Direct Mail: Reach Out and Touch

Direct mail can take advantage of one aspect that no digital channel can ever use — touch. As human beings, our brains are hard-wired with the need for touch. It plays a huge role in our everyday lives. When we are able to harness the power of touch with direct mail, we are able to create an experience that recipients will not forget and may even share with others.

direct mail postalDirect mail can take advantage of one aspect that no digital channel can ever use — touch. As human beings, our brains are hard-wired with the need for touch. It plays a huge role in our everyday lives. When we are able to harness the power of touch with direct mail, we are able to create an experience that recipients will not forget and may even share with others.

Our hands are very sensitive and designed to touch. They have the greatest density of tactile receptors on our bodies. Let’s take advantage of that with our direct mail pieces. Touching the mail piece is required as one gets the mail from the mail box and sorts through the mail. Grab attention immediately with a unique feel.

Consider using these five elements in your direct mail to enhance touch.

1. Paper Stock
Instead of choosing your paper stock by what is on sale or the cheapest one, consider choosing a heavier nicer feeling stock. The lasting impression you give to recipients will help them not only to remember you better, but trust you as well.

2. Coatings
Now, there are many coating choices. Consider how each one could work with your design and pick the best fit. One that is really popular right now is a soft touch coating. When you are able to match the feel of the piece with the message, you have a greater impact on the recipient.

3. Emboss/Deboss
Consider how you can incorporate an emboss or a deboss into your design to add a more 3D look and feel. What could you emboss or deboss that would draw attention?

4. Engraving
This not only adds beauty — it really enhances the feel. Think of all the ways a design can include engraving. You could outline key points or draw attention to parts of images that help to showcase your product or service.

5. Raised Ink
This can be a fun way to add a dimension and appeal to the touch need. You can do it for lettering and images. Get creative!

Adding touchable elements to your direct mail not only enhances the recipient’s experience, but it can drive their decision to buy from you. People make subconscious reactions and decisions all of the time based on what they touch. We can therefore influence people in our direct mail through touch. For instance, when you use a thicker paper stock and a soft touch coating, your product or service is viewed as trustworthy and your company as knowledgeable. Think of how you can influence with touch knowing that what we touch shapes what we feel and perceive.

The crucial point is to add touch elements so they enhance your direct mail, not draw attention away from your message. The elements should work with your message to give it more power. If you just add elements without planning on how they work together with your design and messaging, you are wasting your money and confusing recipients. This will have the exact opposite effect on your ROI than what you are aiming for.

When you have put together your plan, meet with a couple of your top customers to show them your idea. See what they think and if they understand it the way you intended them to. Make sure to get their opinions before you explain what you were trying to do. You want to see if your recipients will get the right message because you won’t be there to explain it to them.

Try to exploit the sense of touch in your next direct mail campaign.

3 Ways to Make Your Direct Mail Maps Great

Maps are a pretty common element in direct mail. Whether it’s an insurance agent looking for leads, or a retail brick-and-mortar store trying to create traffic, maps can provide a lot of information quickly to a customer. But the effectiveness of those maps — how well they do their jobs — varies widely based on the mail I see every day.

Maps are a pretty common element in direct mail. Whether it’s an insurance agent looking for leads, or a retail brick-and-mortar store trying to create traffic, maps can provide a lot of information quickly to a customer. But the effectiveness of those maps — how well they do their jobs — varies widely based on the mail I see every day.

As the director and archivist of Who’s Mailing What!, I keep folders of mail and email details that aren’t part of our website. These are subjective things you can’t measure or quantify, or find in a database search, like great envelope teasers, best practice order forms, or emails using effective testimonials. You get the idea.

Based on what I found in my map folder, here are three tips on what to do — and what to improve upon — in creating direct mail that can drive customers to the front door of any business.

1. Make the Maps Clear
As an important supporting element in a direct mail package, a map should make it as easy as possible for a prospect to find you and do business with you. This overcomes a common objection – “I don’t know how to find you” – as your mail gets read, and, then, is acted upon, saved, or tossed into the recycling bin.

Inova_01This 6”x11” postcard was mailed by Inova, a healthcare system based in Northern Virginia. Covering its entire front, the well-rendered, readable street map pinpoints the urgent care facility’s location, as well as those of nearby landmarks like parks and shopping centers. Alongside a photo of the center, the street address — perfect for finding on a GPS device — is also provided.

In sharp contrast, below is a map from a mailer for a Kia dealership. Measuring a measly 1-1/2”x1-1/2” on a 5-1/2”x8-1/2” panel, important details like street names and route numbers are blurry and nearly impossible to read.

KIA_012. Make the Maps Relevant
Providers of medical services, such as hospitals and care centers, are big users of maps in direct mail, and probably the best at it. In promoting these vital services, it isn’t enough to list the location of the nearest facility, it has to be shown on a map. New movers are a particularly good target market for this kind of mail.

Comcast_01Comcast promoted a new XFINITY store with a self-mailer that included a large map on the inside. It’s positioned near the center of one panel, across from copy and images that promote the wide array of products and services demonstrated and offered there. There’s also an incentive offered for a visit:  a “free gift”.

3. Make the Maps Personal
Why use a generic map when customized variable mapping can make the journey personal? Leveraging personal data, like an address, on a visual, printed mailpiece is a powerful service offered by a number of providers. Without getting creepy, it grabs the customer’s attention by showing his or her home’s location in relation to the business being promoted by the mailer.

Here’s a good example, from Patient First, a chain of urgent and ready care centers.

PF_01Above the indicia on this 5-3/4”x11” postcard, there’s a unique map that shows the recipient’s location (the “You are here” designation), the new Patient First Center, and the driving route between them. It’s readable and bigger than what you’ll see in almost any direct mail package, measuring 2-3/4″ x 4-3/4.”

At the same time, there’s still plenty of real estate on the left to include messaging, like letting the addressee know that they’re only “8 minutes away” from the new center. Bullet points list the center’s hours and the medical services it offers. And the call to action also pushes a gift: a first aid kit.

When you think of all the kinds of businesses that would love traffic driven to their doors — retail, insurance, financial institutions, automotive, museums and zoos, travel offices, restaurants — the power of the individualized map becomes even more apparent. And adding other relevant overlays — based on previous purchases, or gender, for example — can increase ROI even further.

What Matters in Postal Concerns Now

Postal topics are not always top-of-mind for integrated marketers, but direct mail and the “mail moment” continue to be a workhorse in direct marketing — generating in excess of $45 billion a year in advertising revenue, according to The Winterberry Group. This week, I caught up with Jody Berenblatt, senior advisor with GrayHair Advisors, and a recognized “postologist” expert and industry speaker.

Jody Berenblatt
Jody Berenblatt, GrayHair Advisors

Postal topics are not always top-of-mind for integrated marketers, but direct mail and the “mail moment” continue to be a workhorse in direct marketing — generating in excess of $45 billion a year in advertising revenue, according to The Winterberry Group. This week, I caught up with Jody Berenblatt, senior advisor with GrayHair Advisors, and a recognized “postologist” expert and industry speaker — with recent contributions at meetings at the National Postal Forum and Greater New York Postal Customer Council, and is a member of the USPS Mailers’ Technical Advisory Council. (By the way, National Postal Customer Council Day 2015 is Wednesday, September 23. Contact your local Postal Customer Council to get involved.)

Chet Dalzell: At this year’s National Postal Forum, you spoke about “Postal Matters” — what were or are the three hottest topics being discussed by mailers now?

Jody Berenblatt: The 2015 NPF theme was “Growing Together.” We heard about the U.S. Postal Service’s efforts to build a bridge between physical and digital mail. We heard about “omnichannel” and the new digital mail box … offering a daily preview email of what is scheduled to arrive in your physical mailbox. While recognizing the Postal Service’s accomplishments, mailing industry representatives noted what still needs to be done, such as improving the timeliness of the data … untimely information is not actionable. And of course that goes for mail delivery as well on such activities disruptive weather, 21 named storms [in 2015], and significant postal network changes. So providing reliable, predictable mail delivery at affordable rates is still a hot topic, important to both business and consumer postal customers.

The Office of Inspector General, in collaboration with IBM, recently published a report on the Internet of Postal Things, and that will remain a hot topic for some time. Kirk Kaneer, an economist at the Postal Service — OIG, invited me and a few others in the postal community to share ideas for innovation in neighborhood delivery. I wrote about how we might better use the information we already have. These blogs are now on view at https://www.uspsoig.gov/blog.

CD: The Exigency looks like it will stay for another 8 months or so — what’s your take on this? Any surprises, or is this a ‘New Normal’?

JB: There are rumors that USPS will file a case to contest the Postal Regulatory Council ruling, once again, this Friday [August 28]. Perhaps we will know if this rumor turns true after the publishing deadline.

The exigency, and whether or not the USPS will file for a CPI [consumer price index] price change, remain areas of uncertainty. More recently, postal executives have sent signals that might result in competitive price changes in January 2016, while any monopoly price changes will depend on the CPI rate experienced over the next few months. If warranted, USPS would more likely file the CPI increase when the exigency expires to increase its income. If the exigency surcharge is removed in April 2016, prices will likely increase by whatever CPI will allow. Still, the net effect will be a reduction in prices [if CPI rate is less than the exigency rate].

The downside to not filing a CPI increase is that it does not allow the USPS to make any mail preparation changes since they affect prices.

If you happen to mail a heavy volume of Flats, then FSS [Flat Sequencing System] mail prep, FSS pricing and USPS attention to ‘bundle breakage’ are concerns. De-facto cost increases resulting from mail preparation requirements are an important concern, which recently generated this comment from Quad-Graphics’ Joe Schick.

And if you happen to mail polybags, please join the MTAC [Mailers’ Technical Advisory Council] team to examine physical characteristics to improve postal handling of polybag packages. Expect new regulations on this.

Readers ought to be aware that the USPS recently obtained funding to modernize the digital payment system (CAPS), along with a new MTAC workgroup to focus on the development of the new Oracle-based postage payment reporting function.

CD: How healthy is the direct mail medium? Is it finding a reliable role in omnichannel marketing?

JB: I think from a marketing perspective, the answer is a resounding yes.

The OIG worked with Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making to conduct a neuro-marketing study exploring the differing impacts of physical and digital media on the consumer buying process. The study highlighted strengths of both media, but also suggests that, combined the two formats provide a powerful way for marketers to optimize their media mix.

As my colleague Marc Zazeela said, “I think it is really great that USPS is catching on and catching up. Listening to, and acting upon, the comments of their customers is a behavior that is one of the hallmarks of successful businesses.”

USPS Brand Marketing Manager Chris Karpenko recently talked to MTAC about mail as a media channel [within an integrated media mix], and provided sales staff with a tool to measure the ROI of mail and optimize a dozen media channels.

A copy of Chris’s presentation is here — and for mail advocates, it’s worth a look:

CD: What new digital, interactive tools from the USPS are delivering greater transparency for mail delivery? How are these tools making a difference?

JB: Today you can sign up to MyUSPS.com and find parcel delivery information. A new technology that could become the ultimate in mail-delivery transparency will be piloted this fall in the New York area. Each morning, it sends you [the mail recipient] an email preview of the mail the Postal Service is scheduled to deliver to you that day. This bridge between the physical mail and digital mail has enormous potential, and with that comes some risks … of course.

In a Virginia pilot, the Postal Service reported that the program increased response rates and interest in the mail/contents of the mail box. How big a difference these tools will make remains to be seen.

I will be the industry co-chair for the MTAC workgroup on this new tool, Informed Delivery App, so I encourage you to sign up to MyUSPS.com, see what mail is coming your way and tell us about your experience.

CD: The USPS Mailers’ Technical Advisory Council just celebrated its 50th year. What are the current focus areas on MTAC’s agenda — and what do mailers need to watch closely?

Yes, I am proud to be a MTAC member. As executive director of the Continuity Shippers Associations (CSA), I collaborated with Judy DeTorok, manager, industry engagement & outreach, consumer & industry affairs, at the USPS to record this perspective with long-time MTAC leader Coleman William (Bill) Hoyt.

You can watch that video here. [password is MTACHOYT]

Bill served as MTAC Chair, representing Readers Digest, during the early days, when USPS was still the Post Office Department. He and other MTAC members at the time helped the Postal Service with the original ZIP Code.

Fast forward to today, USPS Postmaster General Megan Brennan outlined MTAC’s 2016 four Focus Group Areas as follows, with USPS contact:

  • Mail Preparation, Entry and Operations — Linda Malone, Vice President, Network Operations — Mail processing discussions, issues around Network Rationalization/Consolidations, equipment operation/production/capacity, discussions to optimize mail separations, service performance and MTE [My Time Entry]. This group will be an avenue for discussion around delivery, Transportation and international mail processing.
  • Payment & Acceptance, and Education — Pritha Mehra, Vice President, Mail Entry and Payment Technology — Mail acceptance, mailing documentation, methods of payment, PostalOne!, Seamless Acceptance, eInduction and mail piece design. It will also be the avenue for issues around customer education around new acceptance programs, payment technology, finance and mail prep technologies.
  • Enterprise Analytics and Data Usage — Robert Cintron, Vice President, Product Information — Product visibility, service performance measurement, data provisioning and address management. With its broader focus, it will also address IT related discussions, cyber security, data visualization and geo‐
  • Emerging Technology & Product Innovation — Gary Reblin, Vice President, New Products and Innovation — Will expand beyond its current focus on new products, promotions and product changes. It will be the place for new disruptive technologies to include market research and marketing tools.

Four items that mailers need to watch:

  1. Look to participate in USPS promotion incentive programs to improve the interactivity of mail with other media channels.
  2. Take a look at your mail quality. The Postal Service has created a feedback mechanism on all aspects of mail quality. These scorecards are accessible via the Postal Service’s web portal: the business customer gateway.
  3.  The Postal Service will be publishing clarifications of the Move Update rules. Make sure your business process for managing names and address is in compliance.
  4. Consider joining one of the MTAC User Groups. You don’t need to be an MTAC member to participate. If you don’t already belong to an association — look at joining one.

Direct Mail Is Back

Last week during my IMV15 presentation for “Direct Mail Is Back” we had some questions that we were not able to get to. So we wanted to address them in this blog post. If you have your own questions feel free to reach out and ask them.

Last week, during my IMV15 presentation for “Direct Mail Is Back” we had some questions that we were not able to get to. So we wanted to address them in this blog post. If you have your own questions, feel free to reach out and ask them — or leave them in the comments below!

Here are the questions we didn’t get to:

URLs on the mail piece: We used to be able to use “friendly” URLs, but our webmaster has discouraged it due to the way search engines penalize the site with multiple URLs landing in the site. What kind of URLs do you include?
We create and register a new site for each campaign. That way, the multiple landing pages are not part of our normal website. We do offer links to materials on our regular website to drive traffic there and provide more content. This is sometimes referred to as a microsite.

What would you recommend as a price point for a good direct mail piece as far as expense is concerned?
This is hard, as so much of the cost depends on what you are doing. So, instead of giving you prices that may not reflect what needs to be done, let’s look at what is the cheapest direct mail. That would be a postcard mailing to local recipients all near each other. This gives you the low cost of a card and the low cost of local postage. Specific prices will vary depending on your service area and your provider.

Are there metrics available that demonstrate a significant lift using DM as a precursor to digital follow-up (i.e. email) that justifies the extraordinary increase in costs when using DM?
That can be a challenge, as every list will have a different result. Your best bet is to run a test on your list. Knowing your results from your last campaign, you can then see if you had an increase in response or an increase in purchase amount. Who your recipients are and your offer are going to be major factors in your statistics, and can be dramatically different than a quoted statistic. Here is a case study on adding email to direct mail.

• Where can we learn more about augmented reality in marketing?
Check out these sites for more information on augmented reality:

  1. http://www.dmnews.com/augmented-reality/topic/8147/
  2. http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/35895.asp#multiview
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYd0by0PbNI
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDNzTasuYEw

Augmented reality can be really fun for recipients, as a couple of the above examples show. The cost to start this is very high, but if you do it right, you have the potential to reach many more people than you had on your mail list.

• Are QR codes really utilized much today? I feel like they are outdated already and no one uses them anymore.
It really depends on your audience and your offer. The two states with the most QR Code scans are California and Texas. So if you are mailing there you know that people are open to the idea of scanning a QR code. The best way to know if they are going to work for you is to test them. On your next campaign add the QR code and see what happens.

As direct mail is back in favor with many marketers now, you need to be even more vigilant when creating your direct mail. The only way that direct mail will continue to work is if we as marketers, send direct mail to consumers that is designed well, has a clear call to action and is targeted to the right people. This keeps recipients happy and increases your response rates.

To QR Code or Not to QR Code?

Does a QR Code add value to direct mail? Well, yes it can. However, before you go put a QR Code on every direct mail piece you send out, let’s discuss what works and what does not. Before you even start down the path of adding QR Codes, what are you trying to do? Why would a QR Code help you do it?

Does a QR Code add value to direct mail? Well, yes it can. However, before you go put a QR Code on every direct mail piece you send out, let’s discuss what works and what does not. Before you even start down the path of adding QR Codes, what are you trying to do? Why would a QR Code help you do it? If your answer is because you think you should, well, you better rethink that.

When to use a QR Code on direct mail:

  • Drive online engagement
  • Facilitate a phone call
  • Provide a coupon
  • Provide access to additional information
  • Place an order

If you are placing a QR Code on a direct mail piece and it is not doing one of the four things above, is it really benefiting the recipient? What is in it for them to scan it? When you are planning out your QR Codes, make sure to look at it for the recipient’s perspective. QR Codes have good scan rates when used correctly. Another thing to consider when designing your QR Code is to have a little fun with it. You can use color as well as an image or logo to make it stand out.

Best Practices:

  • Instructions: Always include instructions on how to scan and why the recipient should scan it.
  • Buffer Zone: Include 1/16 inch of white space around the QR Code
  • Size: For direct mail, keep your QR Code between a ½ inch and 1 ½ inches for easy scanning and placement
  • Small URLs: Use a URL shortener to keep scanning time short.
  • Mobile Landing Pages: Since the user is going to be using a mobile device to access your content make sure that the landing page is setup for mobile use including the checkout page.
  • Test It: Scan the code in all different types of lighting and using many different mobile devices as well as scanning apps. You want to spot problems before recipients get them.

QR Codes will not be right for everyone. Look at who your recipients are, not just what you want to do. Sometimes they may surprise you, so test one out with a good offer and see what response you get. Many times QR Codes are used in conjunction with PURLs, that way you are providing two ways for them to access the landing page. They can scan the code or type in the URL. This also gives you a chance to see who prefers what method. You can use this information for future mailings.

Your mail service provider can work with you to create a mail piece that incorporates both QR Codes and PURLs. They can also help you with tracking. Compiling reports for your mail delivery dates, QR Code scans and landing page hits are easy and extremely helpful. It’s time to create your direct mail with QR Codes and track your results.

The Direct Mail Advantage

Does a less crowded mailbox translate to a better response? The answer is that it may not. You still need the right list, the right design and the right offer. When you do all of this and the mailbox is less full, you do have an advantage. Not only does your piece stand out more, but recipients are more curious about what is in the mail.

Does a less crowded mailbox translate to a better response? The answer is that it may not. You still need the right list, the right design and the right offer. When you do all of this and the mailbox is less full, you do have an advantage. Not only does your piece stand out more, but recipients are more curious about what is in the mail. That translates to spending more time looking at your marketing materials. Another thing to note: studies have shown that consumers spend more time with direct mail and remember it better than digital marketing. Are you taking advantage of the benefits offered via Direct Mail?

There are many more advantages to direct mail that have been beaten into our heads over the years, but for you to realize the benefits you need to be doing it. That means looking at your prospects and customers as they are now, not how they were ten years ago.

Who are recipients now?

  • They check the mailbox less frequently
  • They read bullet points and PS lines and skim the rest
  • They like a clear call to action
  • They like easy response methods
  • They like innovative ideas and technology

Does your direct mail cater to the items listed above? If so, you are doing great! If not, and you are not getting the results you want, then it is time to make some changes. The key is to not change more than one thing at a time to track what works best. It also helps to keep a base version going out the way you usually do it for comparison. It is ok to have several segments in one campaign that are testing different things.

Try new things:

  • Change the list: Who else could benefit from your product or service? Buy a list of those people.
  • Change the design: Consider what you could do with the design that incorporates the items above.
  • Change the offer: Think of other things you can offer that may generate interest. It does not always need to be a greater discount. Think outside of the box.

You can gain valuable information by asking current customers to evaluate what you are sending them. Don’t be afraid to ask for their feedback, they may just give you a brilliant idea. So now that you are taking advantage of direct mail and testing all the variables, you are gaining knowledge about your customers and prospects. Continue to build on what they respond to so that you create better direct mail they can’t help but respond to in the future. Building database personas and assigning them particular qualities allows you to send the right offer to the right person.

We are in no way advocating that you should only use direct mail. That will not work these days. You need to reach out to prospects and customers on multiple channels. The beauty of direct mail is that it integrates well with them. Triggered email, mobile, social and digital channels can all drive engagement and results.

Stand Out With Texture

How can you get your direct mail to stand out in the mailbox? Have you considered using texture? Coatings do more than just protect the print from scratching damage in the mail. They can capture interest for your direct mail piece. With all the different types of coating available, you can now choose one that really emphasizes touch. By creating a unique textured feel, your response rate will increase. Think of all the different ways you can add texture to your piece to grab attention to it.

How can you get your direct mail to stand out in the mailbox? Have you considered using texture? Coatings do more than just protect the print from scratching damage in the mail. They can capture interest for your direct mail piece. With all the different types of coating available, you can now choose one that really emphasizes touch. By creating a unique textured feel, your response rate will increase. Think of all the different ways you can add texture to your piece to grab attention to it.

Some fun coatings for you to consider:

  • MiraFoil: Create metallic effects in a precise fashion.
  • Raised: Gives the embossed look without actual embossing.
  • Pearlescent: Gives an elegant shimmer look.
  • Sandpaper: Gives a rough sand paper like feel.
  • Soft touch: Creates a velvet texture for a nice soft feel.
  • Glitter: A large glitter flake that is available in a variety of colors.
  • Metal Flake: Fine metal flakes similar to car paint.
  • Thermochronic: Temperature activated, changes color when heated.
  • Photochromic: This coating is activated by sunlight to change color.
  • Glow in the dark: This is a high gloss coating that will glow in the dark.
  • Scratch off: Available in gold or silver provides a non-see thru coat

Now that you have selected your coating, imagine how creative you can get with your design. You want to have the feel of bricks? No problem. 3D raised steps? No problem. It’s like the old “Pat the Bunny” books: You can have so many textures at your fingertips to choose from. It is not advised to go crazy and put several on one mailer, but you can mix a couple to really get a pop. Show your recipients how your product or service feels; grab that sensory emotion to increase response.

The standard coatings are:

  • Varnish: This is basically like a colorless ink and can be applied in gloss, dull or satin forms as the piece is printed. This is not environmentally friendly.
  • Aqueous: A water based coating applied as the piece is printed. It protects better than varnish and is more environmentally friendly.
  • UV: This provides superior protection and comes in glossy or dull.
  • Laminates: This is best for protection from water as it seals in the paper. This is not usually needed for direct mail pieces.

With any of the above coatings, it is a good idea to check with your mail service provider to make sure they can inkjet over the coating. You do have a couple of choices if the coating is not inkjet compatible. You can knockout the mail panel when coating to leave it unfinished for inkjet. Or you can use and envelope/poly bag as a cover. Just one more thing to consider is that a paper envelope can be inkjeted, but a poly bag will require labels. Make sure to consider all your options and costs before proceeding.

Direct mail is about engagement, pulling the recipient into your marketing by creating interest in your mailer. The more interesting it is, the better response you are going to get. You will also find that when you create a direct mailer that people really enjoy, they show it to others. The more people who see your mailer, talk about it and share it, the better your response will be. Sensory input leaves a lasting impression on the recipient. If you want to add another layer of input, check out our blog post on adding scent to mailers. A good combination of texture and scent can knock your ROI out of the park!

Digital Onslaught: I’m Losing My Brain, and What’s Left Is Being Rewired

I am convinced that the ubiquity of and access to knowledge—largely digital and increasingly mobile—that I have come to depend upon today is rewiring my brain. What I used to commit to memory, I increasingly assign to libraries on my computer and in the cloud. Am I being lazy, or old, or am I equipping myself to a new age of information—and analysis-on-command?

I am convinced that the ubiquity of and access to knowledge—largely digital and increasingly mobile—that I have come to depend upon today is rewiring my brain. What I used to commit to memory, I increasingly assign to libraries on my computer and in the cloud. Am I being lazy, or old, or am I equipping myself to a new age of information—and analysis-on-command? While the pursuit of knowledge is universal, perhaps how the next generation learns is different from how I learn, or used to learn. I’m late to the party, and I am either caught or willfully going through the transition.

I am not alone. The collective universe of the human brain is being rewired by digital communication: Out of necessity, the brain is being “trained” to skim instead of read. Even worse, British researchers are now theorizing and calling for further study on the possibility that simultaneous multi-screen viewing may destroy brain grey matter.

To counteract this “danger,” perhaps it is necessary to set aside time to read—the way we used to. Parents should assign books for their kids to read from cover-to-cover, and preferably in print and not on tablets. I make sure to read The Economist in print from cover to cover, but I had better put some books back in the mix fast. Discipline dictates that you should not rely solely on screens to absorb knowledge—because maybe you won’t absorb any all, and even if you do, it won’t be accurate.

One expert—who is committed to reading books online—says the only way to absorb knowledge on a screen is to physically take notes on what you’ve just read. The act of writing helps to commit the content to memory.

This is pretty serious stuff. I wonder if we really are having our brains rewired—or diminished—by digital media, just what do society, education and family households need to do counteract this phenomenon? Yes, we need to skim, but the Slow Reading Movement needs to take hold.

You can start by not reading this blog—online that is.

Why Can’t I Mail It? – Self-Mailers

As you know from part one of “Why Can’t I Mail It?” with postcards, there are many times that a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues, here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign. Now let’s look at Self-Mailers

As you know from part one of “Why Can’t I Mail It?” with postcards, there are many times that a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues, here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign.

Now let’s look at Self-Mailers:

  1. Self-Mailer size is 3.5 x 5 to 6 x 10.5, anything larger is not mailable in this category. A self-mailer is a single or multiple unbound sheets of paper that are folded together and sealed to form a letter-size mail piece.
    The USPS created this category in Jan. 2013 to stop jamming and tearing of mail pieces. To us it has been a pain to redesign sizing and folding. Why not just slow the machine down a little? But, alas, that is not the case.
  2. Paper stock must be a minimum of 70lb, as long as the weight is under an ounce. If the weight goes over 1 ounce, the minimum is 80lb. Anything less will need to go in an envelope.
    Our main issue with this one is how the heck will the postal clerks know what kind of paper stock was used? Are they really going to measure them all? We get it that thin equals floppy and floppy equals bad for machines, but it could have been addressed with a thickness of 0.009 or something along the usual guidelines.
  3. Keep your aspect ratio between 1.3 and 2.5. In order to calculate the aspect ratio, you start by looking at the mail panel, then take the length of the self-mailer and divide it by the height.
    We are told that the reason for this rule is machine compatibility, when the mailer is short and long it does not run through the equipment correctly, causing jams and again torn mailers. We don’t want that!
  4. There are two options for addressing a self-mailer.
    • Barcode in the address block: A 4 x 2 clear area, no varnish, UV coating, text or images for the address block. The block needs to be a minimum 0.5 inches from the right edge and 0.625 inches from bottom edge. The block can be no higher from the bottom of the mailer than 3.5 inches. Lastly the address must remain at a minimum distance from graphics or text of 0.125 inches.
    • Barcode clear zone addressing: The barcode clear zone is the bottom 5/8 of the postcard and must be free of all color, text and images. Next the address block must be a minimum 0.5 inches from the right edge and minimum of 0.625 inches from bottom edge. The block can be no higher from the bottom of the mailer than 3.5 inches. Lastly the address must remain at a minimum distance from graphics or text of 0.125 inches.
      These requirements are meant to keep the address in the OCR (Optical Character Reader) read area of the postal equipment. Honestly, the current equipment has more read area than this, but getting the post office to change rules in our favor does not happen!
  5. There are two kinds of folds: horizontal and vertical:
    • Horizontal folds: The final fold is below the mail panel. This can be an 8.5 x 11 half folded, an 11 x 17 half folded and half folded again and so on. If you use the 11 x 17 keep in mind that the first half fold needs to be to the right of the mail panel, the second below it.
    • Vertical folds: The final fold is to the right of the mail panel. Folding requirements are very strict so make sure to adhere to them.
      This rule was created so that mailers would have a fold in the two areas that most often cause machine jamming the bottom and lead edge. These seem a little stringent, but we do want the mailers to arrive looking nice!
  6. Tabbing or fugitive glue closures are required:
    • Tabbing: Up to 1 ounce mailer needs two 1 inch tabs, mailers over 1 ounce need two 1.5 inch tabs and if you are using perforations or inserts it needs two 2 inch tabs.
    • Fugitive gluing: use a continuous glue line of 1/8 inch wide or glue spots of 3/8 inch diameter, three to four spots or elongated glue lines 1/8 inch wide, three to four lines. As an example, on a horizontal fold you will have two tabs above the mail panel or two to the right and one to the left. On a vertical fold you will have one tab above the mail panel and one to the left, or two to the left.
      This one really hurts! With all these tabs and glue, the mailers are really hard to open and in a lot of cases they tear. Not really the presentation we are looking for!
  7. Poly bag/envelope: If you use a poly bag or envelope, your mail will have to go at flat postage rates. You cannot use them with self-mailer letter size mail.
    This is not too onerous, but it would be nice to be able to use the clear envelopes to keep the mailers looking nice and still be able to see them.

Your best bet is to design your self-mailer and then send a pdf to your direct mail provider, to have them find any problems with the design. They can help to make sure you are automation compliant and save on postage. As you are going through the process, do not let it stop your creativity. It is the unique and creative pieces that get the recipients attention and increase your ROI.

Do not let these regulations limit your design. There are plenty of ways to create self-mailers that standout and get attention! Contact your mail provider for samples and suggestions.

Where Are All the Courageous Clients?

I was chatting with a friend of mine over lunch the other day—he’s a senior creative in an integrated advertising agency (brand and direct)—and we were asking ourselves: “Where are all the courageous clients?” Where are the clients that aren’t afraid to take risks—at least creatively?

I was chatting with a friend of mine over lunch the other day—he’s a senior creative in an integrated advertising agency (brand and direct)—and we were asking ourselves: “Where are all the courageous clients?”

  • Where are the clients that aren’t afraid to take risks—at least creatively?
  • Where breakthrough results originate from innovative strategy and provocative creative—and not a re-hash or incremental tweak to a tired control?
  • Where tomorrow’s ad campaign is designed with the consumer or customer first in mind—not the CEO, CMO or some other elder statesman with purse strings?
  • Where agencies are treated as consultative partners—and the advertising product reflects true collaboration that generates excitement?
  • Where advertising’s Golden Age returns, where creative brilliance—advertising that works—returns to the mantle it once held.

There’s certainty among us that such clients exist. (Even he admitted he has some in his mix.) It’s just that not all the new business pitches these days are with brands that are ready to fly among the clouds. Taking the safest route may win the business, but trying to be safe all the time is so boring—and keeps everyone sadly on the ground all the time.

Judging the Direct Marketing Association International ECHO Awards every year, as I so enjoy doing, really gives me a superb perspective on who’s creating magnificent advertising—both here at home and (often) overseas.

There’s still time to make that ECHO Award deadline this year, now extended to May 28 (Wednesday this week): http://www.dma-echo.org/.

A helpful video for last-minute entering tips—from the Judges themselves:

There’s still time to prove to the world—there really are courageous clients (and the agencies that support them).