Production: An Ode to the Self-Mailer
You’ve heard the old line, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Well, the economy couldn’t be much tougher, and that’s what makes this the ideal time to get moving. If you don’t have a test in the works, create one and get it out there as soon as possible. Better yet, come up with several. And if you haven’t tested formats in a while, you might want to consider adding a self-mailer to the media mix. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results you achieve.
Oh sure, in certain marketing circles the belief still exists that envelope packages, with few exceptions, always perform better than self-mailers. Thus, many direct marketers exclusively test package components, colors and messaging after they’ve thoroughly tested lists and offers. They don’t even give self-mailers a thought.
A few years ago, I decided to personally test some self-mailers against direct mail packages for one of my firm’s insurance clients. My theory was, mailed in quantities, self-mailers would provide a higher ROI, despite a lower response rate, because they would be much more economical to produce. The decrease in response would be offset by the production savings. Boy, was I wrong.
After conducting the test (twice), the self-mailer outperformed the traditional package (outer envelope, letter, brochure, reply form, reply envelope and lift note) nearly two to one. I subsequently tested again in a new market with the same results. The ROI soared thanks to the power of the self-mailer (see “Insurance Firm Holds the Envelope” in sidebar).
Not Your Grandfather’s Self-Mailer
Since then, manufacturing processes have improved dramatically, and self-mailers have become even more viable. Many printers now can nest reply envelopes and multiple inserts, tabbing the piece completely, which allows the self-mailer to act as a quasi-mailing package. As the Web has grown and played an increasing role in multichannel campaigns, self-mailers are being used to drive traffic to Web sites and specific microsites, allowing the Web page to do the majority of the selling.
Self-mailers also make versioning by segments much faster and economical because of the marriage of database technology and more complex manufacturing capabilities. Today, having cells in the hundreds or even thousands is typical and more manageable because of these advances.
Why not forgo all direct mail and focus on e-mail? Because direct mail, when done correctly (that means when tested), will still outperform e-mail, especially from a prospecting vantage point. Self-mailers can be a good, inexpensive way to differentiate yourself in the overcrowded marketplace and yield the desired action—a call, reply response, click or visit.
Options Worth Exploring
Let’s take a look at a few of the self-mailer format options available and discuss the pros and cons of each.
The Classic Self-Mailer: Think of classic self-mailers as uncomplicated, brochure-type mailers. Simple often produces the best results in our marketing message-bombarded world. The size, copy length and paper quality varies here, but typically, these are more basic and “ugly.” They’re easy to create and should be a part of your testing strategy. (There’s a reason so many are found in your mailbox; they work.)
The Snap-Pack: Debate always swirls around whether or not snap-packs are self-mailers. As they have no outer envelope, they are. These were once ubiquitous but have fallen off in recent years sans rebate checks. That’s exactly why you should test them, especially if you are after an official look and mail larger quantities. Snap-packs get opened!
The Roll Fold: Roll folds are quick, interactive and hold the recipient’s attention until the payoff: your offer. These work well, from my tests, for Generation Y and can be a lot of fun to create.
The Oversized, the Undersized and Weird Shapes: This is a fast-growing category. I have seen heart-shaped mailers, circles, squares, triangles and other unique shapes. While I’m aware of quite a few oversized pieces, I don’t see many that are small.
This would be a good test for you to conduct, though some of these self-mailers seem expensive. Make sure you test to determine break-even points and ROI before rollout.
I recently received a piece that had a CD embedded in the self-mailer that was visible through clear plastic (see the Intuit example at the bottom). It was well-done and appealing. Even unique folds and cuts can work within this category.
Unique Materials: You’ve seen the magnets that mail themselves, as well as plastic, cloth and rubbery-type papers. They’re working, and that makes them worth testing.
Some Best Practices
A few things I have discovered through testing self-mailers for more than 20 years:
- Don’t be clever just to be clever. Messaging still matters more than being cute.
- Self-mailers work better for two-step programs than for one-step campaigns, but with the right Web strategy, that can be proven false.
- Self-mailers work best when mailed to house lists. That’s because the recipient typically already has a relationship with you, and credibility has been established previously.
- The format works great when you rely on the Web to do your heavy lifting, i.e., selling.
- Not enough self-mailers are tested in B-to-B marketing.
- Complicated self-mailers can cost too much and often are not tested before rollout.
- Keep it simple at first; test more complicated, expensive formats later.
As technology advances and postage and paper/printing costs rise, interest in economical, attention-grabbing self-mailers is sure to grow.
Take another look at them as you plan your next round of tests. Affordable self-mailers can be as interactive as you’d like, deliver your messages quickly and succinctly, and be sized and shaped to stand out in the mailboxes of your customers and prospects.
Grant A. Johnson is the CEO of Brookfield, Wis.-based Johnson Direct LLC. He can be reached at (800) 710-2750 or email@example.com.