The three most important things in any direct mail effort are: the list, the list, and…the list. Your list of your own customers, members or constituents is your best list. Find out what is outstanding and common among them, and use direct mail to reach them. Or, a list of new prospects can be purchased for you. Direct mail is still one of the best ways to reach targeted groups.
Navigating the maze of the postal system can be daunting. There are huge cost savings to be had when you understand the requirements specified by the post office. There are a number of different mailing formats: first class, first class presort, and standard (formerly known as “bulk”), with special discounts for non-profit organizations. There are also options for return mail in the form of Business Reply envelopes and postcards. Each mailing format carries with it certain requirements for production, list formats, permits, size, layout, printing, sorting, bundling, and barcoding.
Using direct mail effectively can be one of the least expensive ways of reaching your target audience, provided the list is fine-tuned and all the mailing requirements are met. You may be used to doing your mailings in-house. Very often, using a mailing service can actually cost less, when you factor in your labor time and the significant postage discounts to be had with mailing methods other than normal first-class stamps.
Automation—The post office encourages automation in mail handling; the more automation, the greater the cost savings to the mailer. Non-automated mail (like, say, that hand-addressed thank-you note) costs the most. Fully automated standard (bulk) mail costs the least. As a mailer, you are always balancing the level of personalization with the cost benefits of automation. Manual routing of mail requires that a postal employee sort the mail by hand; barcoding and optical character recognition allows the post office to speed your mail to the recipient much faster. The amount of automation affects the design of the mail piece.
Size—Postal specifications for automated mail have strict limits for height and width, as well as overall “aspect ratio” (the relationship of height to width). For example, square mailing pieces do not qualify for full discounts because they do not fall within the post office’s aspect ratio specifications.
Materials—The weight of the paper used in a mailing must also be within specified standards. Paper that is too light in weight will not work. For example, postcard stock must weigh at least 9 points; anything lighter will be rejected for automation, and discounts will be lost. Paper that is too thick to be flexible will also be rejected. Other material aspects will affect automation, such as clasps, strings or buttons, or enclosures that make the piece too bulky to run through the post office’s equipment.
Self-Mailers—Items to be mailed without an envelope must be produced to certain standards in size, weight, folding, and sealing. Tab closures are often required; the number and placement of the tabs depend on the size and style of the piece.
Barcoding—The post office uses barcoding for both outgoing and reply mail and will provide press-ready artwork for the actual barcode. The specifications for barcodes are very strict, both in their creation and placement, and their ultimate purpose. For example, the barcode for a business reply permit must be laid into the document with precise placement, and the barcode must match exactly the address on the piece; it must be printed exactly as it is on the original permit application on file at the post office.
Addressing—The post office specifies that the outgoing address must fall within certain tolerances in the layout. Also, the type style and size must meet standards. Typefaces that are unusual may not be read by the equipment, as well as type that is too light. Type that is too small, or too large, will not
Other Considerations—Pieces to be mailed with automation must be opaque enough for postal standards, and there must be enough contrast between the background and the addressing. Certain coverings (like poly-bags) may not work in postal equipment. Papers with background patterns may not work if the pattern is too pronounced, because automated address readers may confuse the pattern with the characters in the address. Addressing that appears in certain specified “clear areas” may also confuse the automated reading equipment.
Getting It Right
The post office offers a number of useful publications that outline mailing requirements, available either from a branch office, or by going to USPS Postal Explorer where you can search the Domestic Mail Manual and other resources (guaranteed to have more regulations than you’d ever want to know).
Getting the most out of direct mail requires a lot of expertise in the details, but don’t worry, that’s our job. We are here to help and guide you through the process.
LET US ADVISE YOU
Just tell us who you want to reach and we’ll help you do it. We will take all the burden from you of dealing with the post office. We’ll consult with you on your list, discuss the various mailing options, and get your piece into the hands of your audience.