The Ins and Outs of Dimensional Mailings
Let's face iteveryone loves to get gifts in the mail. When is the last time you got a box in the mail and didn't open it? Probably never. And that is why some direct marketers turn to dimensional mailings to get their message read, or at least get past a corporate mail room or "gatekeeper."
There are so many creative options available when designing a dimensional mailing, such as boxes, padded Jiffy bags and tubes. AT&T once mailed a blue plastic fish with a letter and business reply envelope inside. Internet company Razorfish mailed a calendar in a CD case, then inserted the case into a clear plastic sleeve and inflated the sleeve! Nancy Harhut, senior vice president, creative director at Mullen, a marketing firm in Wenham, MA, says that she had tremendous success with a mailing she did for supermarket executives. She sent them each one walkie-talkie in a box, and if the executives visited a booth at a trade show, they got the other walkie-talkie.
But is a dimensional package right for your product or service? There are many factors involved in that decision. Here are some ideas and advice from marketers who have been down the three-dimensional road.
The Tie-in is Key
When sending a dimensional mailing, it is vitally important that the package has a tie-in with the product or service being offered. Otherwise, you will spend a lot of money on a clever package, but the message will be unclear. Spyro Kourtis, president of The Hacker Group in Bellevue, WA, uses a tube mailing his company designed as an example.
"We identified a certain target audience...I think there was only a couple hundred, and most of them were in major metropolitan areas," says Kourtis. "We sent one of those satellite maps of the metropolitan area that they were actually in. They were very personalized based on the target audience." He explains that the map came in a large poster tube with a letter and a reply device. The letter asked recipients to set up an appointment with a sales rep, and if they did so, they would get a free hand-held GPS (global positioning system). The tie-in was that the GPS
related to the satellite map.
Harhut agrees that the mailing should always relate to the message. Her company once did a mailing for the Science Fiction channel in order to get cable operators to carry the network. Obviously, cable station operators are mostly interested in viewership, so she mailed a box of fake eyeballs with a letter explaining that there are more eyes watching the Sci-Fi channel than one might imagine.
Harhut does advise against giving someone a toy or a dart board just for the sake of presenting them with a gift. Look for an object or device that appeals to the individual or their needs as a business professional.
"There's sort of a guilt factor when you mail somebody something [they want to keep]," she says. "They feel like if you call, they should probably take your call, or at least agree to meet with you."
The Gatekeeper Effect
When it comes to business-to-business mail, the big concern is getting past the watchful eye of the gatekeeper. Harhut says that this is where dimensional mailings particularly come in handy.
"When you have something that's in a box or a tube or a padded Jiffy bag or something dimensional, it's a little bit harder to toss it out," she says. "The perception is that there's something of value inside, and it should probably make its way to the bosses desk. That's where it makes sense to spend a little more money [on the mailing]."
Kourtis notes that when dimensional packages are used in b-to-b, they are usually mailed to a small audience of corporate level executives and offer a high-ticket item. Using something like a box, tube or plastic case could give your mailing a long shelf-life or "desktop presence," as he calls it. Kourtis says that many people don't want to throw out these items, so even if they are not interested in your offer right now, they may keep the package for future reference.
The Consumer Mailbox
According to Jeff Tarran, president of The Herlihy Marketing Group in Oakland, CA, cost is quickly an issue with consumer mailings. This is why some companies won't use dimensional mailings for consumer offers. Also, there can be manufacturing and shipping glitches with dimensional mail that don't come into play with flat mail. Sometimes the product being sold isn't worth the production expense. Tarran says that when companies use dimensional mail, it tends to be for a unique or one-off project.
Kourtis says dimensional packages can be used for any consumer product, but they're typically used for a one-step sale. For example, he did a consumer project where he sent a box full of bag-tags to travel customers. He also did a project for a photography company where he mailed plastic picture frames marked with the company logo. The mailing was an offer for film developing and online photosharing. A picture frame is nothing of any great value, but it makes the package stand out.
"We're looking [in consumer mail] to create something lumpier, something more substantial in the mailbox so that it stands out," says Kourtis. "I'm competing against what's in the mailbox."
Michael Dambra, director of West Coast sales for Structural Graphics, a printing company in Essex, CT, that deals in dimensional mail, says that he sees dimensional packages used for pharmaceutical products, tobacco, travel, entertainment and cars. Structural Graphics did a campaign for the Mitsubishi Montero where they mailed an 8" x 6" x 5" box with a picture of a closed garage door on the outside, shown at left. The copy reads, "When you look inside, you'll wish this really was your garage." Upon opening the box, the recipient sees a paper replica of the Montero as well as a CD. The car can be unfolded into five panels, each of which explains features about the Montero. The mailing also contained a letter.
Dambra says that dimensional mailings such as these are usually two to three times more effective than their flat counterparts.
Justify Your Mail
Harhut says that before you even begin a dimensional mailing, make sure there is enough time and money in the budget. It is not a project to be done hastily, and you will have to justify the extra postal and production expenses to your company.
"You should run the numbers and figure out the lift in response rate that you need before even pursuing [dimensional mail]," says Kourtis. "If you run the numbers and the cost per piece increases double, it means your response rate has to increase double."
Dambra says that cost-per-piece completely depends on the design and materials that will be used, but expect to spend at least one and a half times more than the amount usually invested in a flat mail campaign.
The materials used are based on their ability to perform a certain mechanism or carry a certain weight, depending on what kind of dimensional package you are mailing. Dambra says that overage is proportionate to how large the order is. The more pieces ordered, the more the overage percentage declines. One thousand pieces might have a 10-percent overage, while 50,000 pieces would have a three-percent overage.
Harhut adds that aside from justifying the cost, you might have to justify the use of packaging.
"I find that there are a lot of people out there who are environmentally conscious... and if the contents of the mailing don't justify the box or the tube or the larger packaging, you can really get people angry at you," says Harhut. This is especially true when the items in the mailing are only a letter or brochure. "They're like, 'Why did you send this big thing when you could have just put this in an envelope?'"
Tarran points out that it is important to have a clear sense of the sales process you're stepping into. "You're spending a ton of money on shipping alone," he says. "You really want to [research] who you're sending it to and that there is value in sending it to them. And that it works within the sales process, and you're not just wasting a piece of mail."
In addition, you must present a strong call-to-action. Make it clear what you want the recipient to do when he gets the package.
Tarran also notes that lead time needs to be taken into consideration. Dimensional mail takes a lot of time to plan because there is research and production that goes into play. Dambra says that many dimensional pieces require hand assembly, so plan on adding one to three weeks to the usual lead time for flat mail.
Overall, dimensional mailers can be a great idea. Just make sure you have done the proper planning so you can be prepared for any shipping or manufacturing pitfalls that may come your way. For example, always check with the post office to make sure your package is mailable. If not, the campaign can turn out to be an expensive mistake.
"I think that dimensional mailings can be really effective and really impactful, and you should absolutely consider them," concludes Harhut. "Just make sure you use them properly and put the smart thinking in upfront, so that you're not just putting a box or a tube in the mail, but you're actually delivering a solid business message."