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The Outer Envelope is Key to Getting Your Direct Mail Opened

Marcus Johnson

You know that expression, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Forget it, especially if you’re using direct mail as part of your marketing mix.

Fair or not, your audience is always going to judge your direct mail by its outer envelope. Their three-second assessment of your outer envelope (part of the 3:33 rule of direct mail—a topic in itself) will make or break your mailing. If they’re not moved to open the envelope, you don’t get to talk to them.

So, not only is it worth thinking through the strategic approach and the details of your outer envelope, it’s essential, if you want people to open your direct mail package.

Outer Envelopes: Size, Stock, and Color Open the Way to a Successful Direct Mail Effort

Rather than separate B2B and B2C practices, I’m going to establish some general truths that apply to both.

Let’s look at the makeup of a direct mail outer envelope, starting with size, paper stock, and color. They all matter. Size can be a function of many considerations, including the letter form itself, as well as the purpose of the letter and need for space to hold your sales message. Oversized envelopes obviously stand out in the mailbox, increasing the likelihood they’ll get noticed and opened.

Paper stock and color also play a key role in making the right first impression. Heavier stock gives the direct mail package some heft, so it’s more noticeable among competing mail (albeit potentially more expensive; budgets are another thing to consider). Color—whether it’s brand-related or used for effect—can attract eyes and pique curiosity enough for someone to open and spend quality time with your package.

Outer Envelope Features and Layout Can Make or Break Your Mailing

You won’t be surprised to learn that academic studies have been done on the layout of outer envelopes. Professor Siegfried Vögele’s Eye Flow Studies Provide Clues for Improving Your Direct Mail cites four areas of the envelope that deserve extra consideration as you’re preparing your direct mail package:

Mailing/Return Address—The mailing address is the first thing people look at (“Is it addressed to me?”). The return address also matters because it can establish who the letter is from. More on this in a minute.

Teaser—Vögele recommends placing the teaser to the left of the address, as that’s how people’s eyes sweep the key elements of an outer envelope (middle, then left, then up and to the right), according to his testing. However, many packages, as you know, include a teaser to the right of the address, below the stamp or indicia. Feel free to debate this. Better yet, test and see if it affects your response.

Choice of postage—Pre-printed indicia? Postage meter indicia? Commemorative stamp? Your choice of postage matters, and can either add to or subtract from the credibility and personal appearance of a direct mail package. IWCO Direct is not alone in finding that live stamps generate better response. But you’ll want to choose postage that fits the overall look and “personality” of your direct mail package.

“To Reveal or Not to Reveal?”—That is a Good Question

About that return address I mentioned earlier…

Some direct mail should be clearly identified as coming from a particular sender, by virtue of branding, logos, colors, or other identifying marks. This makes strategic sense if the mailing is being sent to loyal customers who expect to receive mail from that company, retailer, etc.

However, for an acquisition mailing, the better strategy might be to leave the envelope “blind”—’i.e., provide no clues via name, logo, or color about who sent the direct mail package. We call this an “official” look because a so-called blind outer envelope can also contain design elements or copy that do not reveal its origins, but do suggest urgent matters lie within.

While the envelope can be completely blank (save for a P.O. Box return address to heighten its mystery), you can also add copy and design elements such as a security pattern and/or non-descript but important-sounding phrases (Renewal Notice, Final Notice, Official Notification, etc.), among others. These are all triggers and temptations to get people to open the envelope despite—or especially—not knowing who it’s from.

You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression

That maxim is especially true in the case of direct mail. If there’s a phrase that sums up the IWCO Direct philosophy toward outer envelopes, it’s “Make it count!” because it’s your pass/fail ticket to getting a chance to pitch to your audience. And remember, you have three seconds to make the grade.

Whether it’s a blind outer envelope that compels people to open and find out who sent the mailing or a highly-branded outer envelope that instantly telegraphs who it’s from and what it’s about, you want to make a first impression that gives people no choice but to open and read what you have to say.

Need help deciding which design and copy elements will make your outer envelope most effective? Contact me here.

link https://www.iwco.com/blog/2019/05/21/outer-envelope-copy-design-tips/
Marcus Johnson


Marcus Johnson

Marcus is a Senior Writer who blends creative writing and idea generation to bring copy to life for leading financial services organizations, professional sports teams, healthcare, and outdoor brands. The question this University of Minnesota graduate and former winner of the Best in Show from the National AgriMarketing Association loves to ask is, “How can I help?” When he’s not pounding out copy, he loves doing yard work, especially leaf blowing. In sports, Marcus cheers for the Humboldt Broncos, the Canadian hockey team that lost 10 players in a 2017 bus crash.

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