What a Tease!
Tactics for getting your envelopes opened
By Marissa Fabris
Teasing prospects inside an envelope involves a balancing act for many mailerstuning into pros-pects' needs, recognizing your company's goals and identifying a way to visually connect with prospects.
What type of approach are you taking when it comes to envelope teasers?
Perhaps you make an outrageous statement or ask a provocative question? Do you present a puzzle or a compelling offer? Maybe you promise a benefit or begin to tell a story? Or do you silently tease prospects inside with only a return address on the outer envelope?
A look into the Who's Mailing What! Archive reveals that companies across all sectors are employing many of the above tactics, which begs the question: Which are most effective in generating the best response in today's market?
Copy vs. Graphics
According to Steve Tharler, a partner in the Natick, Mass.-based marketing communications and design firm Tharler/Opper and teacher of one of the Direct Marketing Association's copywriting seminars, envelope teasers should be audience-appropriate. "The target audience is the sole consideration for all of the copy for the entire package," says Tharler. "Who are they? What do they know about your company? What is the relationship? How do they view your product? How do they view your competition? What motivates their buying decisions?"
A tactic appearing in many B-to-C mailings today is that of handwritten teasers. This approach, says Tharler, emphasizes a teaser message and adds an element of realism to a mailing. He is careful to point out, however, that this approach is only appropriate for B-to-C efforts, and is more effective when placed on the back of a closed-face envelope with a stamp or meter imprint to maintain the piece's level of personalization.
Direct response copywriter, consultant and proponent of copy on the outer envelope, Herschell Gordon Lewis says that when properly worded, handwritten envelope teasers add a more personal dimension to the mailing. He points out, however, that hand-writing should be nondescript, unless gender is a factor in the mailing, and that spilling too much on the outer envelope can be counter-productive. "If envelopes alone could accomplish the total selling job, we long since would have abandoned content. ... The purpose of the carrier envelope, other than keeping the contents from falling out onto the street, is to get itself opened," says Lewis.
But while properly crafted copy can be extremely powerful, it's not the only way to tease prospects inside an envelope. Tharler says that when accompanied by a graphic, a statement such as, "What you see in this picture says a lot about youand your future security," has a greater impact than simply saying, "How do you see yourself and your future?"
Steve Penn, CEO and executive creative director of Minneapolis-based direct response marketing agency Penn Garritano, also highlights the functionality of graphics. "Time is at a premium for everybody, so the visual dynamics are playing a bigger role than ever. In many cases, the offer itself isn't enough anymore, especially in highly competitive markets like financial services and certain power sports categories where the offers are virtually identical," says Penn. "You have to show today as much as we used to have to tell a good story. ... Copy may still be king at the end of the day, but graphics can be the make or break factor in the moments a package passes through somebody's hands and into the round file," notes Penn.
Consumers' visually oriented nature is apparent in the positive results generated by involvement devices. According to Penn, stickers are commonly used in B-to-C mailings and work particularly well in circulation promotion. "I work with National Geographic Society (NGS) quite a bit, and we see strong results with some of those tried-and-true tactics. ... I can tell you that over the years, NGS has tested into a control format that varies very little from assignment to assignment. We know that including a sticker on some packages can generate a 10 to 15 percent lift or more," says Penn.
Another organization that has successfully incorporated copy and graphics on the outer envelope for many of its acquisition and appeal mailings, including its two very long-term controls, is The Nature Conservancy. These mailings have up-front, clear teaser copy mentioning the offer, along with an image of the premium.
For its renewal mailings, however, The Nature Conservancy prefers a copy-only approach on the outer envelope. According to Amanda Graham, senior manager, membership retention, renewal and lapsed programs, it's found that for such mailings, elaborate or artistic carriers can be distracting and do not lift response. The organization typically places clear, succinct teaser copy on the front of the envelope only, indicating the enclosed renewal or the imminent expiration of membership. She adds that in renewal series pieces, the organization does use various colors and fonts to be sure the teaser is enticing and gets noticed, however carriers for high-level donors are very understated.
In reference to using copy and graphics, Michael Feldstein, of Boardroom's marketing department, says, "Both can be effective, depending on the product that's being sold. When a visual is utilized, it should be integrated with the teaser copy and not compete against it. ... You have a very short time to capture someone's attention, so whatever you use must be both visually compelling and stimulate interest."
Although the company now primarily mails magalogs and tabloids, it did mail envelopes for many years where the teaser copy and graphics complemented each other, such as the infamous "What never to eat on an airplane" mailing.
Proven Design Tactics
Revealing the offer through windows is another effective tactic when it comes to generating positive response. "We've created a lot of success doing variable messaging that shows through the outer envelope window from an inside component, usually the letter," says Penn, a strong proponent of windows.
He adds that two windowsone for the address and another to show the message or offerare an effective way to vary messaging using the same carrier and create multiple versions by showing different interior components.
Other design considerations that impact the overall effectiveness and readability of a teaser are those that, according to Tharler, apply to any direct mail component. He suggests breaking a teaser into short phrases that appear flush left, and being mindful of the audience when selecting font color, style and size. For example, Tharler advises to skip the magenta font for a B-to-B mailing, while Lewis reminds that, although it is a double-edged sword, garish colors can be attention-grabbing.
On the topic of fonts, Penn says, "In general, I tell my folks to use two or three type fonts. I usually go with
a very large, short, provocative, killer headline, followed by brief, high-energy copy as support, and end with a strong call to action to get [the prospect] inside. ... I'm big on simple, bold color palettes that work with the visuals and headlines."
Another important element that can either complement or compete against a teaser is envelope size. According to Tharler, "#10 says business; 9" x 12" could be something important; 6" x 9" is typical for subscription promotion and other efforts clearly connected to advertising mail. Anything else tends to [get] attention ... due to its odd size, but that puts more pressure on the teaser to get people inside."
While Tharler believes that nothing can replace a well-crafted, benefit-oriented, provocative teaser, he has noticed a trend toward using fake-official teasers. Such teasers, he says, lure prospects inside with copy such as: "Enclosed is your Form 1119," referring to a solicitation for a home-equity loan on what the company refers to as form 1119. This, Tharler says, is a deceptive tactic, but unfortunately is a growing trend.
Teasers and B-to-B
The sheer nature of B-to-B mailings requires that a different emphasis be placed on the outer envelope copy and design, and, according to Susan Fantle, a direct response copywriter and owner of The Copy Works, no-teaser envelopesor return-address only teaserscurrently are working well in B-to-B. "It may have to do with the incredible volume of messaging that people are hit with every day. ... So many messages bombarding us all day long every day that getting something in a business environment ... that looks like a piece of real business communication and not like a marketing piece, is more likely to get opened," says Fantle. "Without exception, every time a
B-to-B message is sent out in an envelope, the ones without teasers outperform the ones with teasers," she adds, referring to tests conducted by a variety of agencies she works with.
She adds, however, that in B-to-B efforts, teasers occasionally are used for several reasons, such as for lead generation surveys and when a client insists on them.
Fantle points out that, in the B-to-B realm, there is a universal understanding that the larger the company, the harder it is to get promotional material to a specific target. "The more you have it look like real business communication, the easier and the more sure you can be that it's going to get delivered to the recipient within that company," says Fantle.
While tactics vary between B-to-B and B-to-C, Fantle says that copywriters should default to one fundamental teaser rule: "Provide a benefit that will solve a problem or the promise of the benefit that will solve a problem," says Fantle.
Identifying What Will Work
Developing a successful approach to envelope teasers hinges on your familiarity with your audience, so there is no rule, no one-size-fits-all approach. "Sometimes shouting is good and other times coming in under the radar with a subtle but powerful and highly relevant statement can work magic," says Penn.
An invaluable way to determine which envelope teaser approach will generate the best results for your organization is by testing. Fantle, who is involved in the testing process with many of her direct marketing agency clients, emphasizes the importance of testing, and feels that it is unfortunate that many companies don't recognize how invaluable the process is.
Tharler heartily seconds that notion, adding that unless you have solid evidencethe kind that only comes from testingthat a specific teaser style does not work for your product, it's important to conduct tests to determine the most successful approach.