As a marketing executive, your focus is on the content of your marketing materials. You want a direct mail campaign that grabs the attention of your recipients—and produces results. But you also need to watch what you spend.
When you have a thin marketing budget, an increase in postage means something gets cut. Rather than cutting on the creative, focus on keeping your postage rates to a minimum. Mailing expenses can represent up to 65% of total direct mail project budgets, so you need to turn to postal optimization to get the most bang for your advertising buck.
Here’s how postal optimization helps you to save money and meet your direct mail deadlines.
What’s Postal Optimization?
Postal optimization seems self-explanatory, but it’s more than a two-worded catch phrase for marketing executives who use direct mail as part of their organization’s marketing strategy. Postal optimization is the balancing of technologies, discreet tactical processes, and physical formats with the goal of reducing postage costs.
Think of it as the price of admission for direct mail marketing. Marketers are willing to pay this price, but oftentimes they do so at the expense of the design and printing elements of a campaign. There are ways around this, however, without having to sacrifice the efficiency of a mailing.
Optimizing your direct mail deliveries involves following a variety of steps.
Clean Your Data
Data hygiene is the first place to start when it comes to postal optimization. This not only saves money on postage, it also reduces the waste involved with bad addresses or duplicates.
According to the research and advisory company SiriusDecisions, an average B2B organization’s customer and prospect records have critical data errors between 10-25% of the time. This includes mistakes ranging from incorrect demographic data to improperly entered information.
“Clean” data is free from errors. Yet even your best efforts won’t yield a perfectly accurate list. People move. Their marital status changes.
And customer service staffers are human. That means they sometimes input incorrect mailing list information.
When you combine all these things, you’re unlikely to get a perfect list, but the goal is to get your data as clean as possible.
In order to improve efficiency, businesses have to change their focus from cleaning up their data once in a while to doing it on a regular basis. If you don’t update your records after every sales interaction, you’ll lessen the impact your marketing efforts can have later on.
Also, if you rent a list, be sure to merge, purge, and deduplicate. This will provide you with the cleanest list possible.
National Change of Address (NCOA) is a database maintained by the US Postal Service. The list includes everyone (both individuals and businesses) who submitted a change of address form sometime in the past four years. When you send your database to be updated by the NCOA, you’ll have the latest addresses you need. In fact, you’ll likely see at least a 5% improvement with this service.
Optimize for Size
To get the best postage rate for your project, you’ll need to abide by specific postal service size limitations and aspect ratios. When you get in line with USPS standards, you’re making their life easier. As a result, that also makes your life easier because you’re ensuring you’ll get the best postage price possible.
An envelope that’s deemed “optimal” by the post office will also yield an optimal rate. According to the USPS, that means an envelope that’s:
- At least 5″ long x 3.5″ wide x 0.007″ thick
- No more than 11.5″ long x 6.125″ wide x 0.25″ thick
It can be tempting to buck the system to get noticed by recipients who might otherwise toss a “standard” looking piece of mail in the trash. But don’t be that marketer just for the sake of trying to be different than the next business. Go ahead and flex your creative muscles with color and personalization techniques—all while staying inside the USPS guidelines.
That’s not to say you have to send everything in a plain white wrapper, though.
Colored envelopes elicit more opens. A typical recipient takes about three seconds to decide whether they’re going to open a piece of mail or throw it in the trash. And color is one of the strongest parts of design, no matter what the medium. It takes your words and images to an entirely new level. So, use it to your advantage and get more people looking at and opening your direct mail piece with eye-catching color.
Of course, there are other ways to optimize for size besides envelopes.
A first-class postcard is cheaper to mail than a standard letter (or as it’s now known, marketing mail), and it comes with the same benefits, like forwarding and return services. Plus, the recipient doesn’t need to open an envelope. You’ve already eliminated that crucial direct mail hurdle. The optimal USPS postcard requirements are:
- At least 5″ long x 3.5″ wide x 0.007″ thick.
- Not more than 6″ long x 4.25″ x 0.016″ thick.
Note: How do you know if something is 0.007″ thick? An index card meets the 0.007″ guideline. If you’re in doubt, contact us and we’ll be happy to work with you on USPS guidelines.
A flat refers to large envelopes, newsletters, and magazines. Watch your weight on these, though. The heavier the direct mail piece, the more postage you’ll pay. The USPS requirements of a flat are:
- One dimension must be greater than 11.5″ long or 6.125″ wide or 0.25″ thick.
- Not more than 15″ long x 12″ wide x 0.75″ thick.
Check out our USPS postage chart that details the prices and requirements for first-class letters, postcards, and flats, as well as the costs for commercial and non-profit marketing mail and more.
If you have a question about any direct mail piece and how to optimize for size, contact an MSP representative to discuss the possibilities—and the costs involved. A marketing execution partner like MSP can evaluate the best options for your direct mail campaign to help you strike the optimal balance between price and speed.
Presort Your Mail
If the post office doesn’t have to sort your mail, you can enjoy significant savings. That’s because you’re taking the work out of their hands. Presorting means grouping mail by zip code in the same bundle or tray.
Naturally, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Here’s how the process works:
- CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System) software certifies each address. This fills in any zip codes that are missing the +4 numbers. Plus it corrects bad zip codes and adds a special two-digit code, which specifies a particular mailbox.
- Your direct mail piece has to meet certain size specifications to be automation compatible. The three most popular sizes for direct mail are letters, postcards, and flats. Please see the “Optimize for Size” section above.
- With presorting, all addresses have to include an Intelligent Mail barcode. This is a 65-bar USPS code that’s used to sort and track your direct mail, providing greater mail-stream visibility.
- The mail is then sorted and bundled. Depending on its 3-digit or 5-digit zip code, each tray goes into a sleeve, or tray lid, which wraps around the entire tray. The tray is then secured with a strap and tagged according to USPS specifications. Every container of mail must have a label. Proper accompanying documentation is also required.
The USPS rewards you with substantial discounts on postage if your presorted mailing volume is large enough. For example, presorting your first-class mail (over 500 pieces) saves you money on each piece and retains your delivery time. Presorted marketing mail only requires 200 pieces. This is even more cost-efficient, but the mail may take up to 10 days to arrive.
So, you’ll save money, but your expenses may also increase with the added costs of preparing the mailing. You can eliminate these added expenses by working with MSP. Our goal is to get the lowest postage rate for our clients while meeting “in-home” date requirements.
Contact us for a free consultation about presorting your next direct mail campaign.
Commingling Direct Mail
Consider mixing your next direct mail campaign with other direct mail marketing companies to receive the best USPS discounts. Commingling is a process where mailings from multiple companies combine to generate an overall greater discount. It’s one of the innovative ways marketing professionals deal with yearly postage increases.
Here’s how it works:
- The mail from your company and others is combined and sorted by zip code.
- It’s bundled into trays according to zip code group.
- Finally, it’s delivered to the USPS National Distribution Centers or Sectional Center Facilities.
MSP can help you achieve deep postal discounts when we commingle mail from other companies into one bulk mailing. For example, one company might have a 40,000-piece mailing. Another company may have 500 pieces of mail. And let’s say your organization has 2,500 pieces of mail. Commingling these together helps all three of you achieve lower mailing costs.
Still confused? Here’s an infographic that breaks down the entire process for you (click for a larger version).
Contact us for a free consultation to see if commingling direct mail is right for your business.
Consolidating mail is the process of combining skids with other clients’ mail. Mailers of all sizes can benefit. Not only is it cost effective, but it also allows for targeted delivery windows, which can greatly improve your response rates.
Like commingling mail, co-palletization (aka CoPAL) involves combining mail. But this process shares trays of mail on a pallet, rather than pieces of mail in a tray. You’ll get a discount (and faster shipping) for combining mailings into one larger shipment, but it won’t be as generous of a discount as commingling. That’s because it doesn’t improve the qualification level of a container. For example, if your trays are sorted to the three-digit level, they will remain there.
You’ll miss out on the commingling discount, but it’s a discount nonetheless—a nice advantage for mailers.
Use Postal Optimization to Save Money on Your Next Direct Mail Campaign
Rather than cutting back on the volume of mail you send, or reducing the quality of the printed piece—or simply absorbing another USPS rate increase—use postal optimization to get the deepest discounts you can.
Contact MSP for a free consultation today and find out why we’re one of the most respected privately owned direct mail facilities in the country.