Ever since multi-station mail inserting machines were invented, mailers have struggled with pre-printed inserts. Mailing operations must receive the inserts, add them to inventory, stage them for production, and carry out quality control processes to ensure operators use the right inserts with each job. Someone must destroy the leftover inserts, return them to the warehouse, or ship them back to the customers. Material provided by outside printing companies sometimes causes jams, double-feeds, and stoppages.

Yes, to say inserts can be a pain would be an understatement.

If jobs call for selective inserting, programmers must code and test the logic to create the control files or barcodes, and management will probably require supervisors to sign off on the inserter set-up before running the job. In shops I’ve visited, I have observed production delays of 10 to 30 minutes while inserter operators wait for set-up approval.

Limited insert stations can also cause headaches. What do you do when you have five possible selective inserts but only a four-station machine? Force customers to pick which inserts to skip, or split the job and double the time spent setting up, tracking, and managing the work?

And then there’s always the question of what to do if the insert supply runs out in the middle of the job. Do you continue without the insert, substitute a different one, or pull the job and wait for more material? Running out of inserts at peak times is especially frustrating when processing occurs at night or over the weekend when operations can’t reach customers for guidance.

In my service bureau career, we faced all those issues. I remember them well.

Bill stuffers served a purpose in their day, but now mailers have choices that are better, cheaper, and more effective.

If I were running a print/mail services company today, I would strive to make pre-printed inserts the exception. I’d be instructing my salespeople to steer customers to onserts at every opportunity.

Lots of Benefits with Onserts

With onserts, virtually all those production problems go away. There are no inventory or material issues, no extra work involved at production time, and fewer opportunities to make errors.

The best part about onserts is the opportunity to make them truly relevant to each document recipient. Print service providers can produce unlimited versions, variations, or combinations of messages they print in line with the documents. One can regionalize the messages, for instance, or make offers based on customer balances, activity, or ratings.

With intelligent onserts, mailers won’t send their platinum-level customers promotional offers aimed at individuals at the bronze level. Or they can send recently upgraded customers information or add-on offers appropriate to their new service level instead of useless pitches for the upgrade they already purchased.

Making Mail Better

I advise my service provider clients moving towards white paper workflows to encourage their customers to replace pre-printed inserts with variable data onserts whenever possible. This conversation may require salespeople to educate their customers. To make a convincing argument, salespeople must understand what their customers want to accomplish and show them how the documents they are producing can support those business objectives. This will be a major change in sales techniques for many, but one that is necessary.

Customers can probably save money by switching away from inserts as the primary method of including extra promotional, informational, or regulatory content with their documents. They won’t have to coordinate with a third party to create the inserts or order an extra 10% for spoilage. Obsolescence will no longer be a factor.

Educate your customers about the benefits of changing away from the traditional bill stuffers that have been comfortable solutions for decades. They will thank you for saving money while simultaneously improving the effectiveness of their messaging.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants works with in plant operations and print/mail service providers to help them transition to a new way of thinking about the production and distribution of customer communications. Connect with Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com ,follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send a connection request on LinkedIn.