Outer Envelopes

I was just listening/watching Mal Emery’s superconference from back in 2005, and one of the things Mal says often is that “there are lots of ways to be right.”

That statement is especially true in terms of direct mail, and how you can go about creating the outer envelope.

There are many competing theories on how to create a winner with the outer envelope. From the “sneak up” approach to blatant full-on promos, there are certainly differing opinions. Whether to hand-write the address and use a “live” stamp, or print on in a hand-writing or regular typeface. Or whether to use window or non-window envelopes. Size. Colour. Feel/texture. Shape. Lots of options, lots of opinions.

However, I think there are two keys to nail with envelopes, and they should be really obvious:

  1. To find out what works, TEST!
  2. Create the envelope from the market’s/customer’s point of view (POV).

The envelope really has two simple purposes:

  1. To get opened!
  2. To get the contents safely to your customer.

Keeping the customer POV foremost in your mind helps determine the best approach to use.

You can test things like urgent-looking envelopes and satchels, hand-written personal-looking envelopes, promo envelopes with blatant offers of interest to your market, lumpy/bulky envelopes to envoke curiosity… but of course that all depends on what, from the customer’s POV, will it take to get the envelope opened.

One very helpful tip: if you change business names (eg, change of franchise), DO NOT write to your existing customers announcing the change using the NEW business name on the outer envelope!

Here’s a story to demonstrate how powerful this advice can be.

My wife Mel’s optometrist changed to a different trading brand name (still in the same location), and wrote to her, announcing the new trading name and including a special offer.

However, when she got the mail, it looked like typical advertising/marketing: a glossy orange envelope, clearly commercially printed, with a window face — and, from the customer POV, it didn’t look like it was from her existing optometrist. The envelope had the new business name splashed all over it, not the existing one!

Can you guess what happened?

Mel didn’t even open the envelope (the only reason she kept it at was for my swipe file), even with mention of an offer on the outside… because it looked to her like it was from a competitor of her existing optometrist, and she wasn’t interested in changing her existing relationship/arrangement!

A couple of months went by until it was time for Mel to contact her optometrist again. But when she looked up their details online from home, the business name no longer existed!

So Mel went and found another optometrist (the one I use) and they now have her as their customer as well as me.

Had she had visited the optometrist (at Highpoint Shopping Centre, where we only go to visit perhaps every 1 or 2 months), there would have been some chance of her staying with the re-branded optometrist, because they were in the location. And the probably have the same phone number (which Mel didn’t have in her records). All that needed happen then was for a staff member to let her know they’re the same people, just with a new name.

But … by assuming customers would open a single glossy direct mail piece, the optometrist put in danger the chance of keeping their customers.

Later on, we ended up opening that envelope, and realised what it was (otherwise, how could I tell you this story?!) — but by then it was too late: the customer was gone.

So, from the customer’s POV, the approach used didn’t make any sense.

What could have been a better approach?

Relying on a single direct mail piece (that is branded in a name unfamiliar to existing customers) to make your announcement might be cost effective, but could clearly (and did here) lose you your customers. A better idea, write to your customers using the brand they know — at least TWICE. Use a small sequence with an offer and perhaps an “opening special” invitation to drinks/see your new season’s range. Even better again: use telephone (broadcast or personal calls), SMS or email (with permission), as well as direct mail, to help get the message through.

We don’t know if the optometrist used local advertising to announce the change, but if they did, it went un-noticed. Again, if the direct mail piece is something to go by, the ad was probably highly branded in the new name, not the old one.

This was a great “learning experience” to observe. A few months later, when one of our clients bought out a competitor and wrote to the customer list they’d just purchased… we made sure they used the OLD business name on the outer envelope, to help make sure it was opened!