Tutorial 55: how to get your outer envelope ripped open!

The outer envelope only has one purpose: to be ripped open.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
Added
April 25, 2010

You can’t raise money unless your envelope is opened. And opened with a high level of expectation and excitement.

Getting it ripped open is easy, all you need is a first class stamp. Remember the basic principle: any package that is not personalised is compromised.

So professionals spend a lot of time creating envelopes and working out the compromise, because envelopes are a complicated part of the direct mail package – what type postage to use, whether to use closed face or open face, colour, teaser copy, logo, corner cut, use of the back flap, etc.

A. Postage

Let’s think about postage first. And here we must divide the discussion into two major subheads:

1) The price of the postage

Most mailings go out at a bulk rate (or nonprofit rate if you have one where you are) simply because it’s economical. But is it always economical?

Many, many tests indicate that bulk postage is slow in delivery and produces a lower response than first class postage. And so the savings on the outgoing mail can be lost when you figure out net income.

On the other hand, many sections of the donor file respond just as well to nonprofit postage.

Each organisation is unique, and postage must be continually tested to determine what generates the highest net profit for your organisation.

Mailings to rental lists to enrol new donors are almost always made at the nonprofit rate simply because an organisation can’t afford the cost of first class postage. But some political organisations and many hospitals, museums and local charities have found that prospecting is best done by first class mail. So again, testing has to be done before a final decision can be made.

2) Applying the postage

Once you decide what type of postage to use, the next task is to determine just how to apply that postage. If you are going to mail first class, then you want to ‘advertise’ the first class postage.

Never waste first class postage by letting it fade into the woodwork. Flaunt it!

The best way to do this is to apply a commemorative (special issue) oversized stamp directly to the outer envelope. Commemorative stamps tend to get attention because they are usually large and colourful, and because they dominate the outside of the envelope. Some organisations will then even print the words FIRST CLASS under the stamp. Before you do that, make sure that this is acceptable to the post office. In some countries there are rules about where you can and cannot have print.)

In the mailing trade, the term ‘live postage’ is used to indicate that a ‘live’ real stamp is applied directly to the outer envelope.

‘Metered postage’ (franked) indicates that the envelope goes through a machine that applies the postage.

And ‘printed postage’ means you print directly on the envelope.

Usually, the level of personalisation decreases with printed postage.

If you are going to metered first class postage, then by all means ‘advertise’ your postage and print the words ‘first class mail’ under the postage.

If you are using nonprofit postage, you have your choice of: (a) metering the postage; (b) using a pre-cancelled stamp; or, (c) printing a block indicia.

These three types of applications have been tested continually throughout the years, and it seems to be a toss-up. Sometimes you will read about someone who insists that the pre-cancelled stamp is out-pulling even first class, but then you will read about another test where the printed indicia is performing better than stamps and the meter.

I personally don’t like the printed indicia because it smacks of cheapness and makes your direct mail piece obviously look like an advertisement or a low-level charity appeal.

Pre-cancelled stamps make a nice change of pace when you are mailing regularly to your donors.

Also, metering tends to look at first glance more like first class mail.

B. Size of the outer envelope

Most fundraising packages use the common no. 10 envelope (or the standard metric size you probably get your bills in) simply because this is a path of least resistance. An 8-1/2 X 11" letter fits into the no. 10 envelope, and so does the standard newsletter or brochure.

But why not vary the size of your package from time to time? If you are going to personalise your package with a closed-faced envelope, hand-addressed, with a personalised letter inside, then a smaller size adds a bit of distinction.

For some reason, as the envelope size decreases, the level of personal warmth increases.

On the other hand, when you move up to a size larger than no. 10, you convey a heavier sense of advertising and promotion. And your envelope may arrive in the mailbox a little dog-eared and frayed.

There will be times when you will want to mail in a very large envelope with the materials flat instead of folded. Obviously, this is an expensive type of mailing, but you may need to communicate information that should not be folded.

And economics tend to make many of your decisions for you, because so many paper stocks and machinery are geared to print and fold materials that fit neatly into standard-size envelopes.

But remember: as the size decreases it gives the reader a sense of special treatment.

The reason for this is probably because personal stationery, invitations, etc, use smaller envelopes. Also, donors are conditioned to be positive towards anything that is not obviously a bill or advertising piece.

C. Closed or open face?

These two terms relate to whether or not your envelope has a window through which the address shows, or if the address is applied directly to the envelope.

So, an open-face envelope has a window in it and a closed-face envelope has the address either handwritten, labelled, or digitally printed directly to the envelope.

A closed-face envelope is always more desirable because it looks more personal. Thanks to digital printing and fancy insertion equipment, today production companies can produce a closed-face envelope with the address neatly printed and the reply document inserted inside along with a personalised letter, without an expensive match by hand.

This is worth testing, even on prospect packages.

D. When to tease and when to play it straight

There are conflicting theories about the use of ‘teaser’ copy on the outside envelope. One theory says: use it. The other: don’t use it.

The problem is that a teaser is a dead giveaway that your mailing is promotional material. And teaser copy puts you into a shouting match with the other pieces of mail that appear in a donor’s mailbox that day.

A first-class letter with a stamp or direct addressing doesn’t need to shout to get your attention, so we can safely conclude that teaser copy is rarely needed and/or desirable on first class and personalised letters.

What about bulk rate mail?

Here a teaser sometimes works because the lack of first class postage has already compromised your package and teaser copy sometimes has a chance of getting the reader’s attention.

And sometimes it doesn’t hurt for the reader to know straight away that you’ve written him a fundraising package. For example, if a hospital burns to the ground, the teaser copy might read, ‘Hospital burns to the ground, patients all safe.’

That teaser copy would obviously communicate a fundraising scene to the donor, but the startling nature of the news ensures that the letter will be read.

Of course, if your building doesn’t burn down, then what teaser copy should you use? The rule must be as follows: teaser copy has to give the reader a legitimate reason for opening the envelope.

Then, and only then, can you use a teaser. Don’t try to fill up the envelope with type just because it has some blank spots on it.

A positive secondary purpose of teaser copy is to give the reader a sense of anticipation as the envelope is being opened. This anticipation then increases the reader’s response when the actual letter is read. So you can see how teaser copy can work against you if, instead of providing a sense of anticipation, the teaser gives away the contents.

Many times, teaser copy on your envelope underestimates your reader’s intelligence.

Also, examine closely the nature of your organisation as to whether or not the flamboyant nature of teaser copy is appropriate.

The only final rule here is to test and test again, especially if you are developing packages for major prospecting campaigns.

E. Logo and corner cut

Traditionally, the name of the organisation and often the organisation logo appear in the upper left-hand corner of the carrier envelope. This information often functions as a teaser because it makes it obvious what’s inside – a solitication.

Some organisations will omit the name of the organisation on the front and instead put it on the back flap of the envelope. In some countries it would normally be on the back, anyway.

Other times the name of the letter writer and the address will appear on the front without the name of the organisation being anywhere on the carrier envelope.

And sometimes the name of the organisation is so prestigious or so important to the donor that it is an advantage for it to appear on the envelope. Other times, especially in mailing to prospective donors, the name of the organisation is an initial handicap.

F. Some suggestions about teasing

  1. Rarely tease if you personalise.
  2. Depending upon the image of your organization, if you tease, go all the way.
  3. Neatness is no virtue if you tease. Be creative – just stay within the confines of your post office’s guidelines to ensure delivery.
  4. Try a handwritten note.
  5. Use a ‘typewriter’ type headline.
  6. Print a headline in bold type.
  7. Teaser copy tends to follows fads. Some writers will get a bright idea and other writers will follow. Don’t continue the fad after it wears out with the public.
  8. Don’t indulge in idiot instructions, such as ‘open immediately’, or ‘open carefully’, or ‘open today’, or ‘immediate reply requested’.
  9. Don’t tell little white lies or say something wild and undisciplined simply to increase response unless the contents back you up. That’s junk mail.
  10. Avoid exaggerations that are non-descriptive: ‘great hope for needy children’. The word ‘great’ is meaningless.
  11. Give the postal delivery staff instructions. That’s a fad that hasn’t worn out: ‘Do not bend: photo enclosed’.
  12. Try the big threat: ‘To be opened by addressee only’.
  13. When all else fails, go for trigger words: ‘free’, ‘private’, ‘exclusive’, ‘advance notice’, ‘personal invitation’, ‘last chance’, ‘open at your own risk’

And finally – here’s the bottom line: if you can’t test teaser copy, and you have any doubt that it will or won’t work, don’t use it!

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger is revered in direct marketing circles as the dean of direct mail. 

Some years back Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII and we’ve been serialising them ever since. All 50-plus are gems. Together, they add up to complete ‘how-to’ guide to everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising.

These tutorials are edited and presented by Gwen Chapman.

Gwen Chapman is a passionate advocate for donor-centric fundraising. She is a senior consultant with international experience in the non-profit sector in Canada, the United States, the UK and South Africa.

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