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Maximizing Direct Mail Success Through Design

Marketers have been absorbed in digital these last several years. Digital has all but eclipsed direct mail, but things are changing. Mail remains a powerful channel for ROI, especially for older demographics. However, younger marketers likely aren’t getting much direct mail experience these days.

With that in mind, we caught up with Cliff Rucker, SVP of sales and customer relations at USPS, to discuss some of the basics of direct mail, and how marketers go about setting up direct mail campaigns through the postal service.

What’s the most common pitfall marketers fall into when working on direct mail campaigns?

One of the important lessons I’ve learned when working with customers in developing their marketing campaigns is how small details can easily get lost in the excitement of bringing an overarching vision to life. And when it comes to the direct mail segment of omnichannel campaigns, understanding what choices you have—regardless of how granular they may seem—can help fine tune your campaign and contribute to its success.

How about the mechanics of direct mail? How do marketers go about developing mail?

Direct mail can certainly catch your customers’ attention, but as you flex your marketing creativity, remember that abnormally-shaped mail pieces may raise the price of mailing. When developing copy for a direct mail message, determine a mailing size early on to help manage costs. Traditional mail pieces typically fall into one of three categories: postcards, letters or flats. If you have a small amount of copy or limited budget, a postcard is an inexpensive and efficient ways to reach customers. For larger mailpieces, “letters” can be up to 11.5”l x 6.125”w x .25” thick as long as they’re rectangular.

Although pricier, “flats” are a great choice if you have a large amount of material to share; they give you more space than a postcard or letter. A flat refers to large envelopes, newsletters and magazines with a maximum size of 15”l x 12”w x .075” thick. Flats are usually affected by weight, so the heavier the flat, the higher the cost of mailing.

What’s the most important thing marketers need to understand about the USPS?

Understanding the difference between First-Class Mail, USPS Marketing Mail and commercial mail may help your bottom line. USPS divides mail into “classes” to help categorize different features, levels, postage prices and pre-sort requirements. First-Class is faster than USPS Marketing Mail and may be a good choice if you need to reach customers quickly or if you’re shipping a small quantity. In contrast, USPS Marketing Mail typically costs less than First-Class, but requires a minimum quantity of 200 pieces or 50 pounds of mail.

For each option, you may save money by mailing at commercial prices, but will need to pre-sort mail pieces by ZIP code before taking them to the Post Office where you hold a mailing permit. Keep in mind that commercial mail can provide savings in the long run, but is an initial investment; you’ll likely need to pay for a permit, an annual mailing fee and any costs of pre-sort software or other equipment.

How do marketers go about paying for mail?

There’s more than one way to pay for postage if you’re using commercial mail. When sending low-volume bulk mail that requires a stamp on each mail piece, I recommend using pre-canceled stamps, which offer the personalized look of single-piece mail without the price. Another option, postage evidencing, allows you to print the postage block, or indicia, directly onto a mail piece or onto a meter tape or label. This is a convenient way to both pay for postage and track postage costs. Lastly, permit imprints are a popular way to pay for high-volume mailings. Instead of using pre-canceled stamps or a postage meter, permit imprints allow you to print the indicia as you print the mail piece.

What about deliverability? How do marketers handle people moving or relocating?

A special addressing service called ancillary service endorsements allows you to give the postal service specific instructions on how to handle mail if it can’t be delivered as addressed, which may save time on costly returns. This service provides several options to choose from, depending on whether you prefer mail pieces to be forwarded to customers or returned to you.

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