6 Ways to Survive High Postage Costs
While the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has promised not to raise rates in 2010, many mailers are still struggling with expenses. Rates increased earlier this year, and these increases—coupled with the struggling economy—are making it a very difficult year for direct mailers. They're scrambling for new and efficient ways to keep their direct mail costs down.
Here are some creative ways to assuage the increases.
1. Clean Up Those Lists
List hygiene is important when it comes to postal savings. Mailers must ensure their lists are clean and optimized for postal savings prior to any mailings they plan to drop. They also should use do-not-mail and suppression lists to drop off unwanted records.
A clean list is important to Boardroom, the Stamford, Connecticut-based publisher of books and newsletters focusing on health and wealth. The firm uses a technology solution from a Creative Automation Co./CognitiveDATA strategic alliance that enhances its merge/purged file so it includes even more accurate addresses.
"Since our mail costs are so high, if we can suppress the mail pieces that aren't getting to the correct names and addresses, it's worth it for us," said Rita Shankewitz, director of marketing for Boardroom.
Updating and standardizing addresses with the USPS' National Change of Address system is crucial. The USPS now requires all Standard-class mailings be run through NCOA processing no more than 95 days prior to mail entry.
2. Test More Packages
Another strategy involves changing the type of direct mail packages that are sent. Certain types of mail—such as mail pieces sent at the flat rate—have seen higher-than-normal increases recently.
Boardroom, for example, regularly uses magalogs and tabloid-sized packages to promote its books and newsletters to prospects and customers. But, since these mailings are sent at the flat rate, and thus more expensive, the firm began testing bookalogs instead. Bookalogs are sent at the less-expensive letter rate; other types of packages that can be sent at the letter rate are #10 envelopes or postcards. Boardroom recently tested bookalogs that have become controls for several of their book mailings. "In many cases, our bookalog tests have been very successful," revealed Shankewitz.
3. Choose Your Paper Stock Wisely
Using less expensive, commodity-grade paper is a way to save money. This paper is available at any plant, and printers oftentimes maintain large inventories of it in a variety of weights and then pass along volume discounts from paper suppliers to the customers who make use of this paper.
4. Maximize Your Print Sheet
To get the most out of your printing dollar, mailers should try to design printed components to get the maximum number of pieces per printing impression.
This tip came from a whitepaper called "10 Cost-Saving Direct Mail Production Tips," published by d.trio marketing group, a direct and multichannel marketing agency. A more efficient print run means less paper and less waste, as well as less total press time. Most printing facilities have several presses. Understanding the specifications of each press will help you achieve a more efficient press run and lower overall printing costs.
Ask for a complete list of equipment, and pay particularly close attention to each press's maximum/minimum roll width (web presses) or sheet size (sheetfed). For web presses, make sure to note the printing cylinders cut-off or cylinder size measurement.
5. Mix Direct and Social
Combining direct mail and social media to create engagement with customers and prospects is another great strategy for meeting the demands of these tough times.
"It's not enough to just push out messages to customers anymore," explained Jim Gilbert, president of Gilbert Direct Marketing, a Boca Raton, Florida-based catalog and direct marketing agency. "For a modern company to succeed, it must cement its customers to its brands and products using every possible channel."
Gilbert offered the following examples of how to engage:
• Give customers a look behind company scenes. This brings a human element to the "cold face" of business.
• Add random contests to the mix. Hold testimonial contests—add pictures of customer service reps and have customers guess who is who.
• Add employee bios, especially those who speak to customers daily.
• Use Twitter to offer specials that last only a few hours.
• Handle customer service issues quickly. Ask how you can better serve.
6. Step Up the Personalization
Beyond these rules, mailers also must test and integrate technologies such as pURLs (personal URLs) and variable data printing to allow for greater personalization, Gilbert said.
According to the d.trio report, adding laser personalized variables makes a mailing more of a one-to-one correspondence—and saves money on plates and multiple versions.
If a direct mail package uses variable offers, calls to action and/or body copy, for example, make changes to create versioning through the personalization process rather than generating multiple preprinted shells, the report advised.
In addition, reducing printed versions by making use of variable personalization may help gain higher geographic saturation in presort, resulting in deeper postal discounts.
Ultimately, putting these cost savings back into the mailing and going out to a larger targeted population will positively impact a return on investment.
"Due to the economy, there are less buyers buying," Gilbert noted. "As a result, multichannel engagement via personalization can lift results and turn a marginal campaign into a profitable one."
(This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of Inside Direct Mail, a sister publication of Print Professional. For more information, visit www.insidedirectmail.com.)