When the time comes to start planning and designing your next direct mail appeal, we all start with the lofty goal of coming up with the next stop-you-in-your-tracks, jaw-dropping, game-changing mailing package.  Back here in reality, it doesn’t take long for the rain cloud of ROI and budget constraints to wash out our award-winning package design parade.  With our dreams of revolutionizing the direct mail universe dashed, how do we go on?

We plan and plan and then plan some more.  Planning helps us estimate costs and mitigate surprises that lead to additional charges, production delays and compromises in design.  So what kind of things do we want to consider in our planning?

1. the Carrier

If your mailing will use a carrier like an outer envelope, consider how potential package components relate to this piece.  Things such as custom window sizes and non-standard envelope sizes can impact the cost and production time of carrier envelopes. Customizations might also mean that the inside components need to be modified or folded differently to fit the envelope.

Consider the size of your response device as it relates to the reply envelope and the reply envelope as it relates to the carrier envelope.  Consider your addressing component as it relates to the window size and position. Or, if the address is right on the carrier, the address block in relation to artwork coverage on the envelope.

2. Component Sizes – Mix it up!

When possible, try to design the components so they’re not the same size.  Make your generic insert a different size than the folded letter or reply coupon.  Can the reply coupon be sized so that it stands apart from the letter or insert?  Ask your lettershop to provide the minimum and maximum component sizes that can be mechanically inserted into your carrier envelope.  Within that range, change up the finished insertion sizes of the package components so that they each stand out.  You’ve spent a lot of time and effort designing each piece, so ensure they don’t get lost behind other components.

3. Production Efficiencies

Just because you’re striving for the Nobel Prize in Direct Mail doesn’t mean you can’t find some efficiencies in your package production.  Where possible, try to find commonalities between segments or test and control groups to tighten up the production process. For example, if all of your variable, segment-specific copy appears on the same page of the letter, the other pages can be static. All this common content can be produced in one go at the offset print stage.

You can also try producing multiple copies of the letter or reply coupon bases onto a single sheet for laser imaging. This will reduce the number of offset sheets printed as well as the number of variable laser impressions you’ll need to print.  Ask your lettershop or laser imaging service provider for the maximum sheet size they can laser. Then, plan out how to get the most efficient number of letter or reply coupon variable impressions from that size.

4. Postal Specifications

Your postal service will have a big say in the final cost of your mailing package.  Check your postal service’s specifications and requirements to ensure your appeal won’t incur additional costs later in the process.  The final size and weight of your package will determine what service level and postage rate your mailing qualifies for.

Other specifications – like addressing standards, amount and density of colour coverage, and sortation and mail induction preparation – can lead to unexpected penalties or added charges if they are not taken into consideration.

Your lettershop service provider should be able to give you the standards and specifications, as well as the service level price points, that you need to consider when designing your mail package.

I’m not going to predict that following these suggestions will get your picture in the dictionary under the definition of Direct Mail. But, they’ll help you get that mailing out on time, under budget and maybe, just maybe, with fewer grey hairs!