Direct mail marketers are exploring changes to their envelopes to increase postal response rates. 

Marketers know that generic direct mail won't work on today's savvy consumers. Instead, they are making use of recent developments in printing and production technology to enhance the outer envelope with customized messages, four-color printing and other embellishments. Marketers hope these improvements prevent their collateral from making a direct route to the trashcan by the hands of tuned out customers.

Using closed-faced envelopes — those that do not have a window for addresses — with any kind of personalized content means that the printer must include a "read and write system" that ensures the personalization inside the envelope matches that outside the envelope. Such systems are commonplace for printers doing insurance, medical and financial mailings, where there are strict privacy requirements. It is only in the past few years that general direct mail printers have made more wide use of this tactic, mostly in response to the needs of their customers.

For many marketers the primary concern is keeping costs to a minimum, which is why more aren't currently taking advantage of the prime real estate on the outside of the envelope, industry sources say.  Four-color printing, which has come down in price, is another strategy mailers can use to create an envelope with impact. "Our research shows that color is the first and probably the most important factor in driving interest," says Tim Troast, manager of marketing, mail finishing solutions, US mailing for Pitney Bowes.

The company's research shows that 69% of consumers would be more likely to open a mail piece with color text and graphics compared to a plain white envelope without messaging.  "As communications become more personalized and relevant, full-color graphics will be the big differentiator when it comes to increasing the value of what consumers receive," he continues. "With all of us trying to make our dollars work harder for us, the envelope is a good place to start your dialogue with your target audience," adds Troast.