Snap Pack Facts: An interview with Ted Grigg

Whether you call then snap “packs” or snap “paks” or snap “pacs,” this little direct mail format has worked wonders for businesses of all kinds.

aarp snap packThe photo shows a fairly typical snap pack: outer envelope that opens with one or more perforated strips, inserts, and order form. It’s really just a direct mail package that looks official.

While writing a column on this snap pack for DM News recently, I chatted with Ted Grigg about the snap pack format and thought it was so interesting that I decided to do a formal interview and share his know-how with you.

By way of introduction, Ted is the owner of DMCG, LLC, a direct marketing consultancy based in Dallas, Texas. Ted is what you might call a one-man “think tank” for direct marketing. If you’re not reading his blog, start. You’ll learn something with every post.

Ted is one of the smartest guys in direct marketing and was there when the snap pack burst onto the scene.

Read more

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Postcard, postcard, everywhere a postcard

I don’t have any statistics on this, but judging by my own mail, it seems postcard usage is at an all-time high.

In today’s mail I received five postcards. Actually, it was 3 postcards and 2 postcard-sized self-mailers, but let’s not split hairs. The point is that many more businesses are turning to cheap mail formats.

Great Indoors postcard

Here’s one from the Great Indoors, a home decorating store. Others I received include a card from a health center reminding my wife to get a checkup, another from the same health center offering a health seminar, an offer from a carpet cleaning service, and an upgrade offer for a business contact program.

Read more

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My direct mail reviewed by Who’s Mailing What

Intuit direct mail sampleWhile sifting through my various marketing e-newsletter subscriptions recently, I ran across a nice review of one of my direct mail packages at Who’s Mailing What Insider by Ethan Boldt.

Who’s Mailing What is basically a library of direct mail pieces. They collect, analyze, scan, and file them. Then, for a price, you can download them for your own inspiration.

The image of the direct mail piece is no longer posted with the article, but you can look at an early version of the Intuit direct mail package here.

Here’s a snippet from the review:

Perceived value. It’s what B-to-B mailers often try to build within a mail package, and Intuit’s latest effort is an example of how to do it expertly . . . to the point that a response is nearly guaranteed.

Beginning simple, the computer company’s plain white #10 outer envelope says, “RE: Your FREE Retailer’s Success Kit.” Indeed, the word “free” becomes the theme of this package.

Inside, prospects are greeted by a letter that uses many of the standard response boosters: personalization (Dear [John Doe], We’ve created a FREE Retailer’s Success Kit for [X Studios], the word “free” running throughout, a bullet list of benefits (such as the key “FREE Software CD: Intuit QuickBooks Point of Sale 30-Day Trial”), a limited time offer, special offer code and a P.S. that emphasizes all of the above at once.

The top of the letter, however, goes an unusual route by titling the addressed portion with “Shipment Confirmation” and “Status: Ready to ship ***no charge***” and then the crucial “Instructions: Call [toll-free number] to confirm shipment.” Wow. Clever, huh?

The personalization – “Dear [John Doe], We’ve created a FREE Retailer’s Success Kit for [X Studios]. It’s ready to ship right now. May I send it to you?” – is equally clever.

Aw shucks. I was just doing my job. Read more

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U.S. Postal Service: Holidays by the Numbers

MailProThe economy has hit the United States Postal Service just like everyone else.

Postal volume is down. Thousands of USPS employees are being laid off. Huge financial losses have direct mailers worried about more postage increases.

But still, from an absolute numbers standpoint, the USPS racked up some impressive stats over the 2008 holiday season.

Here are some factoids courtesy of MailPro, the publication for true mail nerds:

232 – Number of years the U.S. Postal Service has been delivering holiday cheer.

19 billion – Number of cards, letters and packages to be delivered between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

3.4 billion – Number of letters mailed over the holidays.

82 million – Average daily number of First-Class Mail cards and letters mailed.

960 million – Number of pieces of mail processed on Dec. 15, the busiest mailing day of the year.

700 million – Average number of pieces of mail processed daily.

826 million – Average number of pieces of mail processed daily during the holidays.

20 million – In pounds, the amount of mail the Postal Service will process for overseas military installations, including war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

7,400 – Number of Post Offices with expanded hours.

214,500 – Number of vehicles used to transport holiday mail, including 188,336 half-ton trucks.

2.17 billion – Number of holiday stamps the Postal Service printed this year.

130 million – Number of customers who visit the Post Office during the holidays.

If you think these numbers are interesting, do me a favor and Stumble, Digg, or otherwise post it to your favorite social or bookmarking site. Or just e-mail it to a friend. Thanks.

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How to write the “classic direct mail package”

Advertising direct mail takes many forms: envelope packages, self-mailers, catalogs, magalogs, flyers, postcards, and more.

That’s one of the advantages of direct mail. You don’t have the format restrictions of magazine print ads, the time restrictions of radio or TV ads, or the technical restrictions of e-mail and Web site advertising.

As long as you comply with basic postal guidelines, you can send pretty much anything through the mail. This is good for products and services that require a lot of information to convince people to buy or try. But it can be a challenge for copywriters and designers without significant experience in creating ad mail.

direct mail package exampleLet’s take a quick look at how to write and design the granddaddy of all direct mail formats, the classic direct mail package.

The most important principle to understand is “divide and conquer.” That means that when you’re creating a direct mail package, you should understand the purpose of each element and allow that element to do its particular job.

Outer Envelope. This is the distinctive feature of the classic direct mail package: an envelope that carries all the other elements through the mail. It’s called the “outer envelope” or OE to distinguish it from the “reply envelope.”

The appearance of the OE can be anywhere on a scale from plain, with little or no copy or graphics, to bold, with lots of “teaser” copy and images. Plain or bold is a strategic choice based on what you believe will get the most people to open the envelope and read the contents. Read more

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Is it junk mail if you say it ain’t so?

What should you do if you’re worried about people thinking your mailer is junk mail? How about just telling them it’s not junk mail?

The copywriter for one hearing aid company simply used a teaser that said “THIS IS NOT JUNK MAIL!!!”

not junk mail

Is this an effective way to get people to read your mailer? I think not.

First, what objection is this intended to address? Surveys show people actually like direct mail and respond to it. Assuming you’re mailing to a targeted list of likely customers and that you have a compelling message and strong offer, recipients should be open to learning more about your product.

Second, telling people your mailing is not junk mail doesn’t convince them it’s not junk mail. It simply introduces a negative idea that probably wasn’t there to begin with. If you walk up to someone you don’t know and say, “I’m not a liar.” What idea will that person remember about you? The idea of “liar.” People don’t think in negatives.

Third, assuming that your target audience is thinking “junk mail” when they open their mailbox, will a teaser on a piece of that junk mail convince them otherwise? Imagine a mailer from a politician you consider dishonest. It won’t help the politician’s case to put a teaser on the envelope that reads, “I’m not the sneaky, cheating bastard you think I am.”

Introducing a negative idea in this way is counterproductive.

Effective copy is not only about what you say. It’s also about what you don’t say. Every word should have a purpose and avoid unnecessary or distracting information.

What’s a better way to assure people will read your mailer? I’ve already said it: send your mailer to a targeted list of likely customers and present a compelling message and strong offer.

People search for relevance. If your message is relevent, people will read it.

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Good direct mail design: let form follow function

Good direct mail design is like good design in other fields. The best work results from a designer who understands how design is used to accomplish something.

In other words, form should follow function.

In the case of direct mail, the function is to deliver a sales message to a list of recipients to persuade them to take some kind of action, such as placing an order, requesting information, or going to a Web site.

The wrong way to design direct mail is to come up with a “creative concept,” then force fit the copy into the design.

The right way to design direct mail is to understand the selling message and the goal of the mailing, then allow the design to naturally flow from these ideas.

For example, if the goal is to build traffic for a Web site, it would be silly to create an elaborate envelope package. Since you’re not asking for money and the action you’re asking for is easy, all you need is a small piece, such as a postcard.

On the other hand, if you’re selling a product with a $500 price tag, you shouldn’t try it with a postcard because you’ll need a lot more room to convince your recipient to part with his money, provide a means of response that may include a reply form, and include other information such as instructions or your return policy. Read more

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What happens when you mail stinky cheese?

For years the most popular article on my Web site has been a reprint of Postal Experiments, an article from the Annals of Improbable Research.

stinky cheeseIt seems that researchers, in a fit of scientific hilarity, wanted to see what the United States Postal Service would or would not deliver. So they mailed a carefully selected batch of odd items to see what would happen. This included:

Of course, not all the mailed items were delivered. An unwrapped hammer never arrived. A bottle of unopened spring water dropped into a pickup box was confiscated and consumed by a postal carrier as he worked his route. A can of soup, a lemon, and a bald tire are a few of the other things that didn’t make the journey. Read more

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Deceptive direct mail or clever selling tactic?

When you’re creating direct mail or any form of advertising, it’s important to be an aggressive advocate for the product or service you’re selling.

But you always run the risk of crossing the line between advocacy and deception. The problem is knowing exactly where that line is. Everyone has a different standard for ethical behavior.

Here’s a letter I received recently. (I’ve blurred all identifying information.) It appears to be perfectly legal and fairly typical for a direct mail solicitation today. In fact, I receive many letters like this from a variety of businesses.

economic stimulus letter

The letter arrived in a plain envelope. Neither the envelope nor the letter displays a company logo. Read more

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The direct mail envelope quandary: plain or bold

The envelope is arguably the most important part of a direct mail package. It’s more than a container for sales materials. It’s the element that determines whether people will spend time with your message or toss it in the trash.

While there are endless variations for envelopes, you can divide most into one of two categories: plain or bold.

plain direct mail envelopePlain envelopes are those that display little or no advertising copy. Some are totally plain, showing nothing but the outgoing and return address. Others add a minimum of copy or graphics to help encourage you to open the envelope, such as the AAA direct mail piece shown here. Read more

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