Category Archives: Direct Mail Insights

Direct Mail Insights – To EDDM or Not to EDDM

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The goal of any direct marketing piece is to get into the hands of its intended recipient. The goal of any marketer is to discover who that intended recipient should be. There are a few options to choose from when it comes to direct mail marketing. The type of mailpiece and its intended audience help determine which of these options will be most effective.

There are two main factors that officially categorize a mailpiece. The first factor is the mailpiece’s physical attributes. Mailpiece attributes are divided into three categories: letters, flats, and parcels. Letters include any mailpiece sized between 3.5” x 5” and 6.125” x 11.5” and less than 0.25” thick, with automation letters weighing no more than 3.5 oz. Postcards are a subcategory of letters and must be less than 4.25” x 6”. Though many letter-sized Marketing mailpieces are referred to as postcards, true postcards are only applicable as First Class mail. Flats are any mailpiece that exceed one or more of the attributes of a letter with a max size up to 12” x 15” x 0.75”. Automation flats can weigh no more than 13 oz. Parcels exceed one or more of the attributes of a flat with a maximum size of 108 inches as measured by length (longest size) plus girth (distance around thickest part). Automation parcels can weigh no more than 16 oz. and machinable parcels no more than 25 pounds. For more information regarding physical standards for commercial letters, flats, and parcels, see the USPS Quick Service Guide.

The second factor is the class of mail. Commercial mail generally falls under USPS® Marketing (formally Standard) or First Class mail. Though there are many different sub-classes of mail such as bound printed matter, customized market mail, or periodicals (these often coincide with the physical attributes or frequency of the mailing) most direct mail marketing efforts fall under basic USPS Marketing mail, First Class mail, or EDDM® (Every Door Direct Mail).

Mail classes indicate the delivery priority and services provided for a given mailpiece. The U.S. Postal Service sets different delivery time standards for each class of mail. First Class mail has faster delivery time standards and it is given priority over other mail if necessary. First Class mail also includes return service. Any undeliverable pieces are returned to the sender. USPS Marketing mail and EDDM have a lower priority when it comes to delivery time and they do not include return service. Any undeliverable pieces are discarded. Nonprofit mail (a sub-category of USPS Marketing mail for registered nonprofit organizations) includes the same priority and services as USPS Marketing mail. A map of average delivery times can be found here: USPS Service Standards.

EDDM is a mailing method of a USPS Marketing flat. It involves a flat-sized mailpiece with a simplified address that is delivered to every mailbox on a given route. A simplified address does not include a street address or person’s name. The piece is addressed as “Postal Customer” with just the city, state and zip code. Postal routes can be found using the EDDM Mapping Tool. 100% of a given route must be selected. Pieces can be delivered to both residential and business mailboxes or just residential mailboxes. The biggest benefits to EDDM are that there is no need to purchase a list and it most likely that every resident on a route receives the mailpiece.

Letter-sized pieces can be mailed to every resident as a saturation mailing, but each piece must bear a full street address. Delivery saturation on a given route must be 90% or more to qualify for saturation postage rates. This type of mailing is not as common since it involves purchasing a mailing list, the cost of which often outweighs the postage or printing savings. The benefit of purchasing a mailing list is being able to use qualifiers to target certain demographics that best fit your ideal audience.

Let’s consider a basic oversized postcard-type mailpiece and two different businesses. One business is a local pizza restaurant. The other business is a local private school. The pizza shop has a product that appeals to everyone, assuming the majority of people eat pizza or other items the restaurant offers. Therefore, an EDDM mailing would be fitting for this business. The business could mail a flat-sized postcard (say 6.25” x 11”) to every residential address on postal routes within a certain mile radius of the restaurant. There would be no list to purchase and every person within close proximity would receive the restaurant’s advertisement.

The private school, however, offers a product that does not appeal to everyone. This business’ product is only relevant to households with children, likely within a certain age, and perhaps only to households with a certain level of income. In this case, an EDDM mailing would not be a good fit. Purchasing a list of local residents that is qualified by household income, the number of children in the house, and the children’s ages, would be a better choice for this type of business. The school could mail a letter-sized (6” x 11”) or flat-sized mailpiece to a targeted audience. The advertisement is more likely to be relevant to each household on the mailing list. This results in a more effective and efficient marketing effort, justifying the cost of purchasing a list.

Another thing to consider is the particular advertisement. If the pizza restaurant were to host a family night then their audience would not be so broad. In this case, they may consider a targeted mailing to families only.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a direct mail marketing method. By looking at the benefits and relevance of each factor you can choose the method that is best for your business and particular advertisement. Phillips Printing is here to help. Contact your salesperson today for a free consultation, and to help answer the question, to EDDM or not to EDDM.

Direct Mail Insights – Letters, Flats and Parcels Explained

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DirectMail 3_HeaderAll trees are plants, but not all plants are trees. There is a similar connection when it comes to explaining what the post office refers to as a letter, a flat or a parcel. One may logically think that a letter refers to a single sheet of paper, perhaps inserted into a standard business envelope for mailing. Although this could qualify as a letter to the post office, this is not the definition of a letter in postal terms.

To the post office, the terms letter, flat and parcel refer more to categories that are based on a range of physical attributes rather specific types of mailpieces. There are other categories and sub-categories such as customized market mail, periodicals, bound printed matter, etc., but for the purposes of this article I will just go through the basic three. The post office defines a machinable letter as any mailpiece that complies with the following attributes:

  • Height between 3.5 inches and 6.125 inches
  • Length between 5 inches and 11.5 inches
  • Aspect ratio (length divided by height) between 1.3 and 2.5
  • Thickness between 0.007 inch and 0.25 inch (at least 0.009 inch thick if more than 4.25 inches high or 6 inches long or both)
  • Weight no more than 3.5 ounces
  • Rectangular in shape, having four right-angle corners with no more than a 0.125 inch radius and parallel opposite sides

Note that these specifications are for machinable mailpieces. Any attribute that does not comply with these eligibility standards may hinder the mailpiece non-machinable and would result in a higher postage rate.

The post office defines a machinable flat as any mailpiece that complies with at least one of the following attributes:

      • Height more than 6.125 inches but no more than 12 inches
      • Length more than 11.5 inches but no more than 15 inches
      • Thickness more than 0.25 inch but no more than 0.75 inch
      • Weight more than 3.5 ounces but no more than 16 ounces

There is no aspect ratio specified for flats. However, they do need to be rectangular, which is defined as having four right-angle corners with no more than a 0.125 radius and parallel opposite sides. A square (four sides of equal length) is considered a machinable flat.

A parcel gets a bit more complex. There are several categories of parcels including machinable, irregular, non-machinable, lightweight, Parcel Select, bound printed matter and marketing parcels to name a few. I will focus on a basic machinable parcel for comparison purposes. The post office defines a machinable parcel as any mailpiece that complies (in addition to the attributes of a flat) with at least one of the following attributes:

      • Height more than 12 inches but no more than 17 inches
      • Length more than 15 inches but no more than 27 inches
      • Thickness more than 0.75 inch but no more than 17 inches
      • Weight more than 16 ounces but no more than 25 pounds

In addition to the basic physical attributes in each category, there are many other factors such as type of material, poly wrapping, flexibility and uniform thickness that can effect whether a mailpiece is deemed machinable or not. Letters, flats and parcels are processed through different types of equipment and therefore can have different physical requirements. Flexibility and uniform thickness are two of the more common aspects that can affect postage rates. A flat must comply with a flexibility and deflection tests to ensure the piece has the proper flexibility (not too rigid and not too flimsy) to move through postal equipment without issue. This is determined by positioning the mailpiece so that it hangs off of a ledge and measuring how much the piece droops or can be bent. A machinable flat must also be uniform in thickness, meaning any variation in thickness, excluding 1 inch from the edge, must not be more than 0.25 inch.

Generally, if any aspect of a mailpiece does not comply with the eligibility standards in a category then it would incur the postage prices for the next category up. For example, consider a basic postcard that is 6.5 inches by 10 inches. The dimension of 6.5 inches in height (as this is the shortest of the two dimensions) is outside the eligibility of a letter. Therefore, the mailpiece would be deemed a flat and incur postage prices for a flat. If the postcard were 10 inches by 16 inches it would be deemed a parcel since 16 inches is outside either maximum dimension for a flat.

It may seem confusing to think of a postcard as a letter, flat or parcel, but common and seemingly similar direct mail pieces can fall into a variety of pricing categories for a variety of reasons. When a mail house refers to your EDDM postcard as a flat that is likely because of the dimensions required for EDDM simplified addressing. When the mail house refers to your large envelope as a parcel that may be because of the multiple books inserted in it are causing a non-uniform thickness or flexibility issues.

There are many more regulations and specifications listed in postal service’s Domestic Mail Manual. The DMM specifies everything about all things mail and is not for the light reader. An online version of the DMM along with other resources such as quick service guides and pricing sheets can be found on the postal service’s Postal Explorer website: https://pe.usps.com. Another fairly new resource is their Postal Pro search engine: https://postalpro.usps.com. This website took the place of the RIBBS website and is where you can find various documents related to retail and commercial mail. The full listing of physical standards for commercial mail can be found here: https://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/201.htm.

If you have any questions regarding designing a mailpiece for commercial mail or planning a direct mail campaign, feel free to call Phillips Printing mailing department at 888-ask-phil or contact us.

Direct Mail Insights – Checking Your List, Twice

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Closeup of a childs hand placing a Letter to Santa Claus in a ma

It’s that time of year again when the shopping carts are filled with joy, Amazon’s servers are spinning widely, and direct mail year-end appeals are in full force. Marketers are making their best effort to compete for their share of holiday spending and charitable giving. The children are anxiously making their wish lists and Santa’s elves are busy fulfilling last-minute requests. And when Santa checks his list for who gets the X-box on Mallory Lane, you can bet he’ll run the list against CASS and NCOA databases to confirm accurate delivery addresses and recipient names…twice.

There are three factors that make a direct mail piece effective with one aspect being more important than the others. Some may think that a bold or interesting design is most important, and although it is one of the three, it is actually the least important. A full-color image or professional impactful graphic will tend to be more effective in grabbing a reader’s attention than a simple text-only design. A picture of a happy diverse male doing a handstand atop a shiny new lawn mower on a beautiful green lawn will be much more effective than a simple postcard that reads “new lawn mowers are now available at your local store.” The second factor is the message; if the message is not relevant or an offer is not meaningful to the reader then it will not move them to take action. If a 20-year-old female receives information about hearing aids it is unlikely she will be interested, or, if that same recipient receives an offer to save $5 when switching her cell phone service to a different carrier with a 5-year contract this is also an unlikely conversion. But, the number one factor in the success of a direct mail piece is the data; it is irrelevant how good the design is or how great the offer is if it doesn’t get into the right person’s hands. The example above with a 20-year-old receiving marketing about hearing aides is really a data issue. That recipient should’ve never been on the list to begin with unless there’s some indication that she would be an influencer for an elder or some other qualifier. There are several ways in which the quality of your data can be compromised and ultimately yield your marketing efforts ineffective. Here are a few of the most common:

Unregulated data entry

If you have people in your organization entering data into a database that you use for marketing it is vitally important that you have training and data entry restrictions in place to help control what is being entered. Whether it is being entered as a part of a sales transaction or being managed and qualified by a sales support team, the same oversight is necessary to maintain quality data. Do not assume everyone knows what a proper street address consists of or has proper grammar. I’ve seen such records on a mailing list that read “John (deceased) Smith,” “201 main street, sweet 100, behind Costco” or, my favorite “Jane (rude on the phone) Johnson.” If you want to ensure that you never deal with Jane again, send that one out–although, you may hear from her at least one more time. These types of entries making it onto a mail piece are a nightmare from a marketing and sales perspective. There are a few things that mail processing software will catch, fix or weed out on an address, but it usually does not have the capability to flag any oddities in a name or business field. It is critical that employees performing the task of data entry know the proper ways to enter names, businesses, and addresses. It is important that all employees know that the customer could see what they enter in the database. Implementing automated controls in the data entry interface such as required fields in addresses and names, or regular expressions like forcing phone numbers to contain ten digits with dashes, will help maintain proper and consistent entries. New entries must also be reviewed regularly. Not reviewing data regularly can make the task more tedious as the database becomes larger; catching typos and oddities on a list of 2,000 is much easier than on 20,000.

Lack of qualification

There are a number of qualifiers to consider when purchasing a list, probably more than you ever thought were available. List providers have a huge array of qualifiers and demographics you can use to filter your results by such as age, income, net worth, home value, home age, number of people or children in home, race, gender, credit score, marital status, etc. And there are several ways to filter locations including postal routes, neighborhoods, cities, counties, zip codes, radial distance, and drive time. Performing an analysis of your existing customers can help determine the most relevant qualifiers for a purchased list. Thinking outside the box of how to target a potential customer can be challenging. There are sometimes qualifiers that seem irrelevant or unrelated that can actually lead to a valid prospect for your product or service. For instance, a female that recently had a last name change may have recently gotten married. Newly married females often have children within two years. Females planning on getting pregnant may be in the market for supplemental health insurance products. So you could build a marketing campaign for health insurance based on targeting females with new last names. Of course, she could have also recently gotten divorced, in which case could still be in the market for new insurance.

In the example of marketing hearing aides to a 20-year-old, this could have been avoided by simply qualifying the list by age. Applying basic qualifications to filter who you are marketing to can make a huge difference in the response rate. It can also help save money on postage by not mailing to recipients with little likelihood of responding.

Lack of processing or maintenance

When you send your mailing list to a mail service provider they will likely run it through CASS, NCOA, and deduplication processes to make sure the data is properly formatted and up-to-date with current postal records. CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System) is a database managed by the U.S. Postal Service of valid delivery addresses. The CASS database is updated monthly for most mailers. A mailing list is compared to this database and each address is corrected and/or validated as a deliverable address according to USPS records. NCOA (National Change of Address) is a database managed by USPS of new moves as submitted by residents. It is up to a resident to submit a change of address to the post office to be in this database. The NCOA database is updated weekly. Mailing list records including first and last names are compared to this database for matches after CASS validation. If a match is found the old address is replaced with the new address. If CASS or NCOA processing is not performed there is an increased chance of UAA (Undeliverable As Addressed) mail making it into the mail stream and/or mail pieces addressed to the wrong recipient. A mail service provider will sometimes provide you with the results of CASS and NCOA processing. These results will contain records that could not be validated through CASS and new addresses returned through NCOA. It is recommended that you update your database with the new information to help prevent these records from continuing to drop out on future mailings.

Maintaining a clean, consistent, and valid database requires some ongoing attention. The more automated functions you can implement in your database management system the less effort it will take to maintain and the less likelihood there will be an unfortunate addressing incident.

Direct Mail Insights – Business is Personal

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Imagine you’re in the middle of mowing your lawn when all of a sudden a big knock and cloud of smoke exits your lawn mower. There you are, holding on to a now giant paperweight watching the ghost of your mower slowly drift down the road. This is not good. For one, your lawn mower has apparently just died. Second, you now have an uneven lawn that resembles alien crop circles. You need to borrow your neighbor’s mower. Here are two different approaches you could take to getting your neighbor to happily loan you their mower:

“Hi, neighbor, my lawn mower broke, can I borrow yours?”

Or, “Hi, Bob, my lawn mower broke, can I borrow yours?”

There is only one difference between these two sentences. One is generic and one is personal. It is much more likely that your neighbor will feel better about loaning you his mower when there is sense of personal connection. Addressing your neighbor by their name conveys that you know them. When we feel like someone knows us we are more likely to trust him or her. We are more likely to expect they will treat us like a friend as opposed to some random person. And, a friend will more likely treat your assets (a lawn mower) as they do their own because there is an implied ongoing relationship. Although, the fact that your own lawn mower just blew up would probably give your neighbor a little concern over their own.

This psychological affect that personalization has on the brain can be seen in all types of situations in life. It can also be a highly effective tool in marketing, particularly with direct mail. Personalization is utilized in many forms of media from emails to web pages (PURLs) to personalized ads and entertainment based on browsing history to the way your phone interacts with you. The small detail of personalization is a way to make all of these interactions feel more relevant and trustworthy. Direct mail is the one form of media, however, where we have the opportunity to not only address the person by name, but we can do it through an already trusted marketing channel that is tangible and memorable.

Personalization in direct mail has shown to increase the response rate in some cases by 135%.1 This form of personalized marketing is particularly effective with nonprofits, which can bring in 60 to 80% of their total revenue through direct mail fund raising efforts.2

Personalization doesn’t need to stop at just addressing a person by name. Anything that is in your database can be used to personalize a direct mail piece such as previous buying or giving history, location, age, race, gender, ages of children, age of home, income, etc. There are endless possibilities when it comes to what variables can be used and how. Variables in the data can be used as simple text, or can trigger different messages entirely from the whole letter body to the graphics and images. In fact, when more complex variable data is used to construct messages in direct mail the response rates can increase up to 500%.1

Marketers must be cautious though. One element that can turn an otherwise great personalized message into a complete failure is bad data. Addressing your neighbor Bob as Mrs. Burnett will greatly hinder the likelihood of you finishing your lawn. Effective personalized marketing relies on high quality data. It is vitally important that if you use personalization in any of your marketing efforts that you have accurate data. It is well worth it to utilize CASS and NCOA services, implement strict data entry practices with staff, and periodically review your database to maintain accuracy. Do not expect a mail service provider to catch oddities in your data. Including records marked as “do not mail” or having notes such as “deceased” in the name fields can often make it into the mail. Data for mailing is typically processed with software that only looks at the street address and compares records based on an alphanumeric string.

Creating a great personalized direct mail campaign doesn’t have to be difficult. With good design, high quality data, and accurate production, one can easily pull off a highly effective marketing effort. Phillips Printing provides consultation, design, data services, production and mailing for such campaigns. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding the process. We’re here to help.

 

1 Canon Solutions America. 2 Pursuant.