As with most things today, change is expected, and this includes direct mail. There is a continual need for differentiation to attract the attention of the customer, a need to adjust marketing deliverables for synergy and consistency across various marketing mediums such as direct mail, website, broadcast, etc., as well as a response to changes in postal rates. These are just a few of the challenges that face marketers relying upon the effectiveness of direct mail.


Keep It Relevant, Consider Your Audience

Direct mail, when implemented effectively, can be very personalized and precisely targeted, ultimately yielding greater rate of return and ROI results. Ensuring that the recipient is appropriately targeted and the offer is relevant to the recipient is critical to ensure its effectiveness. By first understanding the ideal customer target and identifying them through definable selection criteria, such as targeted demographic tools, allows for a more narrowly focused target group.


Studies have shown that individuals receive over 2,000 marketing messages daily. The need for marketing messages to be relevant and differentiated is necessary now more than ever. The value resulting from more accurately targeting a recipient will reduce costs by eliminating unqualified mailings. Also note that a more responsible approach taken by marketers will illustrate the effectiveness of the market in preempting any possible legislative regulation on direct mail.


A more appropriately and accurately targeted group will allow for a greater investment per contact. This will allow the investment made to create a relevant message to the target group and thus be an important factor in driving ROI. "Creating a package that will guarantee the customer will open it is the ultimate goal," states Kirsten Walter, Director of Package Development for Production Services Associates, LLC. "What type of package that will create this response is dependent on the product and the market it is sold to. Smart testing is the key to understanding what package will work for your program."


Testing is essential for program success. Walter adds, "You'll also have to expand the knowledge base, and perhaps supplier base, of your current production group. Finding the right package supplier can make the testing process move much more smoothly."


How to Make It Pop!

There is a reality in creating differentiated direct mail pieces; the major challenge is balancing the capabilities of the printer, lettershop, USPS and envelope manufacturer with the client's requirements. Doug Kullbom, Director of Strategic Accounts for MetroGroup, states, "It's no longer enough to just be the best in terms of quality, price, delivery and service; that's now expected. Driving continuous improvement to benefit the partnership, developing cost reduction opportunities year over year and bringing new, creative package designs to the table on a continuous basis has become the standard for the biggest and best. To that end, companies have to collaborate and move innovation outside their doors to find truly new and innovative solutions and ideas."  


The importance of understanding the critical aspects of each process in the mail stream is vital when developing a new design to be compliant with the USPS. It is essential that the mailpiece designer consider the critical requirements of automated processing. The involvement of utilizing lettershops during the design stage helps provide critical design recommendations and testing for the new format. The value of due diligence testing allows for corrections and improvements prior to the critical mail rollout. 


The key to designing automation-compliant envelopes is understanding and knowing how automation equipment is designed to work. Companies must present mailing solutions that are compatible, which further supports and enhances mutual credibility. The ultimate parallel objective of the mailing designer and the insertion equipment manufacturer is to ensure the customer's needs are met; this requires all relevant parties to understand each other's roles and work together.


Ensuring that mailpiece design complies with USPS and OCR sort testing is also necessary. ZipSort's Bill Spaulding, Regional Sales Director, states, "Driving down costs through automation is essential." Testing new mailings through the automation process prior to a rollout will ensure confidence that the job will run more smoothly. "One recommendation is that test mailing be commingled with a control mailing," Spaulding states. "Rather than separately conducting mail tests, it is possible to more accurately measure the effectiveness of a test mailing under similar conditions, same class of mail, entering the mailstream at the same place, time and location."


It's Not Just a Mailer

Increasing the life of the envelope and the direct mail piece goes beyond merely delivering the mail. It also extends the marketing effectiveness of the piece, as each time the customer uses the envelope, they are exposed to your marketing message. Consider how the envelope can be used as a longer term storage device for materials beyond the initial mailing. One consideration is that the envelope becomes a storage device used for archiving materials, as it relates to a product or service.


Another consideration is the envelope and direct mail piece contained within. Differentiation does not need to be sacrificed when seeking eco-friendly solutions. Top-of-the-line envelope manufacturers are creating eco-friendly options, including "green" paper envelope products, that meet Rain Forest Alliance criteria and clear biodegradable polypropylene as well as annually renewable and sustainable envelopes made from clear PLA, or polylactic acid, a derivative of corn.


With increasing awareness of environmental responsibility, "green" alternatives and renewable and sustainable resources, the envelope and its contents now have the opportunity to be a part of the direct mail message. Working with partners to design an automation-compliant, eco-friendly envelope can offer new opportunities and direct mail solutions to serve customers delivering messages to the ever-increasing green demographic.


Using eco-friendly materials is also a subtle reference to the sender being a concerned corporate citizen. They are concerned about the environment and therefore more concerned about their customers.


Product Development

During the product development stage, the balance of creativity and engineering can positively (or negatively) impact the outcome. Not only should the envelope be engineered to be automation-compliant, but the creative aspects also need to be taken into consideration. This often requires challenging your engineering team to work together effectively with your creative and design staff. Both creativity and engineering are equally important in this equation. Walter recommends, "A sample of any proposed design should be sent to a USPS Mailpiece Design Analyst for a better understanding of the postal impacts of the design."


Properly engineered, the envelope will be approved by the USPS. This is vital. However, this alone will not ensure the envelope is opened and the message read or listened to. Differentiation of the direct mail piece is the creativity portion of the equation. To effectively deliver the message to the targeted group, the envelope must be opened; "creating" the right look and message can accomplish this. Walter adds, "Creating a package that has a shape or texture that catches the customer's attention is key to finding the balance between what to spend in the package design and production and postal costs."


Leverage Your Interest with the USPS

As a customer, leverage your interest. The USPS is interested in serving the needs of its customers. With so many marketing pieces being directed to them, establish credibility with customer support. The USPS has systems and processes in place; the organization needs to be deliberate and qualify any changes to ensure they are compliant. Therefore, changes or special deviations need to be qualified, realistic and collaborative with solutions. Learn and prepare for USPS testing. Bring to the USPS suggestions and solutions to help them help us. The balance of understanding, due diligence, testing, partner and customer support will help the entire process.


David R. Coho is Univenture's Vice President of Sales & Marketing and is involved with product and business development, sales channel development, global customer relationships and market research. He presented a workshop at the 2007 NPF on "Using the Envelope to Drive ROI." You can reach him at or 937-645-4630.