Why Can’t I Mail It? – Flats

As you know from parts one (postcards), two (self-mailers) and three (booklets) of “Why Can’t I Mail It?,” there are many times 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. Finally, let’s look at flats:

As you know from part one (postcards), two (self-mailers) and three (booklets) of “Why Can’t I Mail It?,” there are many times 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.

Finally, let’s look at flats:

  1. Flat-sized mail is between 6.126 x 11.51 to 12 x 15. These mailers have fewer restrictions as the equipment they run on at the USPS is very different. They lay flat, mail-panel side up, as they run through. Unlike the letter-size machines that run so they stand up on the edge below the mail panel.
    This means less damage happens to flat-size mail pieces. They also stand out in the mailbox better.
  2. Paper stock must be a minimum of 0.009 thick. The maximum thickness is 3/4 inch for the whole mailer. Usually this is not a problem since many flats are mutli-pages.
    Many people get creative here, since you can go a lot thicker. Just make sure you keep the thickness even throughout the mailer.
  3. No aspect ratio requirement. Since these run laying flat through the equipment, there is no need to adhere to a ratio.
    This gives you more freedom in your size design. If you want a more slender look, you can do it!
  4. Flats are required to have address blocks in the upper half of the short edge. For instance, with an 8.5 x 11 mailer, you would need to address from the top of the piece down only to 5.5, do not address below the 5.5. There is no barcode clear zone for flats. You will need to use an address block that includes the barcode, a 4 x 2 clear area, no varnish, UV coating, text or images. You must also make sure that you have at least a 0.125 clearance for the address block from the edge of the piece and any text or graphics.
    This requirement is not actually for the machines, but for the employees to more easily see the addresses when distributing the mail.
  5. The fold or binding must be to the right of the mail panel. If you are using a poly bag or envelope, this is not necessary.
    The reason they want it to the right is because as they pass through the machines laying down, the lead edge is on the right side.
  6. No tabs are required. In some cases, such as when you are inserting a piece loosely into the mailer, you may decide to use tabs to hold it closed. You may do that if you wish, it is just not a requirement to do so.
    Most people opt to not use tabs even when they have a loose insert, since in most cases they do not fall out.
  7. If you use a poly bag/envelope, the maximum extra space you can have inside the bag from the edge of the piece to the edge of the bag is 0.5. This is very popular now. It allows the recipient to see the creative through the clear material, as if it were just mailed without an envelope and then lets you put loose pieces together like when using a standard envelope.
    You can either address the materials on the inside of the bag or you can label the outside, both are acceptable as long as you are using USPS approved bags.

Your best bet is to design your flat 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.

Responsive Design: This Changes Everything

Like many businesses, we put off making updates to our Web page because we were … um … well … simply too busy. And shame on us. As marketers, we know the critical role a website plays for any business. If a potential client, employee or business colleague wants to really understand who you are and what you do, they take two actions

Like many businesses, we put off making updates to our Web page because we were … um … well … simply too busy. And shame on us.

As marketers, we know the critical role a website plays for any business.

If a potential client, employee or business colleague wants to really understand who you are and what you do, they take two actions:

  1. Check out your LinkedIn profile: Does your photo look like somebody they want to engage with? Does your experience/education/brand voice look like a good match for my needs? Do you know anybody I know so I can get the inside skinny on you?
  2. Visit your website: How do you present yourself in the digital world? Do you have the experience/skills I’m looking for?

With an increasing number of site visitors using their mobile devices to visit websites, the new design “must-do” trend is responsive design. While in the past it was necessary to have a separate mobile-friendly version of a site, it’s now easy to maintain one site that can serve all your needs regardless of the screen size.

A site that uses responsive is flexible: It changes its layout and appearance based on the pixel width of the screen on which the site is displayed by reorganizing the images into a cascading style sheet. By using x and y coordinates on a grid for layout, and mathematical percentages for images instead of fixed-width pixel parameters, your layout will resize itself to fit in the size of the display device. That means that text on a page can be larger and easier to read on small screen, and buttons can be easier to press/click because they can accommodate the actual size of a finger.

If your site currently uses Flash, it’s probably a good time to rethink that strategy, as many smart phones don’t currently support it—which means many visitors won’t be able to view that content.

Plus, since Google recommends and supports smart phone-optimized sites, their algorithms will automatically detect a responsive design setup if those all-important Google bots are allowed to crawl your page assets. And we all know how critical it is that your site is Google-search friendly!

But, it seems, many brands have not jumped on the new responsive design bandwagon—and understandably so. We’re living proof that planning, designing and re-launching a new website is a time-consuming task. And while many web design firms claim they can adapt your current site for less than you may think, we found that we needed to completely rethink our site and the way we were presenting our work in order to take advantage of responsive design techniques.

Now email is following this same responsive design trend. If you’re like most people, you’ve already discovered that reading email on your smart phone can be challenging. Just because it looks great on your work monitor, doesn’t mean it will render properly on every recipients device. According to Litmus, as of December 2013, more than 51 percent of email opens occur on a mobile device. Meaning you’d better be taking a serious look at your email design if you want to make sure it’s optimized for the majority of your readers.

As for our website, it’s now under construction … and yes, we’re using responsive design … and yes, we’re learning a lot as we go. Check back in about 60-days and let me know what you think.

“Mail?! Isn’t That Dead?”

“Mail? Isn’t that dead?” That’s the reaction I sometimes get from new friends when I talk about my job (well, part of it): analyzing direct mail. To answer that ‘direct’ question, let’s take a dive into …

“Mail? Isn’t that dead?” That’s the reaction I sometimes get from new friends when I talk about my job (well, part of it): analyzing direct mail.

To answer that “direct” question, let’s take a dive into the retail sector. Yeah, the postal service is in crisis, mail volume is in decline, and digital retail channels are flexing their muscles more than ever. But over the last few months I’ve seen some terrific direct mail demonstrating that some companies still realize and celebrate the unique value of direct mail in positioning their brands.

My first “aha!” moment came in late April, with the new J. Crew catalog. On the cover was a greeting in white text (“NICE TO MEET YOU”) on a red background. But that wasn’t what got my attention. It was a two-page spread inside — the welcome to this “Style Guide” — that made me stop and read closely (see image in the media player).

The letter talks about how the catalog has been used by customers: “You read us on the train and on the beach. You also dog-ear the pages to mark your favorite looks … SO HERE’S YOUR OFFICIAL COLOR BIBLE, YOUR OCCASIONAL TRAVELOGUE, YOUR WHAT-SHOE-GOES-WITH-WHAT-SKIRT AND WHAT-TIE-GOES-WITH-THIS-JACKET SOURCE OF INSPIRATION.” In essence, the catalog is a benefit all by itself.

Lord & Taylor mailed a Style Guide of its own in August. It includes a note from Suzanne Timmins, the company’s Senior VP & Fashion Director, who confidently proclaims, “Our Style Guide is all you will need to build your fall wardrobe. Take it from me, it’s what’s chic right now!” Likewise, Ann Taylor’s head designer, Lisa Axelson, introduced readers to the store’s first edition of “The Workbook.” Actress Kate Hudson, the star of its Fall ads, appeared on the cover, but, Axelson says, the focus of the issue is on “women like you, with 9-5 schedules and a 24/7 life.”

As with the other catalogs, there are lots of call-outs throughout to combinations of styles both new and old. Both the Ann Taylor and Lord & Taylor efforts include incentives (a gift card and coupons, respectively) that are good only at the brick-and-mortar stores; the J. Crew offer code can be used either at a store or online.

It’s not just apparel retailers who are championing their expertise and exclusivity. On a cover, Design Within Reach recently asked its readers “What is MODERN?” The answers — “the people and places that shaped the modern objects with which we live” — are found on the pages inside, claims company president & CEO John Edelman in the letter inside.

Much of the catalog explains the history of the design movement, and showcases products that exemplify the people, places, forms and materials that influenced decades of home and office design. It’s all about having an ongoing conversation, according to Edelman. “Talk about design, test us on our knowledge, or just listen to our stories.”

Many retailers can sell clothing and furniture like what these cataloguers offer. They can promise lower prices, similar quality, and good customer service. But these companies stand apart because of how they keep direct mail relevant; they use high-quality paper, copy and images to break through the mailbox clutter and build (or reinforce) a unique identity for themselves and, for their customers, a lifestyle.

So, to answer that original question: Dead? Nope.

Paul Bobnak is the director of the Who’s Mailing What! Archive, the most complete library of direct mail in the world. Reach him at pbobnak@napco.com.