Inserts (bill stuffers) have been a mainstay of transactional documents like bills and statements for a long time. But it’s time to reconsider inserts as a way to deliver offers and messages to customers. Most organizations are switching to inkjet or color toner printing platforms. This makes it easy to switch the pre-printed inserts to marketing and informational content printed inline using white space on the transactional document pages — onserts.

I’ve noticed some mailers have taken this approach. My cell phone company and internet service provider have abandoned bill stuffers. The only exceptions are mandated communications like privacy policy updates, which they send to every customer. Other companies, though, are behind the times.

Insert Limitations

I spent most of my early career dealing with inserts. We had no practical alternatives, but bill stuffers were a hassle. Inserts had to be printed well before the statement runs, which made last-minute adjustments impossible. We had to inventory the inserts and set up quality control processes to make sure we used the right inserts on each job. If we had jams on the inserting equipment, the inserts were most often to blame. Sometimes we had to split jobs to accommodate customer demands for selective inserting.

Segmentation is limited with pre-printed inserts. Your inserting machines have only a certain number of insert stations. I once worked with a client that held negotiation meetings where departments vied for the privilege of including their inserts in the monthly billing statements. The group tracked which departments relinquished their spots, and when they were to be compensated. Sometimes a department receiving an insert spot would trade it away for future consideration. It was pretty entertaining to watch, but those meetings sometimes became contentious.

Onserts also make it possible to combine small jobs, if they use the same outbound envelopes. This improves productivity by keeping inserting machines running longer and eliminating time spent on inserter QC checks, logging, and job set-up procedures.

Today, pre-printed inserts should be the exception. Print/mail operations should encourage customers to use onserts instead as they can be made relevant to each document recipient. Print service providers can produce unlimited versions, variations, or combinations of messages. The limitations imposed by a fixed number of insert feeders vanish.

Customer Benefits of Onserts

Besides the operational advantages, customers also benefit from onserts. They can target their on-statement messages or even personalize them. This will undoubtably improve response rates. Customers can save time and money paid for creating and shipping pre-printed inserts and end the waste from excess inventory and obsolescence.

Inserts are often not included in the archived documents customer service agents use to respond to customer inquiries, but onserts are. Agents will be better equipped to answer customer questions about an offer that came with their monthly bill or statement if the offer is displayed as part of the statement image on their screens.

Pre-printed inserts continue to be appropriate for some communications such as regulatory notices, but they are a poor choice for marketing content. Do yourself and your customers a favor and switch to highly personalized and targeted onserts instead.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants creates content for the document industry and helps document operations build and implement strategies for future growth and competitiveness. Learn more about his services at and Follow @PMCmike on Twitter or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.