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9 Ways to Improve Your Outer Envelope

It’s not uncommon for a marketer to invest a tremendous amount of time, effort and money in a direct mail package, then create the outer envelope almost as an afterthought.

That’s a mistake, because tests have shown that varying the outer envelope can increase or depress response rates in an A/B split – even when the mailing inside is identical – by 25 percent to 100 percent or more.

Here are nine outer-envelope factors to consider when devising your next mailing:

1. To tease or not to tease? We use outer-envelope teasers because we think the strong teaser we have written will increase response. But sometimes a teaser, even one we think is strong, has the opposite effect, decreasing response.

Some marketers argue that the teaser’s purpose is to get the recipient to open the outer envelope. But a blank envelope from a stranger gets opened every time: You want to know what it is and who it’s from. So why use a teaser? Copywriter Bob Matheo says the function of a teaser is to create a positive expectation for what’s inside the envelope.

If you can’t come up with compelling copy for the outer envelope, don’t use a teaser. If you have a teaser you think is strong, do an A/B split test of a teaser vs. no teaser.

2. Who is it from? The corner card, the sender’s name and address on the outer envelope, tells the reader who the letter is from.

Let’s say you are doing a mailing to sell subscriptions to an investment newsletter. The letter could be from the editor, the publisher or the publication itself.

One publisher had just the name of the editor and the publishing company in the corner card. When they added the name of the publication, it depressed response 25 percent.

3. Company letterhead or plain envelope? When the recipient gets an envelope with the logo of a company he does not know, he suspects that he is getting promotional mail and therefore is less likely to open the envelope, read the contents and respond. To avoid this, omit your logo and set the company name and address in the corner card in plain type such as Helvetica or New Courier.

Some mailers type the name of the person who signed the letter in New Courier above the logo so it looks as if it were typed on the envelope by hand. Those who have done it tell me the technique raises response.

4. Paper stock and color? In a test, a mailer did an A/B split of its control using a kraft envelope vs. a white envelope. The white envelope outpulled the kraft by 25 percent. This does not mean that the rule is “white always outpulls kraft.” It means that outer envelopes matter and you should test.

5. Size? Test different sizes: In direct mail envelopes, size does matter, so this is worth testing. A common result is that the jumbo lifts response over the #10, but not enough to make it profitable. Exceptions? Tons.

6. Stamp, meter or indicia? Conventional wisdom says that best to worst in order of preference is a stamp, a meter, then a preprinted indicia. Some marketers report a lift in response when using commemoratives and other unusual stamps. Another technique I’ve seen work with a jumbo mailing is to use multiple low-denomination stamps to reach the total required for postage.

7. First Class or Third Class? Direct mail that sells a product via mail order is almost always sent Third Class because of the economics. However, if you are doing lead-generation mailings to business prospects using just a letter in an envelope with a reply card, and your universe is small, First Class may lift response.

8. Window? Should you use a closed-face envelope or a window envelope?

The advantage of a closed-face envelope is that it looks like real personal or business mail. The advantage of the window envelope is that the recipient’s name and address can be imprinted or affixed to the reply element, which is positioned so that they show through the window – eliminating the need for the customer to write in his name and address.

9. Should the envelope be flat? Or should you make it bulky, and therefore arouse the reader’s curiosity, by putting something inside it other than paper? The marketing director for a national nonprofit told me that all of their best-performing packages have “heft” created by a small, enclosed object such as a crucifix or necklace.

When I worked for a manufacturer of wire mesh used in chemical plants, we drastically boosted response by enclosing a sample of the wire mesh along with our sales letter. The teaser on the bulky envelope read: “Your FREE mesh mist eliminator enclosed.”

Enclosing an unusual object works especially well when you plan to follow up each package with a phone call. A contractor sent a brick with his business card silk-screened on it. When he called to follow up, he told prospects, “I’m the guy who sent you the brick.” He almost always got through.

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