The sky is rarely the limit when it comes to producing direct mail. Matt Shanahan shares tips for cost-effective direct mail design and production.
I’m sure most of you have heard the saying, “anything can be done for a price.” However, it’s often the price that stops projects from moving forward. When it comes to cost-effective direct mail design and production, there are a number of elements that must be accounted for in order to align production costs with performance expectations.
At IWCO Direct, we measure the effectiveness of direct mail by response rate. Our clients know what a stronger engagement with new, current, and former customers is worth to their business. The response rate is the ‘return’ on your direct mail campaign ‘investment.’ Measuring the return on investment (ROI) is a far better measurement than just focusing on the price per piece. With some direct mail designs, the increase in response rates more than justifies the additional cost of producing the piece. That said, cost is a very important factor and one that we focus on when designing products for efficient production.
Having a large and flexible production platform like IWCO Direct’s can be a blessing and a curse. Our optimum or standard size ranges for products are focused on taking advantage of that flexibility. Selecting a size outside that range can lead to additional costs and fewer options. A good example is when a letter or a form is designed to the largest size for ‘non-bleed’ artwork and the artwork changes to full coverage with bleeds. (For those not familiar with bleeds, this is when the artwork or background color goes to the edge of the piece.) This requires the print to be extended past the edge of the finished piece to allow for cutting and finishing. For a conventionally printed form, this can lead to oversizing the form on a larger press cylinder, resulting in paper waste and reduced run rates during the finishing of the piece. In these instances, even reducing the size of the piece an eighth of an inch can lower costs while not affecting the response rate for the piece.
Select Paper Stocks Wisely
Another common element of direct mail design and production that can have a substantial impact on the cost is the interaction of paper selection with finishing requirements. Beyond just the cost of the paper, finishing requirements can drive layout changes that drive-up print and personalization costs. Coated paper stocks over 7pt. will typically require some type of score to produce a high-quality piece. Moving to a heavy stock for some formats requires the addition of scoring during the finishing to prevent cracking of the folds.
Direct Mail Designs Must Account for Scanning Requirements
One aspect that is vital for efficient component matching in production is a barcode and/or Optical Character Recognition (OCR) code. When direct mail pieces have two personalized components, like a card and letter that have matching offer amounts that vary between recipients, there must be a barcode or OCR code the equipment can read to ensure the components match. This is often done with a small 2D barcode, which requires a clear zone behind and around it. Without these codes, costs of the finishing and lettershop operations can increase substantially and some production options may be eliminated altogether.
Designing direct mail can be a daunting task, and designing direct mail to maximize the ROI is especially challenging―even for those of us that do it every day. Fortunately, at IWCO Direct we have teams of people dedicated to helping guide our clients through this process. It takes a strong team to bring all the elements together. We draw on our vast direct mail design and testing experience to create an effective piece. At the same time, we leverage our extensive production expertise to ensure critical production requirements are met to maximize value and ROI.
If there’s one lesson we can share, it’s to engage production and design experts as early as possible in the process. The sooner clients bring us into the concept and design phase, the more easily and efficiently the design flows into production. There are far fewer changes and surprises, which translates into a direct mail piece that is maximized for ROI without any costly delays!
Manager, Product Research & Development Engineering and graduate of the University of Wisconsin — Madison. Bringing the philosophy of “anything is possible with the right planning and resources” to IWCO Direct for nearly a decade. A sports and outdoor enthusiast, two of his greatest passions are the Metropolis Rugby Club and hiking with his family.