Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman! Why you need to check out direct mail

7 min read
This story courtesy of PaperSpecs.com.

Today's direct mail isn't quite what it used to be. To compete with telemarketing and e-marketing, direct mail has to become as fast and cost-effective as possible. Here, creativity -- not a vague or sneaky subject line -- will rule.

Fewer Hang Ups With Direct Mail

There's no question that the telemarketing industry suffers from quite a few public "hang ups," so to speak. And, thanks to spammers, the public has also lost trust in e-marketing as well. Although many of us may've thought the popularity of these communication vehicles signaled the end of direct mail, it is precisely for this reason that some experts are predicting its return.

Telemarketing and e-marketing programs are relatively easy and cost-effective to implement. That means that anyone with a telephone and computer could do them, as those of us who every day delete dozens of e-mail messages or rush to get on the do-not-call list can attest.

By comparison, direct mail programs don't suffer from the same public fears. The chance of unwittingly giving out your credit card number or spreading a computer virus to everyone in your address book is virtually nonexistent with direct mail programs. The public has been conditioned by the shotgun approach taken by many e-marketing and telemarketing programs and is understandably gun shy.

Direct Mail Customization is Key

Customize mailings to avoid this shotgun approach. Since mailings addressed "For Current Resident" often head straight for the circular file, techniques that make them feel more personal will increase the chances that a mailing will be read. When people receive designs that look as if they were created just for them, they start to get curious and want to see what's inside.

This is why customization, with a little help from current technology, has gained importance.

Digital printing has made direct mail programs faster and less expensive. By printing digitally, you can create highly customized direct mail programs that include not only specific names and addresses but also demographics and other data, which have been shown to increase response rates.

As anyone who has worked with digital technology can vouch, it often handles jobs in ways that traditional presses cannot, such as keeping notoriously cost-prohibitive short-run projects affordable. And, for making last-minute changes to a printing job, such as updating figures, fixing typos, or correcting mistakes in punctuation, nothing beats digital.

Of course, fresh and interesting artwork and copy will also help you get noticed. But creativity doesn't end there. The right paper also has a stopping power of its own.

From different colors and textures to various weights and calipers, there's a veritable cornucopia of paper stock available today. Specifying an interesting paper, such as an uncoated, colored, textured, duplex, or double thick cover stock, can help to increase response rates. That's because a premium, uncoated paper gives a promotion more trust and personal tactility -- a desired quality in direct mail.

Before you develop your next direct mail piece, consider the following paper tips to help get your envelope opened or your postcard reviewed.

Add a Little Color

Color has become increasingly important in developing personal and brand identities. Ultra-hip black and more familiar neutrals have lost ground to a wide spectrum of vibrant colors.

Color doesn't always have to mean ink on paper, however. In fact, solid color papers have more advantages. For example, printing colored inks over a score may result in scoreline cracking. Because color is saturated throughout the entire sheet with solid color papers, the post office can't damage or strip away the color.

For a more efficient way to achieve the impact of color, try colored paper instead. You'll achieve better color consistency. And, with the range of paper color palettes available today, it should be easy to find a colored paper that effectively reflects virtually any spirit or brand.

Try Some Texture

Textures also play a role in helping to get noticed. Even the simplest designs will stand out on textured paper, because the paper highlights the message. Premium writing, text and cover papers provide a variety of textures that feel good to the touch, including smooth and super-smooth, laid, linen, lineal and felt finishes.

Textured papers are typically available in a variety of soft core colors as well as dynamic, rich, deep accent hues, allowing simple one- or two-color printing and reducing overall costs. These textured papers can be found in text, writing, and cover weights, as well as for envelopes.

Add Weight and Add Credibility

Sending your message on a flimsy sheet might be less expensive for your company or client, but is it the image you want to project? And will it be read?

Uncoated heavyweight or cover stocks win points for both form and function. They protect text and writing weight contents while making the entire piece more personal, substantial, and significant. In addition, they provide an easier, non-glare surface for reading.

Selecting the right weight of paper is important. It is also important to consider the caliper, or thickness, of the paper. The lowest weight with the highest caliper is always more economical.

Laminated -- also called duplex -- cover stocks are an excellent direct mail choice because they are typically stiffer and more substantial than single-ply covers. They also have a better printing surface, since two lighter weight papers are being laminated together, which typically offers better, more consistent printing surfaces.

Choosing a duplex cover paper provides the added impact of being able to view two different colors - one for each side. Uncoated paper manufacturers provide these in numerous coordinated color combinations.

Go Green

Today's most respected companies have well-defined environmental platforms, and many of them use premium recycled paper for printing everything from letterhead and newsletters to annual reports and direct mail pieces. Most environmentally aware organizations look for paper with at least 30 percent post-consumer content.

Today's premium recycled papers are economically priced. They are no longer grainy, gray, or unattractive, but are available in both bright whites and a variety of color options. And they have excellent printability and ink holdout, resulting in beautiful pieces that convey a subtle but unmistakable "we care" message to the recipient while providing a premium feel.

Engrave and Emboss

Uncoated and textured papers lend themselves to specialty processes that create exceptional stopping power.

Engraving provides opaque color and faithfully reproduces fine lines. Moreover, it provides excellent image reproduction on dark-colored papers. Engraving also adds tactile interest and can be used with true metallic inks.

Embossing adds dimension as well as texture to smooth papers, while ironing out textured papers. It provides for distinctive single-level, multi-level, or sculptured images.

Foil stamping adds vibrancy and special effects on light to dark papers.

Thermography adds texture and works with virtually all offset inks. It's an extremely cost-effective way to use textured papers.

Die-cutting adds an interactive element and functionality when used with uncoated papers to create a direct mail concept that unfolds in front of your audience's eyes.

Think Inside the Envelope

Perhaps your next direct mail piece will be a self-mailer. If not, pay special attention to the impact generated by the paper used for your envelope.

Apply the same tips as above when planning what paper to use. Color, texture and weight will provide impact, with one important caveat: only light-colored envelopes and cards that do not interfere with the reading of the address and postmark should be used. Bold, brilliant colors and dark colors can be used only if light-colored labels and postage are applied (versus using indicia).

A word on format: square envelopes are being used to great success these days. They require additional postage cost, but their distinctive size makes them stand out from the other mail, thus helping to achieve greater returns.

Conclusion: Direct Mail Has Come a Long Way, Baby

Contrary to what was predicted, neither telemarketing nor the digital revolution crippled direct mail marketing; in fact, they helped it. Anything a company can do to make its communications not only stand out but also appear more credible, sophisticated, and trustworthy only further enhances its appeal. By combining the benefits of a direct mailing with other communications vehicles, you'll see that what is old is not only new again, but better.

Thomas R. Wright is director of advertising and design for Neenah Paper. He can be reached at Tom.Wright @ neenahpaper.com.

© 2006 PaperSpecs. All rights reserved. These articles were reprinted with permission. PaperSpecs is the first online paper database specifically developed for paper specifiers. Your all-in-one online swatchbook - always up-to-date, comprehensive and fiercely independent.

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