Envelopes: Envelopes get personal

Better response rates are every marketer's dream. Digital printing offers the customisation that can get these results.

Envelopes are anything but personal. Marketers are beginning to combine customer lifestyle, geo-demographic, transactional and preference data with colour digital printing to customise the images and offers inside an envelope (see "Personalising digital print" Marketing Direct, November 2004), but examples of personalising the outer envelope are uncommon and usually involve print runs of less than 5,000.

There is a widespread perception, some say misconception, that personalising the outer is too expensive. The received wisdom (challenged by at least one printer) is that digital presses cannot handle envelopes. Instead, personalised digital outers must start life as flat sheets, which are then cut, formed into envelopes and hand matched with the personalised letter.

Although digitally personalised letters can be economical for press runs in the tens and even hundreds of thousands, for envelopes the cut-off point is in the thousands. But personalised envelopes can result in significantly higher response rates, which justifies the extra investment.

For big print runs, there are alternatives to personalising envelopes, such as using digitally-printed self-mailers, cards or placing mailings with variable images in clear polybags. Paul Foley, managing director of Print.uk.com, says digital envelopes are not a volume application, but are effective for short run, one-to-one campaigns.

Nicholas Green, a director of London Digital Marketing, says his company, which has partnered with Hewlett Packard, produces more than 700,000 personalised mail pieces a month using digital printing, although the bulk is for the letters inside or for self-mailers.

"Digital printing is not a simple process at the production end," says Green, pointing out that the use of databases to do variable printing is a good thing for the print industry because it makes clients less likely to regard printing as a commodity service. "Digital printing is putting value back into printing because the response rate is so high," Green says.

Although London Digital Marketing uses digital printing to produce 500,000 personalised self-mailers a month for a single retailer, Green agrees that for outers it's more economical for small markets, specially in the B2B sector.

Creating visual impact

For instance, it recently used digital printing on the outside of an envelope in a campaign for business software company PeopleSoft, which wanted a campaign with high visual impact. The copy included the person's first name, such as "Danny, fed up with hearing, 'It can't be done'?"

Personalised envelopes can also work in the consumer sector for luxury products and services that don't require massive mailings. Foley says that despite the commonly held belief that stock envelopes can't be fed through digital presses, his Slough-based company manages to do it economically on print runs of up to 5,000, although it can't do a full bleed.

Technical advantages

An envelope it did for Fulham Football Club's junior fan club shows a photo of manager Chris Coleman with the recipient's name in quotes, such as 'Chris Coleman wants Paul Foley as part of the team'. "The Fulham mailer was a hand-matching operation between the envelope and the inserts. It's not for big runs. But I think it could work well for charities," Foley says. "The process is more efficient than printing on sheets and making up envelopes because there is less spoilage."

Examples of personalised outers are slowly starting to crop up on the consumer side, although clients are shy about talking about them.

In a campaign to keep 1,000 potential customers warm during the wait for UK deliveries of the Nissan 350Z sports coupe, Tullo Marshall Warren printed the prospect's name and address using reversed white out of black, to give the mailer an upmarket feel. The flat sheets were laminated, cut, folded into envelopes and inserted with an invitation to the Motor Show Live at NEC Birmingham. Deputy creative director Mark Reddick says digital printing got around the inability of laser printing to print in white. While the campaign didn't layer in any lifestyle data, it showed the process works. "Personalising envelopes will come. It's the next thing to do," Reddick says.

Nottingham-based marketing services company Perspektiv Marketing Group has gone further and customised envelopes. In an outer for a car finance company, it showed two different cars, each with the recipient's name on the licence plate, with the strapline 'one of the cars is YOURS (first name)...'

"We have approached the digital print market from a data and customisation point of view," says Perspektiv director Chris Arthur. "We believe data is all about immediate impact and what better way to get a response than via a customised envelope?"

It's a sentiment shared by Roger Lipscombe, head of art at TDA. "When done well, personalised outers really do make a difference," Lipscombe says. "Personalised envelopes usually get opened and it's possible to personalise beyond the name and address to heighten the relevance to the recipient." He highlighted an Alliance & Leicester mailing aimed at chief executives that had the whole message on the outside, leaving the envelope empty. "As always, data is key here. If you target the wrong audience or communicate the wrong message, it's paper dart time."

To personalise mass mailings, however, self-mailers are still the option of choice. In a campaign last year, combined mortgage and current account provider The One Account printed 314,000 self-mailers. Each mailer featured a graphic showing the recipient's street name in a campaign created by TEQUILA\London and printed by Lorien using HP Indigo technology.

Better uplift cuts cost

To personalise the inside of the self-mailer, a sample mortgage offer linked the recipient's address and postcode information from CACI to more than 80 variables such as type of house, its estimated value, the likely size of the owner's current mortgage, and the amount the owner could save by switching to The One Account. The mailing won a Silver in the recent DMA Awards, generating a 28 per cent response uplift and cutting the cost of its first contact by 40 per cent.

Melissa Smith, head of creative services at TEQUILA, says the agency is increasingly focusing on personalisation. It's a strategic partner of HP Indigo, and claims that as of October it is the first agency in Europe to bring the DirectSmile personalisation software inhouse. This allows users to take specific customer information and directly incorporate it into the image and copy on each letter. The combination of DirectSmile and digital print enables the agency to produce the "stand-out and results that clients want", Smith says.

Pitney Bowes marketing director David Jefferies says big volume, transaction mailings such as billing will continue to use inkjet printing on the outer, but they are starting to increase the use of digital printing on inners and outers.

"In terms of the DM marketing mix, the better the segmentation and personalisation of the inner contents, then the personalisation of envelopes will help direct mail maintain its value compared to other media," Jefferies says.


The Lloyd James Group commissioned opinion research in October involving a telephone and email questionnaire for senior marketers amongst the top 1,000 UK companies in a range of sectors.

The marketers were asked to quantify the percentage of uplift they experienced on average when direct mail letters inserted variable creative based on database segmentation.

On average, those surveyed reported a 33.4 per cent uplift in DM campaign response when the mail-pack incorporated variable creative. According to figures from the Direct Mail Information Service, normal consumer response rates average 7.1 per cent.

The survey also found that the industry sectors that benefited most from targeted creative imagery were those products or services with a strong emotional or aspirational element such as travel, hotels and upmarket retailers. To a lesser degree, charities benefited due to their emotional link to consumers.

Products or services that customers have to buy, rather than desire to buy - such as utilities, insurance, telecoms and credit cards - reported very little uplift from the use of variable imagery.


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