9 Strategies for Improving Your Outer Envelope


By Robert W. Bly



            It’s not uncommon for a marketer to invest a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money in a new direct mail package, and then create the outer envelope almost as an afterthought.

            That’s a mistake, because tests have shown that varying the outer envelope can increase or depress response rates in an A/B split – even if the mailing inside is identical – by 25% to 100% or more.

            Here are 9 important outer envelope factors to consider when putting together your next mailing:

            1. To tease or not to tease? We use outer envelope teasers because we think the strong teaser we have written will increase response.

But there are times when a teaser – even one we think is strong – has the opposite effect and actually decreases response.  

Some marketers argue that the purpose of the teaser is to get the recipient to open the outer envelope. But a blank envelope from a stranger gets opened every time: you want to know what it is and who it’s from.

So why use a teaser at all? Copywriter Bob Matheo says the function of a teaser is to create a positive expectation for what’s inside the envelope.

Recommendation: If you can’t come up with compelling copy for the outer envelope, don’t use a teaser. If you have a teaser you think is strong, do an A/B split test of a teaser vs. no teaser. Then roll out with the winner.

            2. Who is it from? The corner card – the sender’s name and address on the outer envelope – tells the reader who the letter is from.

Let’s say you are doing a mailing to sell subscriptions to an investment newsletter. The letter could be from the editor (Ron Gurian), the publisher (Capital Financial Media), or the publication itself (Tech Stock Update).

The corner card copy is not trivial, and should be tested. One publisher had just the name of the editor and the publishing company in the corner card. When they added the name of the publication, it depressed response by 25%. 

            3. Company letterhead or plain envelope? When the recipient gets an envelope with the logo of a company he does not know, he suspects that he is getting promotional mail and is therefore less likely to open the envelope, read the contents, and respond.

            To avoid this from happening, you can omit your logo and set the company name and address in the corner card in plain type, such as Helvetica or New Courier.

            When your company or brand is well known, using your corporate logo may lift response. IT professionals, for instance, are likely to read a mailing from IBM because they think it may be important technical or product news.

            A number of mailers type the name of the person who signed the letter in New Courier above the logo, so it looks as if it was typed on the envelope by hand. Those who have done it tell me the technique increases their response.

            4. Paper stock and color? In a test, a mailer did an A/B split of their control using a kraft envelope vs. a white envelope. The white envelope outpulled the kraft envelope by 25%.

            This does not mean that the rule is “white always outpulls kraft.” It does mean that outer envelopes matter and you should test.

            Agora Publishing’s long-time control for International Living mailed in a white #10 envelope. When the control threatened to tire, they revived it by taking the entire package, putting it inside a kraft envelope with a cover letter, and mailing it that way.

            5. Size? Test different sizes: Monarch, #10, #11, #14, 6 by 9 inches, and the 9 by 12-inch jumbo. In direct mail envelopes, size does matter, so this is worth testing. A common result is that the jumbo lifts response over the #10, but not enough to make it profitable. Exceptions? Tons.

            6. Stamp, meter, or indicia? Conventional wisdom says that best to worst, in order of preference, is a stamp, then a meter, then a preprinted indicia. Some marketers report a lift in response when using commemoratives and other unusual stamps. Another technique I’ve seen work with a jumbo mailing is to use multiple low-denomination stamps to reach the total required for postage.   

            7. First class or third class? Direct mail that sells a product via mail order is almost always sent third class because of the economics. However, if you are doing lead-generation mailings to business prospects using just a letter in an envelope with a reply card, and your universe is small, first class may lift your response.

            8. Window? Should you use a closed-face envelope? Or should you use a window envelope?

            Test. The advantage of a closed-face envelope is that it looks like real personal or business mail. The advantage of the window envelope is that the recipient’s name and address can be imprinted or affixed to the reply element, which is positioned so that they show through the window – eliminating the need for the customer to write in his own name and address.

            9. Bulk? Should the envelope be flat? Or should you make it bulky, and therefore arouse the reader’s curiosity, by putting something inside it other than paper? The marketing director for a national nonprofit told me that all of their best-performing packages have “heft” created by a small, enclosed object, such as a crucifix or necklace.

When I worked for a manufacturer of wire mesh used in chemical plants, we dramatically boosted response by enclosing an actual sample of the wire mesh along with our sales letter (actually, we designed the letter as a faux shipping tag and attached it to the sample). The teaser on the bulky envelope read: “Your FREE mesh mist eliminator enclosed.”

Enclosing an unusual object works especially well when you plan to follow up each package with a phone call. A contractor sent a brick with his business card silk-screened on it. When he called to follow up, he told prospects, “I’m the guy who sent you the brick.” He almost always got through.


About the author:

            Robert W. Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha). His e-mail address is rwbly@bly.com and his Web site address is www.bly.com.