Tour of the Modern Mailing Universe

I got my start (as a youngster) in lettershops. It was many years before I got a chance to migrate over to a real bindery. Back in those days, mailing was a comparatively simple business. Label the envelope (with a PAPER label!), and stuff the envelope with a variety of advertising inserts. There were basically two classes of machinery, the labeler and the envelope inserter.

Since those days, volume mailing has gone through several technological evolutions. Inkjet addressing, digital printing, envelope inserter speeds greater than 20,000 cycles per hour, and so on. Printers used to job out their mailing assignments to lettershops. But years ago, they decided to become “one-stop shops,” with a mailing department as well as the bindery.

Direct mail continued to grow, with incredible volumes peaking in the 2008-09 timeframe. I’m sitting only a few miles from a firm that (back in the day), could churn out 250 MILLION pieces of direct mail a month. Since then, the Internet and mobile platforms have eaten into direct mail volumes, not to mention steady postal-rate increases.

But direct mail isn’t going away. Even your sub-par direct mail piece gets much more attention than the best Web ads. And well-targeted, intelligently personalized pieces do really well. When you combine a mail piece with a targeted email, you can hit the jackpot. The real question is, How has the technology impacted the mailing piece itself?

Amazingly, a majority of direct mail still consists of your plain-vanilla envelope. But there are interesting variations, among them:

• Postcards, postcards, postcards.

Digital print has given the postcard a whole new life. They’re easy to print and mail, and can be personalized to a high degree. Good graphic design and use of color can make these attention-getters an economical way to reach out for customers. And, they also offer postal savings. My wife is a realtor, and postcards are one of her key marketing tools.

Don has worked in technical support, sales, engineering, and management during a career in both the commercial offset and digital finishing sectors. He is the North American representative for IBIS Bindery Systems, Ltd. of The United Kingdom.
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  • Lorraine Gregory Corp

    Your comments are on the money. I miss the good old days, but am very excited by the potential of the "new normal". If you are not surfing the technology wave you just might drown in red ink.

  • Noel Ward

    I maybe an exception, but I question the claim that " Even your sub-par direct mail piece gets much more attention than the best Web ads."

    I totally ignore both because there is no reason to look at them. I click on a web ad link maybe once every two months. And I throw out all bottom-feeder "occupant" or "resident" direct mail without looking at it. In fact, I also toss all direct mail that comes in an envelope bearing just "name and address" personalization. A mailing list is easy to acquire so my name on the envelope does not get my attention. I get something that’s really personalized/customized maybe once every three months. That’s 4 times a year, out of all the direct mail that comes in.

    I really like postcards, and a post card will get my attention if it has interesting images or a compelling offer, but I still need something to give me a reason to look further or break the wafer seal and see the inner panels on a folded card. (Like the one that came the other day from Subaru offering me $50 in free gas in exchange for a test drive.)

    What’s sad for the mailing industry is that I’m probably not an exception to the rule. Judging by the volume of instantly recycled third class opportunities that pollute my mailbox every day, mailers and their customers but don’t seem to be leveraging the abundance of technology available any where nearly as effectively as they could, and are probably seeing less return on their investment than they would be if they were a bit more thoughtful and creative.
    I know there are numerous companies sending out some creative, innovative and compelling direct mail pieces, but they seem to miss my mailbox.

    Is this because the equipment and software vendors and those of us in the print industry have still not properly educated the companies using direct mail? Is it lack of imagination on the part of those companies? Is it penny pinching, lazy, marketing people who won’t try something new, or a mix of these and other factors?

    I don’t mind direct mail, I just want it to be relevant and measured so the senders will know what works–and what doesn’t–so their next offer may yield better results.

  • Rainer Fischer

    I too come from a long history of direct mail having owned two dm companies over the past 30+ years. With my background, I am probably not the normal consumer when it arrives in my mail box. Probably 99.9% of my mail gets looked at by me but that’s because I am trying to determine the production method used. I am always on the look-out for unique creative packages.

    Normally postcards have not been on my radar because I work mostly with organizations that are familiar with dm and produce larger mailing volumes. However postcards are a great way to attract the smaller local businesses into dm, and thus create another income stream. But postcards demand top notch design to be successful for the mailer. If it’s great, the consumer will respond.