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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: What’s in an Outgoing Envelope?

Photo purchased from …

My fiancee received an official-looking package yesterday. It was a heavy brown chipboard envelope with a First Class Presort indicia and numerous barcodes. Boy did it look serious. It was the thickness of the envelopes that contain important photo prints, deeds, and diplomas. It had gravitas.

When my fiancee opened it, all it contained was a credit card application and a sample card. But the marketer had my attention and my fiancee’s attention. The marketer had absolutely assured that we would open that envelope.

What Is an OGE?

OGE stands for outgoing envelope. It usually contains a marketing letter, maybe a brochure, and any other printed pieces that constitute a marketing campaign. The outgoing envelope is a major sales tool in that it opens a conversation (presumably) with a potential client. The OGE usually contains a prepaid BRC as well (a business reply card, which is the potential client’s way of responding–for free–to the marketer’s–or more specifically the brand’s–invitation).

But to work, the OGE must be opened. In my fiancee’s case it worked. I’ve never seen anything in a chipboard envelope that wasn’t serious.

So how do marketing departments ensure that their promotional packages get opened?

If the chipboard envelope worked because it had gravitas (and because the mailing label gave no indication of its contents–not even the name of the company, just its address), another mailer I once received got my interest because of its transparency. Literally. It was a promotional piece for a large-format inkjet printer slipped into a completely transparent, clear-plastic envelope. In this case the photos and the subject matter interested me, so I opened it.

I’ve read that photos or other images on envelopes work better than text. Granted, images work on the emotions. But I’ve also seen outgoing envelopes with obscure, witty, or provocative statements on the front that piqued my interest. The key was that they made me want to find out more. They intrigued me. And this isn’t an easy task for a marketer because she or he is targeting so many diverse potential customers. You can even argue that obscure, witty, or provocative statements may also offend or confuse recipients, so perhaps there is wisdom in sticking to images.

I’ve also read that anything that looks like an advertisement will end up in the trash. Marketers are often advised to keep the front of the envelope looking like a personal letter. One way to do this is with personalization and targeting (which rely on market research, demographic analysis, and variable-data custom printing, or VDP).

Personalizing mail involves making sure you’re sending the promotional piece to individuals who will care. When you’re doing research to compile your address list (unless, of course, you rent one), consider the demographics of your recipients to ensure that you are targeting people interested in your product or service. Use their correct names (not “resident” or “neighbor at”). Make sure the addresses are complete and accurate. This may include using address verification software to weed out bad addresses. You should consider meeting with your bulk mail specialist at the Post Office to discuss this.

Personalizing the outgoing envelope can also include the treatment of postage. An actual precanceled stamp looks more like a stamp you would affix on a letter than does a postage indicia for bulk mail. And if the overall marketing package looks unique when it arrives in your mailbox, and like it was sent by someone who knows you, you’ll be more likely to open the outgoing envelope. So discuss precanceled stamps with your USPS representative as well.

I’ve also received envelopes addressed in a faux-handwriting font. It’s automated, so the marketer doesn’t have to actually hand write multiple thousands of addresses, but it looks more personal. I’ve even received envelopes with what looks like actual handwriting on the front. (Not sure how they did that.)

Other articles I’ve read suggest sending promotional pieces in envelopes that are either larger than usual or smaller than usual. The key here is to arouse curiosity. I think people used to receive a lot more promotional mail and now this has often been replaced by email blasts. (I considered 200 emails a day to be a lot until I started getting 300 and began tweaking the spam filter more.)

But the idea is the same with email. People want a reason to discard promotional emails as well as promotional mailers. But if they are intriguing in some way, if the marketer has done research into what my interests are (as with the Epson inkjet marketing pieces that come to me), I’m far more likely to actually look forward to reading the collateral.

Piquing curiosity and looking important are key.

Saving Money on Postage

The US Postal Service is very amenable to passing on their savings to you. Another way of saying this is that you will receive discounts if you comply with the USPS guidelines. Some of these pertain to the size of a mail piece. I noted in an earlier blog posting that as an art director in the 1990s I found that 6 1/8” x 11 ½” was the dimension I should not exceed with my catalogs. Anything smaller was a “letter.” Anything larger was a “flat.” Keeping all of the promotional material I designed in the letter category saved my company a lot in postage (even a small discount adds up over the course of 10,000 or whatever number of envelopes mailed).

Other postal guidelines include how mailers are sealed (fugitive glue, wafer seals, if they’re still used). This pertains to keeping mail from flopping open in the automated equipment. Following USPS guidance saves the USPS trouble and saves you money (in postage costs) if you comply.

The BRCs I mentioned earlier, which marketers send out to encourage your response to their promotional pieces (perhaps your request for further information about their product or service), also have USPS requirements to keep postage less expensive for you and free for the person who returns the business reply card. These can include printed postal barcodes and FIM (facing identification marks), all of which facilitate the automated address-reading and sorting of mail. The indicia (which replaces a stamp in the upper right-hand corner of the envelope) also has requirements (wording, font, size–again to facilitate optical character recognition, as with the barcodes).

Even the position of blank areas on the envelope, with absolutely no custom printing, is important. As an art director I once designed a piece with part of a photo wrapping around onto the mailer. When I showed my mock-up to the marketing mail agent at the Post Office, she nixed that right away, noting that the OCR software had to read the text and the barcodes.

The Takeaway

So what I’d encourage you to do is either go online and read the US Postal Service requirements for formatting and addressing bulk mail or request a print book copy of this information (my particular preference). It’s a bit like reading the phone book, kind of dry information. But it becomes infinitely more interesting when you figure out how to prepare your promotional mail to save money (particularly if you’ve already been spending too much by not knowing this information).

As I noted before, it also helps to have a knowledgeable ally at the Post Office to whom you can show your mock-ups before the job has been printed. You can discuss paper choices, size, formatting, and get approval before custom printing a job and finding out that it’s unmailable. It also helps–if you’re like me and your eyes glaze over when you’re reading USPS manuals–to have an actual person who can note any changes you need to make to reap the highest level of automation presort discounts and hence the highest savings on postage. Again, before the commercial printing stage of your job.

So the outgoing envelope, and all other components of a mailing initiative, rely on the psychological insight and creativity of the designer and copywriter to pique the interest of a potential client. But these components also rely on the physical realities of paper choices, mailer size, addressing, and automation compliance that actually get your package to your intended recipient in the first place.

Now, what do you need to do to get your prospect to open your OGE? Ask a designer and a copywriter. That’s why they call people who do this for a living “creatives.”

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