Open Sesame

Is the following scenario familiar? You’re at the mailbox, pulling out mail, screening for what you’ll toss and what you’ll keep. A favorite catalog or a mailing from your daughter’s favorite retail store catches your eye. You set it aside to take a closer look. Then, the “moment of truth” arrives: You try to open the mail piece. But, alas! You hit a major sticking point—figuratively and literally. In the process of struggling to open the mailing that’s “stuck together,” you rip it. Now, the piece is damaged goods. It’s no longer as eye-catching. Its original intrigue is wearing thin. You also can’t easily read

Is the following scenario familiar? You’re at the mailbox, pulling out mail, screening for what you’ll toss and what you’ll keep. A favorite catalog or a mailing from your daughter’s favorite retail store catches your eye. You set it aside to take a closer look.

Then, the “moment of truth” arrives: You try to open the mail piece. But, alas! You hit a major sticking point—figuratively and literally. In the process of struggling to open the mailing that’s “stuck together,” you rip it. Now, the piece is damaged goods. It’s no longer as eye-catching. Its original intrigue is wearing thin. You also can’t easily read the free gift copy you unknowingly tore. You are frustrated and disappointed. What do you do?

Even more importantly, what do your customers do when confronted with these same circumstances? If you are like me, you trash the mailing. Why?

Not only is it now damaged goods, but you’re also short on time, and you have a stack of other catalogs and mail pieces waiting for your attention. And these offer little or no resistance when it comes to opening them.

The 3:33 Rule
Are you familiar with direct mail’s three minute and 33 second (3:33) rule? It’s important when you talk about openability.

The 3:33 rule suggests you have three seconds or less to stand out in the mail and stay out of the trash, then 30 seconds to engage the reader enough to get opened and make the “short stack” for later reading. After the first 33 seconds—if you actually get the reader inside your mail piece—she spends an additional three minutes or less reading it and deciding whether or not to respond.

This rule applies more to solos and self-mailers than to catalogs, which typically have a longer shelf life, but the same principles apply. If in those all-important first 33 seconds of engagement you create openability problems for your reader, your sales opportunity is much more likely to end up in the trash can.

The Sticking Point
So what exactly is this sticking point? And why would any savvy direct marketer intentionally make it difficult for its customers to get inside a mailing?

Most likely, it’s a wafer seal. These are the white, clear or translucent stickers used to meet USPS tabbing regulations to qualify for automation rates and avoid non-automation surcharges.

This may be an eye-opener. Did you know if you don’t tab certain types of mailings, USPS Mail Processing may do it without asking or informing you? (For more information, visit http://pe.usps.gov and search for Quick Service Guide 201b.)

Don’t get me wrong; I support the good intentions of the USPS. It doesn’t want to rip up your mail piece during automated processing. But as a direct marketer responsible for generating response, you need to make the decisions that control the openability of your mailings—not the USPS, a lettershop or mailing service. This isn’t just a tabbing decision. It starts with details such as format and paper choices.

While lowering postal costs through automation is an important consideration, what do you gain if you decrease openability and lower response rates? To avoid this trap:

• Make no assumptions. Do you know if your company currently applies wafer-seal tabbing or if the USPS has been applying tabs for you? Find out, and don’t assume it was a conscious marketing decision driven by maximizing response versus cutting postage costs. If the USPS has been doing the tabbing for you, review why and plan accordingly for the future. I’ve noticed USPS tabs aren’t always the easiest to open and may hide copy after they’re applied.

Barnes & Noble wafer seal
Barnes & Noble makes a wafer seal part of its creative strategy by printing a benefit message on the gold seal.

• Know your options. If you decide to use wafer seals, consider your choices: white versus clear versus translucent seals. Wafer seals also are available in colors. Your direct mail designers may want to incorporate colorful wafer seals into the mail-piece design to increase visibility and openability. Your copywriter may want to include teaser copy with them, so make wafer seals or gluing part of your creative strategy.

Did you know you also have the option of perforated versus nonperforated seals? Perforated seals may cost more, but they can be a sound investment if they can be opened more easily without tearing your catalog or mail piece. In some cases, you may have choices for the seal placement. (Visit http://pe.usps.gov for placement guidelines.)

• Seed yourself on your mailing list. If you haven’t already done it, add yourself and others on your marketing team to your mailing list. Consider it informal quality control. You want to receive exactly what your customers receive and try to open. If your mail pieces are not getting opened, there’s no way they’re getting read or generating response.

• Test. Ask your lettershop or mailing house to run pre-mailing tests to show you what will arrive in your customer’s mailbox. Also consider testing wafer seals or spot-gluing versus paying the surcharge, then track response and sales versus postal cost-savings. Testing will show whether or not you’re depressing response and sacrificing bottom-line dollars to save a few cents in the mail.

A final note of thanks: In writing this column, I received helpful advice and information from the USPS, colleagues who run lettershops/mailing services and mailers. It was clear (no pun intended) that everyone’s intention is to get the mail delivered in good condition. However, you are the individual responsible for its openability after it’s delivered. A wafer seal may look like just a sticker, but it’s actually an important strategic decision.

Author: Pat Friesen

Pat Friesen is a direct response copywriter, content developer, copy coach and creative strategist. She is also the author of "The Cross-Channel Copywriting Handbook," published by Direct Marketing IQ. Reach her at (913) 341-1211.

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