Cooperative and sampling mailer ICOM, Toronto, has introduced a new production process that enables packaged goods companies in the United States to place multiple product samples of varying size and shape into a single mail piece, and it's being considered for acceptance by Canadian postal officials.
Package Assembly Equipment allows co-op envelopes to run through a mail feeder more than once, and samples are placed on, rather than in, the envelope. PAQ enables samples to be individually targeted by reading the name and address on an envelope and selecting the appropriate samples to go in each.
“If you don't want to limit a customer's flexibility, you have to be able to run the envelope through a number of times,” said ICOM co-CEO Alan Levine. “We had to develop an approach of working off the envelope rather than the insert, that way we don't limit our customers in the number of different target groups they can have.”
Once all samples are attached to an envelope, it's overwrapped in plastic with the name and address showing through. Its flexible conveyor system allows for variances in sample shape. The system currently has a capacity for eight different samples on the belt but capacity can be extended. The number of samples added is limited only by USPS regulations on weight and exterior dimensions to qualify for Standard A mail rates.
The USPS initiated a surcharge for nonuniform mail when new rates went into effect in January, and ICOM has been working with the postal service to ensure that overwrapped packages adhere to uniformity guidelines, Levine said.
By adhering to all USPS specifications, PAQ gives customers lower distribution costs than solo sample mail because those costs are shared with other co-op participants.
ICOM, which mails its TargetMail co-op to a database of 15 million to 18 million U.S. households compiled from responses to bi-annual surveys, can segment samples based on brand purchase behavior, usage patterns, medical conditions or other household habits. Unilever will use PAQ in a sampling program this spring for its Dove soap products while packaged goods companies Warner Lambert, S.C. Johnson and Kimberly-Clark have already conducted segmented sampling programs with ICOM.
PAQ is not yet available in Canada because of package size restrictions, but according to Levine, Canada Post has rewritten its postal regulations to make selective sampling available to direct marketers there. ICOM is partnering with Canada Post in a pilot project now underway to assess the pricing and deliverability of overwrapped mail.