The success of a direct mail campaign using a letter pack has many variables that can affect your profitability. If you have ever read the Domestic Mail Manual (DMM), you know the United States Postal Service loves to use acronyms. They have acronyms for types of services they provide to names of locations to drop off your mail and everything in between. I have come up with my own acronym I call PRIP. It stands for Potential Return on Investment Pitfalls.

These pitfalls can be anything from extra production/processing costs, to increased postage, or a mail piece design that is missing key components. Let’s take a deeper dive into some of these pitfalls to avoid and ways to reduce costs and increase profitability for your next marketing campaign.

The Pitfalls of Production and Processing

One of the biggest pitfalls I see is where an outer envelope will be designed and produced but is not compatible with mailing equipment. Envelope flaps are the biggest culprit. Producing your envelope with a flap that is non-machine-insertable means you are either hand-inserting the components, or you are going to be reproducing the envelope using a machine-compatible flap. Either way, it is an added expense and delays the processing of your mailing.

The two most common flaps that work with most mailing equipment are the commercial flap and the wallet flap. These are the industry standard for machine inserting and are very cost-effective. Commercial flaps are used on a variety of envelopes sizes such as a #9 or #10. Commercial flaps work well with high-speed inserting equipment. Wallet flaps are used on A-series machinable envelopes such as A-6 through A-10 as well as #9 and #10 envelopes. A-Series machinable flap envelopes give you additional options on inserts and can be used for invitation-style direct mail pieces since they come in a range of different sizes.

Pointed, euro, and square flaps are not normally machine-insertable and would require hand-inserting of the letter pack components. This can add time and expense to a direct mail project. Open end, sometimes called catalog, envelopes are also normally not machine-insertable and would also need to be hand inserted and sealed. You want to be sure to use open-side envelopes

If you are mailing large quantities, you will want to be sure to use open-side envelopes with either a commercial or wallet flap.

Keeping Postage Inline

Postage is one of, if not the, largest expense for a direct mail campaign. By keeping your mail piece within the parameters of a letter size mail piece, you will greatly reduce your postage. The largest letter size envelope size is 11.5” x 6.125” and must be under .25” thick. If you are looking to use a larger letter size envelope, I suggest going with a #14 envelope that is 11.5” wide by 5” tall. This size envelope gives you additional width for larger inserts and additional real estate on the outside of the envelope for teaser copy or your call to action.

Your choice of envelope color or creative design can also affect your postage costs. Stay away from bright colors and use white, neutral, or light pastel colors. Dark, bright, fluorescent, and black envelopes impede the ability of the USPS to ready your barcode on the mail piece, increasing your postage costs to non-automated rates. The Mixed AADC rate for an automated letter is $0.299 cents per piece, and for a non-automated/non-machinable mail piece, the postage increases to $0.702 cents per piece.

Envelopes with heavy graphics, text, or a pattern on the mail panel side can also give the USPS difficulties with reading your barcode. Dark fibers, bleed through of inserts, and security paper can cause misreads at the post office, leading to additional postage. Knocking out an area to inkjet your address block ensures your barcode can be read; just be sure it is in the OCR Read Area. It is easy to check by using USPS template Notice 67.

I also suggest that you keep all text above the Street Line of you address block. USPS equipment reads from right to left and from the bottom of the mail piece upwards. If you have text below the street address line on your mail piece, it could be mistaken for the address. The last thing you want is the USPS reading your teaser copy and unable to deliver the mailing, so it is sent to the return address on the mail piece.

Getting Your Envelope Opened

The final pitfall relates to the items on an envelope that help get your mail piece opened. This could be a teaser line, a call to action, a response date, or even using a Marketing Mail Stamp rather than an indicia or meter mark for postage.

A strong teaser line that intrigues and piques the interest of the recipient creates the mail moment. The mail moment is the feeling the addressee gets when seeing your mail piece for the first time. It could be when they open the mailbox and retrieve the mail piece or when viewing the information using Informed Delivery. The teaser line should be concise and give the reader a sense of what the offer is. Make the statement bold, and be sure that it pertains to the offer. Don’t be vague or misleading. Don’t forget that you also have the back side of the envelope to add text or graphics.

Have a call to action to get your mail piece opened. The call to action can be as simple as telling the addressee you are providing a special offer, so they should open immediately, or informing them that their special gift is inside. As with the teaser line, use bold words like “Final Notice,” “Limited Time Offer,” or BOGO Sale.

The last item I would like to talk about is how postage is applied to the envelope. One of the easiest ways to get a mail piece opened is to use a postage stamp rather than an indicia or metering the mail piece. The works best if you do not want the recipient to know this is a marketing piece. In this case, you would want to forgo the teaser line and call to action and make the mailer look as personalized as possible. Inkjet the address in a script font to look like it is hand-written. Use blue ink to enhance the personal look of the mail piece and place the barcode in the barcode clear zone in the lower right-hand corner of the envelope.

Avoid these PRIPs, and you’ll likely see the profitability on your next mailing campaign increase. Happy mailing!

Rob Hanks is an inside sales representative at Suttle-Straus and has more than 26 years of experience in direct mail. Rob is a Certified Direct Mail Professional and a Certified Mailpiece Design Professional through the United States Postal Service and serves as the Industry Co-Chairperson for the Greater Madison Area Postal Customer Council. Rob enjoys the challenges of mailpiece design within postal regulations and helping clients save on postage costs.

This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2020 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.