Direct Marketing, Mail Order, and E-commerce News from the National Mail Order Association


Outer envelopes
by Robert W. Bly

I confess: For many years, I didn't pay enough attention to outer envelopes when studying direct mail.
As a copywriter, I was always more intrigued by the design and the writing of the piece.

But, ever since I started doing my own mailings, I realized just how important the outer envelope can be.
Right now, let's concentrate on outer envelopes used in business-to-business mailings only.

To Tease Or Not To Tease?

I could easily write a whole column on how to write envelope teasers. And I will - soon.

But, while I still believe teasers can be tremendously effective, I have become conservative of late, and
in many mailings I am advising clients to use plain envelopes.

We are getting good results using this tactic, and the reason, I suspect, is the increasing volume of direct
mail people are receiving at work. Buried under a mountain of paper, many executives and entrepreneurs
now instantly trash any mail they perceive as containing advertising materials. And clearly, the use of a
teaser does identify your package as "direct mail."

Disguising Your Direct Mail

To combat this, you can "disguise" your mailing, using an outer envelope designed to make your package
appear to be normal business or personal correspondence rather than direct mail.

Here's how to go about it:

  1. Use a #10 envelope or monarch envelope - the sizes used for personal correspondence. (A 6-by-9-inch
    envelope, for example, is immediately perceived as direct mail.)

  2. Use a computer to type the recipient's name and address directly on the outer envelope. This can be
    done by a letter shop or in-house. (Many printers and office supply catalogs now offer envelopes on
    continuous sheets that can be fed into your personal computer's printer.)

  3. If you are using a letter shop to computer-personalize your envelopes, ask to see a sample first.
    Many of the inkjet and some of the laser systems produce an undesirable computer-generated
    appearance. (This is especially true of desktop publishing systems.) Your envelopes should look as if
    they were typed on an IBM Selectric.

  4. Use a good quality stock for envelopes. Better paper creates a better impression and makes your
    piece look classy and important.

  5. Mail first-c lass instead of bulk rate third-class. The cost difference is $95 per thousand pieces mailed.
    This is insignificant for the typical business-to-business marketer who mails only a few thousand pieces.
    Once you get into quantities of tens of thousands, the added cost starts to become more of a factor.

  6. When mailing first-class, have your letter shop affix a "live" 25-cent stamp to the envelope rather than
    use a meter or indicia. The additional cost for affixing the stamp is minimal. And the results will be worth
    it: A letter sent in a #10 business envelope that looks personally typed and is mailed first-class with a
    25-cent stamp is almost always opened.

Budget Constraints

What if you can't afford first-class postage or computer-typed envelopes?

  1. When mailing third-class, use a meter instead of an indicia. An indicia seems to scream, "This is
    advertising mail!" But the meter doesn't make it as obvious (you have to turn the envelope sideways
    to read the tiny print that says "BLK RT").

  2. Affix cheshire labels directly to outer envelopes.
  3. Before you order your labels, ask your broker to send you a sheet of sample labels from the list.
    Examine them for appearance. Some list owners, for example, print the name and address in all caps,
    giving the label an undesirable computer-generated look. Ask if the labels can be provided with names
    and addresses typed in normal upper - and lower - case style.

Also, some list owners provide labels with undesirable computer codes or marks (such as asterisks), which
detract from the personal appearance you are trying to achieve. See if they can eliminate these for you.

  1. Instead of a fancy paper stock, have your envelopes printed on plain 24-lb. white weave. Reason:
    The white labels will match the envelopes in color and texture, making the label almost invisible and
    creating the illusion, at first glance, that the recipient's name and address was typed directly onto the

One More Tip

You will see many mailings in which a person's name appears hand-typed below the company logo and return
address in the upper left corner of the outer envelope. I've read articles saying that this increases response -
probably because it helps maintain the illusion that the letter is personal correspondence.


Why not take this approach to the next logical step? Don't use a company letterhead at all. Instead, take a
blank white #10 envelope, and type your name only (or someone else's name) and a return address in the
upper left corner. No logo. No company name. Use your office typewriter (preferably an IBM Selectric with
Prestige Elite, the most popular typewriter typeface). Now give this to your printer as the mechanical for your
outer envelope.


When printed, each envelope will look as if the sender personally typed his or her name and return address on
the outer envelope, and it is virtually impossible to tell that the envelope was offset. I have tested this in small
quantities (unscientifically, I admit) with good preliminary results.


Editors Note: Want to learn more on how to write great advertising and direct mail from the master Bob Bly?
Check out the NMOA bookstore for training, classes and books:

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