In the world of high-volume mail production, it’s easy to get so buried in the details or caught up in handling the crisis of the day that we don’t pay much attention to the real reasons we’re sending something through the mail. On the surface, it seems obvious—we mail because our internal or external customers are paying us to do so. Other times, the short answer about why to mail might be to bill customers for products and services or inform them about the status of their insurance claims. But really, every mail piece has a bigger mission.

Some mail piece missions are pretty dull, like fulfilling regulatory requirements. For most others, though, the mission is related to convincing the mail recipient to take action or change the way they think about something.

One thing I learned in a business writing class a long time ago was that you should never lose sight of your goal. You write to effect change. If your effort isn’t likely to change anything, it’s time to question the decision about sending the communication at all.

I create content for a living and it’s surprising how often, when discussing a proposed white paper or article, I stump clients when I ask, “What do you want people to do when they read this material?" They haven’t really given it much thought. Common sense tells them they should publish something, but they have neglected to consider a purposeful impact of the piece. The same thing goes for material delivered through the mail.

When you think about it, affecting someone’s behavior or changing the mind of a human being by delivering some paper and ink to them is actually a pretty amazing feat. Who knew mail was so transcendent?

This greater purpose of mail is why quality control, reviews, and proofs are so important. A mistake or half-hearted attempt at any point along the design, development, production, or distribution process can cause mail pieces to fail in their mission. Even if the execution of the printing and mailing operation went smoothly, a mail piece that fails to impress the targeted recipients is a failure, and that’s bad for everyone involved.

Here are some common mail pieces and the missions they may be designed to accomplish:

1. Direct Mail Marketing
The focus of direct mail advertising used to be convincing prospects to make a purchase right from the mail piece. Some direct mail still works this way with coupons, catalogs, or offers. Often, though, the mission of the mail piece is encouraging mail recipients to take an action that exposes them to additional steps in the selling process, such as watching videos on the internet or visiting online landing pages. Each of these steps has their own mission.

2. Bills and Statements
Informing customers about what they bought, how much to pay, and when to pay are the basic functions of transactional documents like bills and statements. Getting customers to pay on time, reducing reliance on expensive customer service help, or enticing customers to consider more purchases may also be objectives for these widely read documents companies send through the mail.

3. Insurance Claim Information
Insurers provide these documents to inform customers about which claims were submitted, how much was covered by insurance, remaining deductible amounts, etc. Besides furnishing insureds with valuable information, these mail pieces hope to decrease expensive calls to customer service. Making these documents clear and understandable with plain language and directing customers towards self-service support options helps these items fulfill their mission.

4. Event Announcements
The mission of event announcements is to convince mail recipients to attend the event. To accomplish this task, the announcement should be clear about when and where the event is to be held, the cost, and, most importantly, the benefits recipients will receive if they attend. Registration can be encouraged via personalized QR codes or pURLs that pre-populate online registration forms with registrant data.

5. Welcome Packets
Organizations send welcome packets to confirm a purchase, distribute mandated materials, encourage referrals, and inform customers where to find additional help and information. The main mission here, besides satisfying regulatory obligations, is to make customers feel good about the decision they just made. Balance the transactional/legal content with material that supports the customer’s choice to sign up and reminds them of the benefits.

6. Legal Notices

Privacy notices and other legal documents can be pretty boring, and readership is probably low. Staying compliant with the law is the main mission, but that doesn’t mean the mail piece must be intentionally uninspired. It might be worthwhile to include a cover page with some more readable content that summarizes the denser portions of the communication or includes a message from the CEO.

7. Donation Appeals
Making it easy to donate is critical, and most mail pieces do a great job of directing donors to online destinations or other channels where they can commit their support. Convincing donors they should part with their money, however, is the primary objective. Unless the mail piece can get the donor’s attention and tug at their emotions, the mechanics of how to donate won’t matter.

Deadlines, job set-ups, material handling, postage, and all the other elements of high-volume mail production are still important, of course. You might say that attending to those items is your mission as a mailing professional. Paying attention to what that mail is actually meant to accomplish, or getting someone to define the mail’s mission, is just as critical, in my opinion. To paraphrase my old writing teacher, “Don’t start producing until you know why you’re doing it.”

Mike Porter works with companies in the printing and mailing industries to help them raise awareness for their companies, improve their rankings on search results, inform potential customers about the value of their products and services, and keep prospects interested as they proceed through the buying process. Learn more about his services at Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.

This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2023 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.