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outer envelope

What Should Your Outer Envelope Say?

Marcus Johnson

You probably know the expression “the eyes are the window to the soul.” It’s much the same with direct mail: the outer envelope (OE)—with or without a window—gives insight into the inner contents. The OE is a blank slate for your direct mail package, and has the potential to telegraph what someone will find inside. That could be good or bad news. We’ll have more to say about that paradox shortly.

First, let’s stipulate that the outer envelope of a direct mail package exists for one primary purpose: to get opened. An outer envelope can communicate something by its shape, size, color, and features. Or it can actually contain messaging—lots of messaging, as we’ll see—plus photos, bursts, bullet points, or other flair to highlight offers.

Second, the state of the art in envelope design and printing has advanced considerably. Now, there’s really no such thing as an OE “front” or “back.” Flaps can be reversed, for example, so what we’d normally consider the “front” of an OE—i.e. the address panel—might now display an address and maybe a message, as well as a reversed flap. But that flap reversal means the “back” of the OE is now one big blank billboard that you can use for messaging.

Where were we? Ah, yes, diving down the rabbit hole.

What does a window say?

Direct mail OEs can include windows of varying sizes. With good reason. Notice how closely you look at a #10 OE with a window, even—especially—if it’s a blind OE, i.e. without any identifying markings. You’ve been conditioned to respond to that as a bill or invoice or important communication, possibly about money you owe or that’s due to you. Windows in outer envelopes can say: “This is an important piece of mail.” Or, “Read the message displayed here.”

While you may be less conditioned to look twice at larger envelopes with windows, they also can be effective in communicating messages more overtly by “teasing or telling” on the OE itself or through the window. Whether it’s a large envelope/window or small one, you’re probably giving in to temptation and opening that mail, unless you know who it’s from.

No window on your outer envelope? No problem.

Envelopes without windows may have to work harder to hook readers by using copy on the outside (“Open now for the solution to all your problems.” Or, “You may qualify for up to $5,000.”). If you want people to know who it’s from, you can employ a logo, company name, swatches of color, or other markings to identify the sender.

To reveal or not to reveal, that is the question

Often, the big decision you’ll need to make about what to put on your direct mail outer envelope is whether to identify the sender via logo, brand colors, taglines, or other messaging.

While there’s no one right answer, the purpose of your direct mail package and the prime directive of the OE—to get opened—can guide you. If you’re communicating with loyal customers about a promotion or special offer, then you probably want them to know who the direct mail is from, since they already know and like you.

If you’re mailing to acquire new customers who might be inclined to toss unsolicited mail, a blind OE or one line of teaser copy that promises a benefit may serve you better to intrigue and tempt people to look inside.

The “tell all” approach—smart or self-defeating?

You may have noticed a recent phenomenon where companies are loading up the outside of their direct mail OEs with a lot of information. Credit card companies are heavy practitioners of this trend. Conventional wisdom lobbies against revealing too much on the outer envelope. Such thinking goes, “if you tell people too much on the outside, they won’t care about what’s on the inside, and they’ll discard your direct mail package.”

Of course, the beauty of direct mail is that you can test the conventional wisdom. Try a “tell all” envelope in a head-to-head test against a plainer control. You can then track how the response rate of this package, via inquiries or applications, compares to your control and adjust accordingly.

Know your strategy

In the end, a straight line runs from your marketing strategy to what goes on your outer envelope. Ours is not a random exercise, folks. We get to make informed decisions that can improve the performance of a direct mail package in various ways (overall response, lead generation, acquisition, conversion rate, etc.). Not in theory. In real-world testing. Which is why direct mail is such an effective marketing tool.

Looking for lift in all the wrong places?

If it’s time to take a fresh look at your marketing mix, if you’re unhappy with the purpose and performance of your direct mail marketing, or if you simply want better direct mail, come to the source. IWCO Direct can get you on the fast track to smart, data-driven, performance-tested direct mail. Contact us.

link https://www.iwco.com/blog/2020/04/22/outer-envelope-strategy/
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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