The Levison Letter

How to choose the right direct mail format


March, 2010

If you're going to sell your product through the mail, there are a number of important decisions you'll have to make.

First, you'll want to decide on the list(s) you're going to use. If you've done your homework and built a clean house list, you're already one step ahead of the game. If you haven't, you'll have to get in touch with a list broker you can trust. You'll also have to create a compelling offer that will induce prospects to respond in droves.

Only after you resolve these basic issues should you start thinking about what physical form your mailing should take.

One of the things you'll have to decide is whether to use a self-mailer package or an envelope package.

Definition: a self-mailer is any mailing that is completely self-contained and doesn't require an envelope.

A postcard is a self-mailer. So is a catalog. In fact, there are hundreds of kinds of self-mailing pieces or formats you can use. The basic question
is, When does a self-mailer make sense and when is an envelope package the right choice?

Let's take a look at them both.

The self-mailer. The great advantage of this format is that it's cheap. Your printer just takes a single sheet, prints it, folds it, and you're ready to roll.
That means you won't have to print a number of pieces and then stuff them into an envelope. You can forget about creating sales letters, reply devices, "lift letters," and so on.

The self-mailer is a good choice for making noisy announcements (which is why retailers use them at sale time). It's also easy for the prospect to
unfold a self-mailer. There's no envelope to tear open so you know that you stand a good chance of getting the reader into your message.

Here's the important point: If you have a simple, clear story to tell, a self-mailer can make a great deal of sense. If you've got to do a long song and dance and make a lot of selling points, it's time to turn to a full envelope package.

The envelope package. Its virtue is its flexibility. You can put whatever you want into an envelope (which can be of any size) and do a total, compelling selling job. This means you can communicate all the important benefits, answer all the difficult objections, and do a complete close.

The place to do all this, of course, is in a selling letter. Self-mailers, unfortunately, cannot accommodate multipage letters.

True. You can cram a lot of useful information into a self-mailer. There can be folds galore and a good deal of surface area to work with. Nevertheless, you won't get to use the wonderful, personal letter format which is at the heart of so many successful packages.

The bottom line: It makes sense to use a self-mailer format for simple, direct messages only. When you've got to pull out the stops and start selling, be sure to use an envelope package.

Bob Stone, a direct response legend who has been keeping score for over 40 years says, "Self-mailers are cheaper to produce, but they practically never outpull letter mailings."

My personal experience confirms Stone's, and I suggest you use self-mailers only under the right conditions.


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Ivan Levison. Direct Mail, Email & Advertising Copywriting
14 Los Cerros Drive, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Phone (415) 461-0672      Fax: (415) 461-7738

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