The Power of Lumpy Mail
For years we've endured hearing about junk mail. Then snail mail. Now, I'd like to talk to you about lumpy mail.
Unlike the first two, the term lumpy mail isn't meant to be judgmental or derogatory. Simply descriptive.
And, no, I didn't coin the phrase; I'm borrowing it from a creative colleague, Dave Nichols of Denver's Heinrich Marketing.
My definition of lumpy mail is any envelope with unexpected bulk to it. The envelope can be evenly thick or with a bulge at one end. The key is that when you hold it in your hand, the lumpiness causes you to wonder what's inside.
The power of lumpy mail comes from the intrigue it inspires and the hurdles it helps overcome—getting your mail piece opened and getting it opened first. These are not minor obstacles, since rarely will your piece get the undivided attention of its recipient because it's the only one in the mailbox.
Have a Good Reason
I confess, I wasn't always a proponent of lumpy mail. I thought it was too gimmicky, too expensive and too often used by general-advertising types who didn't understand direct creative and didn't want to learn how to write and design envelopes that invited retention and readership.
Why has my position changed?
In part, it's because of dramatically increased competition in the mailbox. Direct mail packages have to work extra hard to stand out. Lumpiness can help.
I'm also finally seeing lumpy mail that's strategically sound and effectively executed. Gimmick has been replaced by good reason.
An example is a piece I've received repeatedly (so it must be working). It's a 6˝ x 9˝ envelope used by the Vietnam Veterans of America. Instead of a fundraising appeal, the mailing holds an oversized, Pepto-pink plastic bag for donations that's folded to create a squishy bulkiness inside the envelope.
In this case, the envelope copy clearly explains the squishy contents and how you go about having items picked up. Even though the copy squelches the mystery of what's inside, the minute you feel this envelope, you know it's different. So, it's much more likely to get that all-important second look.
Another mailer that never fails to reward me with a lumpy envelope is Myron, the mail order purveyor of imprinted business gifts. The lump in every envelope I've received from Myron is created by a product sample with my company's name imprinted on it.
Most recently, it was a pocket-size calendar for 2005 (shown above) with a unique "built-in sleeve to hold the matching slim-profile ballpoint pen with convenient one-handed plunger action."
Not only does this lump get me to open the envelope, it also provides me with an actual sample of a product that words alone cannot do justice.
Product samples almost always provide good justification for lumpy mail, assuming the investment is balanced by results. As a senior writer at Fingerhut, I wrote solo mailing copy for a 50-piece set of monogrammed flatware. And, yes, the sample spoon enclosed was appropriately monogrammed to match the initial of the customer's last name. This mailing outperformed the spoon-less test panel every time.
I also wrote a package for a medical supply company that was introducing a line of high quality, private label syringes at prices lower than the name brand competition. The launch was highly successful because a sample syringe was included in the envelope. Response confirmed the sample helped make this mailing stand out in the stack of mail received in most doctors' offices and supported the product claim. (After checking with the USPS, the sample syringes did not include needles.)
Create a Justification
What about lumps that actually are creative contrivances? These lumps require creative justification so the reader doesn't feel duped. Here are some examples:
1. A shoelace enclosed with a fundraising appeal for a not-for-profit that's operating on a shoestring budget.
2. The National Arbor Day Foundation encloses a full-color, spiral-bound wall calendar in a prospecting mailing. The calendar showcases beautiful photos of historically important trees.
3. A pad of Post-It notes with a URL imprint along with a letter explaining an incentive for immediately visiting the Web site.
4. A packet of seeds that creates a lump and makes noise when jiggled provides a double sensory whammy. Tie it to a message about growth, the seed of a new idea, etc.
5. A one-ounce packet of red hot cinnamon-flavored candies provides an intriguing introduction for a letter about red-hot sale prices.
The goal is to create a story line that ties the lumpy device to the mailing message so your reader doesn't feel manipulated or cheated.
A few more tips based on experience:
Test lumpy mail packages against your flat control mail.
Track, measure and analyze results factoring in additional costs.
Check for any USPS postal regulations that might apply, while in the planning stage.
Some lumps may be machine insertable, but most, probably are not. Research this so you can factor it into your planning.
Send mocked-up mail pieces to yourself before dropping the larger mailing. Review their condition on arrival.
Pay attention to the audience you're targeting. Most mail recipients are beyond the 2001 anthrax scare, but you probably don't want to send inexplicably lumpy mailings to U.S. senators or others who remain on high alert.
One final note: If you've got a lumpy mail story to share, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.