough economic climate, the outer envelope has to do more of its job than ever before.
"Say you have a #10 [envelope package], for example. It may be that this particular format can carry your message and deliver a reasonable response rate," Schoenleber says. "But if response begins to drop off, the tradition is to play with the outer envelope first. Sometimes you have to make a radical departure and see what happens."
Debora Haskel, vice president of marketing for integrated printing company Instant Web Cos., concurs, and adds that clients have come to her recently with this quagmire:
"Here's our package that we have mailed for a long time. It has been successful, but it's getting tired. What can you do to help us boost response rates? Oh, by the way, we're not going to pay anything more for it."
We asked a few direct mail experts to reflect on the tenets of tweaking the envelopes of once-successful packages without incurring much additional expense (what to test? what not to test?) and the production strategies designed to spur a steady stream of greenbacks from responsive consumers.
Does Size Really Matter?
Direct mail guru Pat Friesen, president of Pat Friesen & Co., a direct response consultancy, advises marketers to test different envelope sizes with the same offer and message.
"If your control mailing is a #10, test a 6˝ x 9˝ or vice versa," Friesen asserts. "Or try testing an executive-size envelope against a standard #10 for business mailings."
Haskel concurs. She advises Instant Web clients to make their pieces slightly over-sized or slightly under-sized, while still meeting U. S. Postal Service (USPS) automation standards.
"We're seeing an increasing number of mailers testing the size of their mailings, balancing it with other tests within the package," says Haskel.
By going with a slightly smaller outer envelope, she affirms, mailers can afford to increase the basis weight of the buckslip, brochure or letter, or add color to those items—ultimately making them more visually appealing.
"Don't necessarily stick with the tried-and-true, standard #10 and 6˝ x 9˝ [outer envelope] format sizes," stresses Schoenleber. "If the specifications are for a 6˝ x 9˝, talk to your supplier. By scaling it down a fraction of an inch, you could get a greater yield, and therefore save thousands of dollars."
Obviously, the smaller the piece, the lower the cost. But is it the right size to carry your message?
"At times, yes, a smaller piece can be just as effective," figures Schoenleber. "Still staying within aspect ratio, but doing odd sizes or slightly larger or smaller [outer envelope] sizes, makes it stand out from the everyday piece."
Let a Little Light In
Once size is determined, Friesen suggests mailers test a double poly window envelope with colored glassine in the teaser copy window that matches the color of an inserted piece inside. Mailers can print the teaser copy on that insert, and with an additional teaser on the outer envelope, recipients will be forced to open the package to read it.
As a minor variation to that, Haskel advises marketers to incorporate some sort of contour into the window shape that matches the pieces inside, since mailers are already paying for a die-cut for the poly window. This way the mailing has an integrated feel.
"Now your window follows the shape of a graphic or teaser appearing on the brochure or buckslip," says Haskel.
To take it one step further, she recommends mailers test extending the size of the poly window to cover the entire front or back of the outer envelope. This was a popular format in the wake of the anthrax scares in late 2001 through early 2002, but has crystallized in many marketers' ongoing mail plans.
According to Haskel, the benefit here is knowing the expensive brochure or insert will get read.
"There's a definite trade-off," she says. "Yes, you are using more window film, but less ink. If it was a four-color envelope with no poly window, perhaps you would have gone to a two-color envelope with a big window that allows the four-color brochure inside to virtually pop out."
Looking at the total cost of the package, a mailer would not incur too much added cost, says Haskel, "because the expense of the additional die and a little bit more film is offset by the elements that are now less expensive. Maybe you can even eliminate an insert."
Make it Personal
In-line production can be highly cost-effective if you want a personalized envelope and a conventional package is too expensive. Many experts say that in-line traditionally works best when your quantity is more than 250,000 pieces, and if your package requires highly personalized messages on multiple components.
"With ink-jet technologies and in-line production capabilities, you have more latitude with using a variety of fonts for customization and personalization," says Schoenleber.
Dan Kimball, general manager at B&W Press, concurs, and says one of the things in-line does is permit the mailer more liberal use of four-color process on the outgoing envelope offer.
"On a tease basis, where mailers may have stayed away from color on the standard #10 due to cost, they sometimes will jazz-up their in-line envelope so it gets opened," says Kimball.
Mailers are constantly searching for new ways to add interest to their packages and engage their prospects without substantial cost. One of Haskel's recommendations is to look at how the envelope gets opened.
"Is there an interactive device like a zip-strip or a side opening that's going to get people more interested because it's different?" she says. "Many of these add little or no cost. It's just a different way of approaching it."
For example, Schoenleber finds that a simple flap on the outer envelope can be highly effective at getting your package opened.
"It seems very silly and simple, but it's intuitive," says Schoenleber. "If you see the flap, you know that's where you open it. It's something small and cheap that can lead you through the piece in a more logical fashion."
Friesen shares an easy, cost-effective and proven idea for adding new oomph to a #10 control: Add a dot-whack teaser.
"Tests have shown printed stickers can pull as well or better than stickers printed separately and machine affixed," Friesen says. "I add a bright-colored dot-whack with a great offer-driven teaser."
Another technique that a number of mailers have found success with is inserting a buckslip so it pops up when the recipient opens the envelope, says Haskel.
"It's not much additional cost, just a little bit of glue for insertion to the flap of the envelope," Haskel says. "The buckslip physically jumps out at you, even though it's still attached to the flap. It's something more interesting, and leads you to the special offer inside."
The Means of the Message
Most importantly, as these experts attest, mailers should ensure that tweaks and tests are compatible with the target audience.
"In some cases, you may find that the splashy, four-color, varnished, special-treated mail piece doesn't work because certain people will more quickly open something that appears to have come from a financial institution, for example," says Haskel.
It all depends on the offer and the prospect.