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Elements Of Direct Mail

Elements of Direct Mail

Getting a printed piece from the printing press into the mail and ultimately to the intended audience requires a knowledge of the complexities of the postal system. We can help you with that. We can consult with you not only on mailing requirements but also on a direct mail format that will produce results. The following are just some of the elements of an effective direct mail campaign.

The List

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. There is a huge array of qualifiers to choose from when trying to narrow down the right recipients. Direct mail is still one of the best ways to reach targeted groups.

The Process

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 classes: first class, first class presort, and marketing mail (formerly known as standard), 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. Luckily, we are experts in all of it.

The Cost

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.

The Technicalities

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. Full-service automated standard (bulk) mail and products like EDDM® (Every Door Direct Mail/carrier route) costs the least. As a marketer, you are sometimes balancing the level of customization with the cost benefits of automation. Barcoding and presorting mail for automation allows the post office to save time, which saves you postage, and speeds your mail to the recipient much faster.

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 or fugitive glue is required; the number and placement of the tabs or glue dots depend on the size and style of the piece.

Barcoding—The post office uses barcoding for both outgoing mail and reply mail. The specifications for barcodes are very strict, both in their creation and placement, and their ultimate purpose. The Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb) is used on most automated letter and flat mail and contains a wide array of information, not just the delivery address.  It tells the post office the class of mail and who mailed it among other things.  At Phillips, we encode a unique sequence number in the barcode that allows us to track the mail and report on delivery times, even track the mail down to a single piece.

Addressing—The post office specifies that the outgoing address must fall within certain tolerances in the layout including the type style and size. Typefaces that are unusual like script fonts may not be read by the OCR equipment, as well as type that is too light, too small or two big.

Address Quality—For mail to qualify for automation discounts the addresses on the pieces must be valid delivery addresses as determined through CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System) and NCOA (National Change Of Address) databases. Phillips processes every mailing through CASS and NCOA as part of our standard mailing services.

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, textures, patterns, or colors may hinder the post office’s ability to accurately read the barcode or address elements.

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. Whether you are looking to do a small personalized mailing, a large marketing mail project, or EDDM®, we can help. We are USPS® certified as a full-service MSP with many years experience in all types of mail and are here to guide you through the process.


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.

Check out this short mailing equipment video for an inside look at how we get your mail from print to post office at a rapid pace.