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Archive for the ‘Direct Mail’ Category

Commercial Printing: Paper Choices for Direct Mail

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

I received two pieces of direct mail this week that piqued my interest. In fact, I decided to keep them, and not just for this article. I wanted to think about why I found them unique.

Ironically, as more and more people have moved their marketing efforts from physical, paper based commercial printing to the more ephemeral Internet, those direct mail marketers who have stayed the course have found less competition for the reader’s attention.

In many cases, there’s less mail in the mailbox. What this means is that you have fewer pieces to review. But studies have shown that people still do take time to read their physical direct mail. In contrast, emails seem to be increasing every day, so I personally find myself reading fewer and fewer of the promotional ones. I look for a reason to delete them since there are always so many.

In light of this situation, I received the two physical mail pieces this week, and it was actually the paper choices more than the design that caught my attention.

Again, ironically, it was one of the major differences between email marketing and physical, print marketing that made these two pieces stand out. After all, you can’t touch a website or an email.

Paper Choices: The First Fold-over Card

The first piece is marketing collateral for a bank. The folded size is 6” x 9”, but it opens up into a 6”x 18” flat size, which in itself is unique. It feels big, and its dramatically lit images and ink solids with reversed type echo the feeling of space and abundance.

But what makes it really memorable is the feel of the custom printing paper stock.

Keep in mind that two functional (and useful) characteristics of paper are its weight and its surface. In this case the paper feels heavy (probably 80# cover), but this weight is doubled, since it is a fold-over card. The first thing you feel is the double thickness of the paper before you open the front flap upward to reveal the tall and narrow format.

Secondly, the commercial printing vendor coated the entire card–both sides—with soft-touch UV (or possibly reticulated varnish). It has a rough but consistent pattern, and this makes it feel soft as I run my finger across its surface. Combined with the thickness of the custom printing stock, the slightly uneven surface of the paper makes holding the marketing piece a tactile experience. The designer used one of the main benefits of paper—its physical, tactile nature—to its best advantage.

One reason I would probably guess that this is soft-touch UV coating (in addition to the soft feel) is the contrast between the soft background and a few items highlighted with a spot gloss effect (also probably a UV coating). The gloss coating covers the logo and some of the reversed type. Under a bright light, the contrast between the matte, pebbly finish covering most of the printed product and the smooth gloss effect over selected large headlines and the logo makes the display type and logo stand out more than usual. Under bright light they have a high-gloss reflective sheen.

All of this affects the viewer long before the large photos, page design, and text of the marketing piece. These qualities happen to be stellar as well (a simple but bold design reflected in the typeface, reversed type, and dramatically lit and well-balanced images). However, the very first thing the reader notices, upon pulling this marketing piece out of the envelope, is the texture and feel of the paper, a subtle element of design that works on a subconscious level. The reader may not consciously know what is going on, but the feel and weight of the paper are working their magic upon her or him.

Paper Choices: The Second Fold-over Card

Interestingly enough, this is a fold-over card, too. But it opens from side to side. (It is horizontal rather than vertical.) So the effect is more traditional. However, the paper is a very thick, uncoated and blue white stock. So before you open the fold-over card, the paper feels especially heavy. And this registers as “important information” when you pull it out of the envelope. It’s “weighty,” so to speak.

The uncoated surface of the paper combined with the full-bleed photos on all four panels gives a soft, subdued feel to this marketing piece, which is an introduction to a new series of town homes near my fiancee’s and my house.

The front panel shows about ten of the townhouses, all touching, at dusk. The sky is a subdued blue (as is the headline type, which is slightly darker), but you can see the reflection of the sunset in the windows, and some of the house lights have been turned on. The touches of orange sunlight in the cover image provide a nice warm contrast to the predominantly cool colors of the overall image. And the softness of the image at day’s end is consistent with both the soft feel of the uncoated paper and the softness of the printed image (in contrast to an image printed on a gloss or even a dull coated commercial printing sheet).

Inside the fold-over card the solid ink areas and reverse type provide an austere counterpoint to the large image of a kitchen in one of the row houses.

Overall, the effect of the marketing piece is one of substance (due to the thickness of the paper) with a casual, relaxed flair (due to the soft, uncoated paper surface).

Paper Choices: A Thick Business Card

My fiancee just handed me a business card from a fine artist. It’s actually perfect to round out this series of marketing pieces enhanced by shrewd custom printing paper choices.

There are three elements that distinguish this business card from its peers. First, it is thicker than usual. It is 14pt. For comparison, that’s just under 120# cover stock. To put this in perspective, when I was a graphic designer I used to specify 80# cover stock for business cards. So this paper feels much heavier and rigid. Like the two fold-over cards noted above, this business card has substance and (psychological as well as physical) weight.

One side of the card is a montage of the artist’s paintings, many of which are at sunset, so the contrast between the oranges and reds of the sun in the clouds works nicely against the dark silhouettes of the buildings. The colors are dramatic even in this small size with this many images in the montage. You don’t really see the individual paintings as much as their unifying color scheme.

On the front of the card is the artist’s website URL, hand-written in three lines (white reversed out of a black background that bleeds on all sides). So it’s simple. One side has the web contact information, and one side has a smattering of the artist’s images.

And because of the thickness of the commercial printing paper stock (and its rigidity), the overall effect is one of importance: an importance conveyed by the paper choice even before the reader can consciously address the graphic design or the marketing message.

Booklet Printing: Considering Options for Nested Booklets

Friday, July 26th, 2013

When I receive bids for a print job, the pricing from the various custom printing suppliers usually falls within a narrow range. Some prices are lower, and some are higher, but it is unusual for one book printer to be twenty or thirty percent higher than all the others. If this happens, it is usually because of a miscommunication of some sort.

A few blog posts ago, I mentioned a smaller print booklet (6” x 9”) bound within a larger booklet (7” x 10”) that a print brokering client of mine has been designing. It is a 4-color self-mailer (i.e., it will not mail in an envelope). The job will include a folded letter inserted in the back of the larger book, and the mailer will be closed with three wafer seals to meet US Postal requirements for self-mailers.

Vastly Different Pricing from the Vendors

One printer bid $470.00 to insert the smaller print book into the larger print book, while another printer bid $2,400.00 for the same work. If the vendor with the higher insertion cost had not offered such a low price to print the two booklets (comparable to the lowest bid), I would have assumed that the high bidder was just not competitive for this kind of work. But the custom printing price was low, so I looked deeper.

My first thought was that the printer with the low bid had just priced the job with two stitches affixing one print book into the other. This would have been problematic. After all, my client wanted to be able to remove the inner book and keep it intact (i.e., the inner book had to still have two staples once it had been removed from the outer book). To do this, one additional staple would need to be added, binding the two separate, previously stitched books together.

But had the first printer (with the low bid) understood the complexity of the job? That was my question. Clearly the bidder with the higher price had understood, hence the higher price. I called the first bidder to confirm absolutely that he had understood. The inner book would need to be removed by the recipient. He agreed to hold the price. He had understood, and I had given him a chance to make a price change if he had not understood.

A New Option for Mailing the Promotional Piece

The high bidder could not bind the job for anywhere near the price the low bidder had provided. (My assumption was that the equipment on the pressroom floor of the two book printers had differed enough to account for the price discrepancy.)

However, since the high bidder’s prices for the custom printing component of the job were competitive, he suggested an alternative. He would produce the two print books and the accompanying letter (keeping them separate) and insert them into a 4-color printed envelope.

The Basis for the Change in Job Specifications

I considered the change in job specifications because the book printer offered an interesting rationale:

  1. A self-mailer would get banged up in the mail.
  2. Wafer seals, which would be required by the Post Office, might tear the cover stock of the outer booklet when the recipient of the mailer slit them to open the print book.
  3. The fifth stitch (the one used to bind the two print books together) would be opened when the inner book was removed from the outer book. This extra staple might accidentally prick the finger of the reader, since the staple would still be open and would extend into the center of the book once the smaller book had been removed.
  4. Most notably, the envelope would protect the entire package (all elements: the two books and the letter) from damage.

All of this seemed prudent, so I asked the book printer to revise the bid, deleting the costs for binding the books together and adding a price for a 4-color printed envelope.

This new price was quite good, so I submitted it to my client as an alternative to the self-mailer. I also explained why this might be a good option to consider.

The One Downside I Could See

I could see only one reason not to choose the envelope option (although clearly I would defer to my client’s wishes, regardless). When you find a 4-color self-mailer in your mail box, it stands out from all the other mail. You don’t need to open the envelope. You get an immediate recognition of the image and message.

In contrast, you have to open a sealed envelope. Granted, you can put teaser copy on the envelope, but it still may not be as dramatic as a 4-color self-mailer. I explained this to my client so she would understand the pros and cons of both options.

A Final Thought on Adding Wafer Seals

Over the years I’ve received numerous self-mailers closed not with wafer seals but with fugitive glue. Granted, neither option is as user friendly as an open self-mailer, but this is not an option given the requirements for US Postal Service automated processing. The mailer needs to be securely closed.

That said, I’ve never torn a self-mailer sealed with fugitive glue, while I have inadvertently torn self-mailers sealed with wafer tabs.

It was just a thought. I presented it to my client as an option to consider.

The jury is still out. We’ll see what my client says.

Brochure Printing: Revising Jobs from Prior Years

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

One of my print brokering clients is a designer. Last year she made one of her clients very happy with two self-mailers. I wrote about them last summer, and this year her client wants to update the two jobs without changing their format.

The Back-Story of the Z-Fold Brochure

One of the jobs is a Z-fold (or accordion-fold) piece. Each of the 12 panels (six on each side) folds back and forth in the opposite direction of one another (like the letter “Z”). The self-mailer folds to a final size of 10.2″ high and 4.5″ wide. The 4-color custom printing project will be produced on 80# white gloss cover.

Here’s the Catch: Postal Regulations

In January I received an update from the Post Office listing new requirements for automatable discounts on self-mailers. These changes included acceptable self-mailer size and format, paper weight, address placement, folding restrictions, and tabbing positions for wafer seals.

Fortunately, my client’s Z-fold self-mailer from last year met all of the requirements without any significant changes. However, a different job with different specifications might not have passed muster. And in this case, without corrections to meet the USPS restrictions, the job might have incurred a significant surcharge—or it might have been rejected outright by the Post Office.

How to Avoid Mailing Problems

This is what I suggested to my client, and I would offer the same advice to you:

  1. Keep abreast of developments in the US Postal Service. Google Alerts can give you daily updates of relevant articles. Foreknowledge can save you money. These updates can come at any time. The USPS update that pertained to my client arrived this January.
  2. Show a mock-up of your brochure printing job to a business mail service specialist at the Post Office (or send him/her a PDF of your project). Make it clear that you want your piece to be machinable and automatable, that you want to receive the best postage discount possible. And then ask for his/her suggestions. Ask how you need to change the size, design, paper specification, address placement, or any other elements of the self-mailer to ensure compliance.

Another Piece: A Step-Down Print Booklet

Last year my client also created a step-down print booklet with diagonal thumb tabs. Each successive right-hand page was cut slightly less deep than the one in front of it. Thumb tabs had type reversed out of five different solid colors (one for each tab, with all being process color builds). It was beautiful, but it required precise cutting to make all tabs parallel to one another—with all of them on the same 45 degree angle.

The outer cover of the print booklet extended across the full 6” x 9” dimension (folded down from 12” x 9”), and the booklet was closed and tabbed for mailing. It also included a folded flyer, printed on 50# white offset and inserted into the direct mail package prior to tabbing.

The custom printing supplier had initially planned to cut the pages without using a die. He had expected to do extra hand-work, so the price included a surcharge. However, as the job progressed, it became clear that due to the precision needed in cutting the diagonal thumb tabs, the printer’s hand-cutting would take forever, might not be parallel, and might leave white lines between each of the differently colored tabs.

Therefore, the printer had steel die-cutting dies made and lost money on the job. If I recall correctly, he passed a small portion of the cost on to my client, but since the printer had initially priced the job for hand-cutting, he stepped up and bore the lion’s share of the cost of the dies.

A New Year, but the Same Step-Down Print Booklet

So now it’s a new year, and the custom printing job is essentially the same. The graphics will change completely, but the size and format of the step-down self-mailer will match last year’s job.

The good news is that the dies have already been made. So the overall cost of the job may be quite reasonable (even with a slightly higher initial price than last year’s job, due to the complexity of the work, offset by a discount, since the dies have already been made).

What You Can Learn

If you’re doing a job that is essentially the same one you did last year, particularly if it involves preparatory work such as steel-die-making, consider going back to the same custom printing supplier that did the work the preceding year, and ask about using the old dies.

Conversely, even if it’s a new job (a pocket folder for instance), ask about using a die that has already been created. If you’re willing to adjust your design a little to match an existing die, you may reap a savings, upwards of $500.00, since die-making can be pricey as well as time consuming.

Book Printing: Thoughts on Creating Nested Booklets

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

A print brokering client of mine came to me with an idea for a marketing promotion. It involved custom printing a 7” x 10” booklet that included a smaller, 6” x 9” booklet tipped into the print book.

She planned to produce the larger booklet as a 12-page self-cover, saddle-stitched item and the smaller booklet as an 8-page self-cover, saddle-stitched item. Both would be printed on cover stock.

My client wanted my suggestions on what paper to use, how large to make the books, and how to tip the smaller book into the larger book.

Choosing Paper and a Page Size

I contacted a high-end commercial printing vendor to discuss the job. Based on the amount of information my client wanted to include on each page, the printer and I agreed that the 6” x 9” and 7” x 10” formats would be ideal. In addition, the size difference would be just enough for the smaller book to stand out from the larger book (too close in size, or paper stock, and the reader would not immediately know where one book ended and the other began).

Furthermore, the printer and I agreed that an 80# white satin cover stock would be ideal for the outer book and a 65# white satin cover stock would be best for the inner book (my client wanted a paper finish between gloss and matte). Again, the contrast between the two paper weights would immediately confirm where one print book ended and the other began.

In addition to immediately identifying the shift from one book to the next, the thinner paper for the interior print book book would have a few other advantages. First, the marketing piece would be lighter than one created entirely on 80# stock. Therefore, the cost to mail the job would be less than for a book printed on 80# cover stock throughout. Finally, the bulk of the combined print books would be less, so there would be more likelihood that the nested booklets would lie flat and not curl.

Binding One Print Book Into the Other (or Tipping One Book Onto Another)

I told the printer about the tip-on, and we agreed that there were three options.

  1. The smaller booklet could be bound into the center of the larger book. It could jog to the top or bottom of the book.
  2. The smaller book could be tipped onto cover #3 (the inside back cover of the larger book). The book printer could run a thin bead of fugitive glue (like rubber cement) parallel to the spine of the larger book and then position the smaller booklet on this easily-removable glue.
  3. The printer could insert a “hanger” between signatures in the larger book, and tip-on (affix with the fugitive glue) the smaller book. One side of the hanger would be visible in the front of the larger book (and could be printed or unprinted), and the other side would extend through the saddle stitches to the back of the book. The high-folio side of the hanger (the side after the center of the book) would provide a base to which the smaller book could be glued.

I asked the printer if there were other options, and he said there were none. I also asked which he preferred and why. The printer said that inserting the smaller print book into the center of the larger one would not require tabbing, but tipping the smaller booklet onto the back inside cover of the larger book would require tabbing.

Since the job would be a self-mailer, I noted that three wafer seal tabs would need to be applied by the mailshop—either way–for the Post Office to accept the job and process it on its automated equipment (i.e., the self-mailer would then be machinable and automatable and would receive relevant postage discounts).

The printer agreed and said that under these circumstances there would be no reason to choose one option over the other. If the client wanted the smaller booklet either tipped onto the inside back cover or bound into the center of the book, either would be fine.

Stitching Both Books and Then Attaching Them to One Another

In order to ensure that both the smaller and larger print books would be intact when the smaller book had been removed from the larger, we agreed on the following. The smaller book would be bound with two staples, the larger book would be bound with two staples, and then the smaller book would be bound into the larger book with one staple.

The printer did voice one concern. Since pulling the smaller book out of the center spread of the larger book would open the central binding staple, this could be awkward. Instead, he suggested wrapping an elastic band around the spine of both books to hold them together in the center of each. This elastic band could be white, black, or a color. He would see whether this would be acceptable to the Post Office.

Discussing My Findings with My Client

I presented all of these options and insights to my client. She wasn’t sure she liked the idea of an elastic band holding both books together. She might still opt for the staple, or she might prefer tipping the smaller book onto the back inside cover of the larger book. She would need to present all options and pricing to her client for review.

Pursuing Next Steps

Therefore, my next step was to set out in writing all specifications for the booklets, with all options noted for binding and tip-ons. I then sent the spec sheet to the printer I had contacted as well as two other vendors and requested pricing.

What You Can Learn from This

  1. Involve your custom printing supplier early. Describe your goals, and then ask for his suggestions for improving the product and making it cost-effective.
  2. Keep a detailed specification sheet, and update it as you adjust your goals.
  3. Share the specs with a number of printers. Some may have more knowledge in the area of your particular printed piece, or more appropriate equipment, or better pricing.

Commercial Printing: Five-Day USPS Delivery–Ouch

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

I have concerns and questions about the effects of the upcoming change in postal service deliveries. On August 5, 2013, mail delivery will be cut from six days a week to five.

I understand the congressional mandate to pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees (although I also believe this requirement does not pertain to any other government, or quasi-government, organization).

I also understand the need for the Post Office to be solvent (although I personally would pay more for services). But overall, this reduction in delivery days scares me. Here are a few reasons why.

Magazine Printing Schedules May Be Compromised

I spent over a decade consulting for an organization that publishes news magazines. Over this time, I became acutely aware of how magazine content stays in flux as long as possible to keep the news current (and keep the print advertisements coming in). But, for many periodicals, once the editorial and ad deadlines have closed, the magazine printing schedule runs like clockwork to ensure magazine delivery on Friday or Saturday, when the subscribers will have time to comfortably read and digest the material. Pushing delivery to Monday may change how the news content is taken in. Instead of being embraced as a recap of the prior week’s news, a magazine that arrives on Monday may be greeted by readers who have already moved on to the new week.

So the magazine printing businesses will need to close their issues earlier to complete production and get the magazines into the mail earlier (compromising coverage of the news), or they will need to deliver the periodicals on Monday or Tuesday.

Granted, a lot of magazines will move from Post Office delivery to private delivery firms. This will keep delivery schedules intact, but it may also raise costs, which could damage the viability of the periodicals.

Omitting weekend delivery of magazines may also affect shopping trips by readers interested in print advertising in these very magazines, and this may cause further erosion of print magazine advertising and a move toward Internet ads.

Will Magazines Be Processed Over the Weekend?

Here’s another concern. Will magazines entered into the mail stream over the weekend even be processed over the weekend, or will they be processed on Monday? Or, will there be slippage of extra processing work into Monday, as there often is over a holiday weekend? These are relevant questions that the USPS has not yet answered.

Will This Encourage More Magazines to Produce Online Issues Only?

In many cases print magazines have embraced digital technology to remain solvent. Having both print copies and digital distribution has made sense. But with a shift from six-day to five-day delivery, the digital edition of a magazine may be available a number of days before the print version lands on your door stoop. Will this further erode the distribution of print magazines? Will advertisers opt for the quickest distribution route and pull ads from print issues to place them in online news venues?

How Will This Affect Direct Mail Advertising?

Moving from six-day delivery to five-day delivery is a 16 percent decline. That’s simple math. However, the big question is whether this decline will affect direct mail package production and delivery. Will more businesses advertise online? Will direct mail packages disappear?

I’m actually quite hopeful in this area. Everything I’ve read recently has emphasized the effectiveness of printed marketing collateral. People seem to like its tangible nature. They often have so much junk mail in their email boxes that a few dramatic direct mail pieces can interest them far more than all of their email newsletters and ads.

But I’m not absolutely certain. This remains to be seen.

What About First Class Mail?

People seldom write letters by hand. In fact, if you want to show respect and appreciation after a job interview, send a hand-written thank-you note. So few people do this that it will set you apart from your competition. It shows class.

Will five-day delivery affect First Class Mail delivery? And if so, how?

Private Delivery Services

I had lunch today with the VP of a local, private delivery services, a friend of many years (we’ll call him George). We discussed this issue. Although his organization stands to benefit from the shift away from six-day delivery to five-day delivery, George made a good point. Private delivery firms such as his keep their prices low by delivering only to certain ZIP Codes. George delivers multiple bundled copies of a number of magazines, tabloids, and broadsheets to downtown locations (i.e., saturation-level), and then delivers fewer individual copies (one at a time), to selected suburban subscribers within a limited distance from the center of town. “We’re not the Post Office,” George said. “They can’t even do it for what they charge.” He made a good point.

The Rise of FedEx and UPS

FedEx and UPS are great. But I’m always surprised at how expensive they are. USPS prices almost always seem to be more reasonable. Will privatizing delivery services cause prices to rise further? Will this increased cost of doing business be the death knell for magazines and newspapers? Will it be so cheap to have only an online news presence that printed copies cease altogether?

The Business Case for Five-Day Delivery

The Post Office has been losing money for a long time. I can understand the push toward reduction of services or even privatization. I can even understand the push toward letting more efficient companies step in and fill the void. That’s the basis of capitalism. However, I’m just concerned about the magazines and newspapers.

Direct Mail Packages: Your Brain Actually Prefers Them

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

I have to be honest. I want print media to prosper, so I’m pleased when I read about the success of ink or toner on paper.

I recently read a synopsis of a study by Millward Brown, in collaboration with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University, regarding the use of brain scans to judge the effect of physical print media in direct marketing. The article is “Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail.” It’s not new. In fact, the study is more than three years old.

The study compared the effect on the brain of exposure to both physical print materials and virtual media presented on a video screen, using functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery (fMRI) to visually indicate the areas of the human brain affected by each. The fMRI technology actually demonstrates how the brain processes these different stimuli. Presumably, if emotional responses drive the success of a marketing initiative, then understanding the emotional processing of stimuli will provide valuable insight. This was the premise of the study.

The findings of the study suggest “that greater emotional processing is facilitated by the physical material than the virtual.”

The Protocol for the Study

During the study, the 20 participants viewed ads that had already been exposed to the public marketplace along with an equal number of “scrambled” images. The scrambled images acted as a control to account for the fact that test subjects respond to the physical materials using more than one physical sense (i.e., both sight and touch, in contrast to virtual materials that affect only the sense of sight).

The experimenters presented the same materials online and on printed cards, and while the participants interacted with the materials, the experimenters ran fMRI scans to assess the effects. Within the fMRIs, greater oxygenated blood flow, reflected in color changes, indicated greater stimulation by the physical or virtual materials presented.

What The Researchers Found

Millward Brown and the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology identified the following (as noted in the article, “Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail”):

“Material shown on cards generated more activity within the area of the brain associated with the integration of visual and spatial information (the left and right parietal).”

“This suggests that physical material is more ‘real’ to the brain. It has a meaning and a place. It is better connected to memory because it engages with its spacial memory networks.”

“More processing is taking place in the right retrosplenial cortex when physical material is presented. This is involved in the processing of emotionally powerful stimuli and memory.”

“The medial PFC and cingulate are parts of the brain associated with emotional engagement. They are activated more by physical materials.”

“The brain’s ‘default network’ appeared to remain more active when viewing direct mail. Activity in this brain network has been associated with a greater focus on a person’s internal emotional response to outside stimuli. This suggests that the individuals were relating information to their own thoughts and feelings.”

What This Means in Simple Terms

  1. Direct mail packages affect more areas of the brain than online marketing messages, leaving a deeper impression.
  2. The brain gives greater credence to physical print materials. They are more “real,” having existence in time and physical space.
  3. Direct mail packages promote memory retention more than online marketing messages.
  4. Direct mail packages promote greater emotional engagement than online marketing messages, encouraging greater brand affiliation.
  5. Custom printing materials involve the viewer in a more complex internal thought pattern including associations with past personal experience.

The Implications for Neuroscience

  1. Such tools of neuroscience as EEG, eye tracking, and fMRI can be most useful in understanding the psychology of marketing and advertising.

The Implications for Marketing Professionals

  1. Don’t dismiss the power of ink and toner on paper.
  2. Conversely, don’t dismiss virtual marketing. A savvy blending of physical and virtual marketing materials can affect potential clients emotionally, improve their retention of marketing messages, and make their experience more personal, increasing their affiliation with the brand and their motivation to act.
  3. The key is the integration of marketing technologies: the use of the right tool at the right time.

Direct Mail Packages: Postage Costs Will Rise in January

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

It’s coming. You can almost set your clock by the postage rate increases. Every year, the US Postal Service can raise rates. As long as these increases do not exceed the rate of inflation, the Post Office does not need the approval of the US Congress.

It is interesting to note that in spite of the rapid growth of Internet marketing initiatives, the majority of US Postal Service revenue comes from direct mail packages. As justified as these rate increases are, it’s unfortunate as well, since those who use the Post Office the most are gradually being motivated to change their methods of communicating with clients, prospective clients, and donating organizations.

Specifics of the Rate Increase

Not all rate changes will be the same. The overall postage rate increase on January 27, 2013, will be 2.57 percent, but various classes of mail will incur different increases.

First-Class Letter Mail

The US Postal Service defines letter mail as:

  • Rectangular
  • At least 3.5″ high x 5” long x 0.007” thick
  • Not more than 6.125” high x 11.5” long x .25” thick

Postage for letters weighing one ounce or less will increase from 45 cents to 46 cents. Postage for First Class postcards will rise from 32 to 33 cents.

If you mail individual pieces rather than bulk First Class mail, you can buy “forever stamps” with no printed face value. If you buy the forever stamps before the rate increase at the current rate, they will be usable after the rate increase at the new rate. Unfortunately these stamps cannot be used for bulk mail.

Presort First Class Letter Mail

This postage classification includes discounted bulk mail that receives first class handling. To receive this discounted rate, your mailing must consist of 500 or more pieces. At present, the per-unit postage is 10 cents less than regular letter mail. In January, the rate will increase approximately 2.7 to 2.9 percent (or about 1 cent per unit).

Presort Standard Letter Mail

Unless your direct mail packages exceed the requirements for letter mail (and unless your mailing qualifies for nonprofit rates), this is the classification for most bulk mail. Rates for Presort Standard Letter Mail will increase in January between 1.4 percent and 2.1 percent, or about half a cent per unit.

Nonprofit Letter Mail

Nonprofit mailings that fit the letter-sized requirements will cost 3.25 percent more to mail after the January increase.

Every Door Direct Mail

This pertains to postcards your retail business delivers into a particular geographic area targeting every resident, as the name implies. You don’t even need to have a mailing address to take advantage of this new mailing program. The current rate is 14.5 cents per postcard. This will rise to 16 cents in January, slightly more than a 10 percent increase.

How You Can Save Money

Here are a few things you can do to save money on postage:

  1. Clean your mailing lists. Make sure that all the addresses are complete, accurate, and current.
  2. Consider reducing the trim size of the elements of your direct mail package. Talk with your postal service representative about reduced postage costs that might result from smaller (i.e., lighter) mail.
  3. Specify a lighter paper stock. Asking your custom printing supplier to use a 65# cover stock rather than an 80# cover stock, or an 80# cover stock instead of a 100# cover stock, will reduce the weight of your mail piece. Lighter mail requires less postage.
  4. Make the most of the newer technologies. Personalized mail gets higher response rates than non-personalized mail. Use variable data custom printing to make your direct mail packages specific to your target audience. In addition, pair direct mail with Internet-based vehicles such as PURLs.
  5. Fold creatively. For instance, instead of sending an 8.5” x 11” piece at a “flats” rate (that is, a non-letter rate), fold the piece to 5.5” x 8.5” and benefit from the much lower “letter” rate. Or mail a 6” x 11” piece for the same (letter rate) cost savings.
  6. Ask your Post Office about comingling mail (sending out your direct mail with other pieces from other mailers) and drop shipping (shipping your mail directly to a Bulk Mail Facility). This may reduce the postage cost for your direct mail packages.

Custom Printing Is Still Alive According to Online Sources

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

I came upon a few articles recently that show various venues in which the printed word still flourishes.

Direct Mail Packages Just Work

The first article is a snippet from a commercial printing supplier’s website. I work with this vendor as a broker. Let’s call them “Printer A” so as not to give them an unfair advantage. To quote from their website, “This political season, [Printer A] printed and mailed over 24.5 million pieces in a three-month period.” To continue, this printer has noted increased spending on direct mail packages. Printer A attributes this resurgence to businesses’ attempting to attract new customers by using “mail that gets noticed.”

What This Means

Direct mail marketing still works, even in the age of email and tablet computers. Printer A was slammed and had to provide longer than usual schedules for some work prior to the election due to the vast number of print jobs in progress. Companies and political parties don’t spend money on advertising that is ineffectual. A coordinated, multichannel initiative directed toward individual prospects using variable data culled from demographic research makes direct mail a formidable tool.

Colourtone Aries Says Printing Is “Tangible” Daily Industry News, dated November 12, 2012, includes a statement issued by Colourtone Aries that custom printing is still “a critical element in the marketing mix” due to its tangible nature. The BizCommunity article, entitled “Printing Will Not Die, Says Colourtone Aries,” notes that direct mail, point of sale pieces, brochures, and packaging are still dynamic marketing tools.

To quote from the article, Colourtone Aries believes strongly that “a brand’s interaction with the consumer is, and will always remain, tangible, either in the initial contact or when receiving a product. Printed communication, marketing and packaging, which adds to the consumer’s brand experience…is an integral part of the success of branding.”

What This Means

The key words here are “tangible” and “the success of branding.” The Internet is evanescent. It’s one useful marketing channel, but Colourtone Aries sees the “tangible” qualities of print as a necessary part of a brand’s connecting with a consumer on a personal level, forging a lasting bond and inspiring customer loyalty. Commercial printing is powerful and relevant.

Tablets May Actually Increase the Reading of Printed Periodicals

Media Bistro included the following article by Ryan Lytle in its November 15, 2012, newsfeed: “Tablets May Fuel Print Magazine Market, Report Says.”

This online article references a report by the United Kingdom’s Professional Publisher’s Association (PPA), which notes that tablet users read and respond to digital magazines. Furthermore, the PPA report notes “a positive correlation between print and tablet readership.”

PPA notes that while 80 percent of those surveyed had read a printed magazine within the past year, 96 percent of tablet owners had read a printed magazine within the last year.

The Media Bistro article suggests that readers have been using both tablet-based periodicals and printed periodicals. They want both formats, and in some cases the digital versions have even introduced readers to a new magazine or newspaper brand and have motivated these readers to subscribe to the print periodical, which they might not otherwise have done without the initial exposure to the periodical on the Internet.

Marius Cloete of PPA notes that: “Tablet owners are more likely to have read and purchased magazines in the previous 3 months than the national average, dispelling the myth that tablet owners are abandoning print in favor [of] digital.”

What This Means

Tablet owners are more voracious readers than the average person. They have embraced the tablet, but they still like printed periodicals. It’s not a question of choosing one over the other. Rather it is about exploring and celebrating the differences.


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