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Get creative to cut direct mail costs

Today’s marketers want to stay competitive in an uncertain economy, but direct mail can be expensive. Four experts share their tips for making a piece look good — but cost less

Jared Tanner
VP of marketing, PrintingForLess.com

I consider myself first and foremost a direct marketer. It also happens that I work for a commercial printer. Being a marketing person at a commercial print­er has given me some valuable insights into the manufacturing process — and how marketers can better work with their printers to minimize costs.

For example, our marketing team recently created and printed a double-postcard prospecting piece. During the printing process, complaints started coming from our bindery that the piece was difficult, required multiple passes through the various fold, inkjet and tab machines, and that it even required a manual fold. The piece worked well from a pure marketing perspective, but the format caused delays and additional labor from our manufacturing team. And, had I been a normal print cus­tomer, I would have incurred additional custom charges on a piece that didn’t appear to be terribly difficult or complex on the surface.

After consulting with our manufac­turing team, we looked at redesigning the piece to better flow through our existing equipment and manufacturing processes. We came out with a piece that had the same impact but was much more efficient to produce on our printing equipment.

Where the specific format is not critical to the performance of your marketing materials, I would strongly recommend consulting your printer to see if there are specific formats that are more cost-effective. I don’t know of any direct mar­keter that wouldn’t like to reduce their print cost and lower the break-even level on their direct mail efforts.

Most good printers rarely say no to a print job — no matter how complex. And, we’ve printed a lot of wild and creative pieces. But there are definite efficiencies and cost savings that can be passed on to customers with a little pre-press consultation.

Pre-press consultation can help you decide on the most cost-effective format

John M. Peterson
President, Kopytek Inc.

It pays to remember the four elements of design: size, shape, stock and selling features. By breaking down a design piece in this format, you can simplify your project and greatly reduce the cost.

Let’s start with size. Odd sizes cost more, not only to print, but to mail. The number of outs you get out of a full-size sheet will greatly affect the finished price. That’s why it’s always better to do a five- by seven-inch postcard with bleeds, rather than a 5.5- by 8.5-inch or a six- by nine-inch you’ll get more on a sheet. Remember, more on a sheet is directly linked to a lower price.

Shape matters as well — not neces­sarily just with the printer, but also with the post office. The USPS now adds a postage surcharge for square items, and anything over the maximum letter size carries a surcharge as well. In addition, if your piece exceeds one ounce, you may want to reduce the size and shape to get a lower postage rate.

Stock is always a factor in the cost, and the best way to choose a stock is to think of the end use. Too often, designers choose more stock than they need. Be conscious of mill orders, too. Extra freight is expensive. You often don’t need to ship in special stock when a comparable paper is available locally.

And finally, don’t forget to eliminate “selling features.” These are the fancy things you show your client when “clos­ing the deal,” such as film laminating, aqueous coating or fancy die cuts. Most of the time, these are pie-in-the-sky fea­tures that will be eliminated in the end, so try to sell the piece without it. Rely on your talent — that’s why you were hired in the first place.

Keep size, shape, stock and selling fea­tures in mind to reduce project costs

Freddie Baird
EVP & COO, QuantumDigital

There are many options available for marketers that want to see savings with­out sacrificing quality when it comes to direct mail campaigns. Marketers should look for print and production solutions that focus on savings through efficiency through the complete direct mail cycle, concentrating on the physical attributes of a piece as well as the methodology of finding the right recipients.

A prime printing solution is to look for vendors that use cutting-edge digi­tal equipment and flexible technology. Advanced digital equipment features plenty of benefits, including dry inks that produce clean, vibrant colors equiva­lent to or better than traditional four-color printing processes. Such methods can help marketers see brilliant results for less money with a faster turnaround time.

On-demand printing allows marketers to print the exact quantities they need precisely when they need it, and makes it easy for marketers to personalize each direct mail piece with the recipient’s name and additional unique data. This tactic can be achieved at a relatively low cost and has been proven to capture the attention of direct mail recipients.

Also, with newer technologies, it is no longer efficient, cost-effective or necessary to distribute blanketed areas with direct mail. There are many solutions on the market that feature extremely targeted demographic selec­tions to narrow down recipients to target your perfect prospect. In fact, prospect­ing tools even merge demographics with an interactive Google Maps interface so marketers can isolate only their perfect prospects and mail directly to them. This sophisticated approach will save marketers money and increase ROI of their direct mail campaigns.

Use cutting-edge technology to produce high-quality, targeted solutions

Frank Defino, Jr.
VP and managing director, Tukaiz

Even the most inexpensive tactics on the production side of a direct mail cam­paign will fail if pieces are sent to recipients who are not interested in your offerings. Save the money you would have spent on printing and postage delivered to the masses — redirect your budget to more creative, higher-qual­ity personalized pieces that speak to each recipient’s interests — and prompt action. For marketers who are spending their marketing budget but not seeing return on investment, saving money and garnering positive results may be as simple as just avoiding casting too wide of a net.

To achieve success, it is important to make sure you are sending a positive message, from the richness of paper you select, to the vibrant inks you use, to the attention-getting envelope in which you place the piece.

When choosing an appropriate paper for your mailer, particularly a self-mailer, consider the beating the piece will take on its journey, from the rig­ors of the printing press itself — possibly through a coater — then on to post office mail trays, rollers, and transportation. A thicker, more rigid paper weight such as 10-point or 12-point is economical enough to be cost-effective, but will still withstand harsh treatment.

The ink you employ can be a stan­dard four-color. The addition of a UV coating is multifunctional by making the colors of the ink stand out while protect­ing it from mail rollers. UV coating can be done on one side of a direct mailer for increased affordability without com­promising the quality look of the piece.

Clear envelopes veil the piece enough to make it intriguing while allowing the recipient to catch a glimpse of the creative, high-quality piece inside. And, just in case the piece is subjected to the elements outside during mail delivery, the envelope protects the investment within.

Reach the right audience with attractive papers, inks and envelopes

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