We’ve always known that direct mail can give you a uniquely great return on investment. But if you have anything to do with balancing your business’ books, you know that investment is the right word. It requires more in upfront costs than a digital campaign, and a good portion of the costs go to postage, which seems to be rising a little all the time. How do you stick with what you know works, and still stay smart about the budget? Here are a few little on how to save money on postage before your next direct campaign heads out.

Don’t waste a single letter.

Are your campaigns going to precisely the right people? It can’t be said often enough: Make sure your mailing lists are trim and tight and hitting the folks you’re targeting. A general mailing list is an almost guaranteed money leak. That can start with spring cleaning your address books. How long has it been? Even if it’s not spring, your address books and mailing lists still need to be regularly checked for accuracy and re-evaluated according to honed descriptions of your target audience. Make this a regular thing, and you’ll be regularly saving money on postage.

Get help, be smart!

Cleaning up lists is a minute task, but you can find software and online services to help (even USPS can offer you some assistance), and it is always worth it. “Return to Sender” is not what you want to see, because each letter that bounces back means time and money spent on re-evaluating the contact information and, often, re-sending the returned piece of mail. Undeliverable mail has a surprisingly high (and pesky) cost. And if you’re purchasing mailing lists, be cautious. That may be an OK way to get a blast out to a specific community or region, but that needs to be your strategy, not your default.

Consider a marketing partner.

Especially for your more massive mail-outs, consider a professional marketing partner. What you spend on outsourcing the labor and creative consulting you might save on misdirected mail, flopped campaigns, misdirected design efforts, and your own employees’ labor. If you have your own crack team of designers and communications experts, awesome! You might want to still seriously consider going with a professional printer who can work with you, not only to get your mail-out done efficiently, but to potentially save you money through combining mailers on a single press sheet, drop shipping, and special rates on postage.

Nix the pre-paid postage.

This isn’t always the way to go—for example, if you need that extra “umph” in your pledge drive, or if your target audience is a group that responds far better to a mailed-in reply card. (And when you need a stellar reply envelope, you know where to find us.) But unless you’re strategizing for a special circumstance, consider dropping that extra paper weight and postage and asking recipients to respond to your call to action online or by phone. You can even use that opportunity to grab new contact information. Where there was once only a street address and name, you now have a viable email address, phone number, or social media handle.

Keep size in mind.

The cheapest mailer sizes for a direct campaign are standard postcard and standard letter. If your budget is tight, do everything you can with these two sizes. And be creative! There’s a lot of marketing pizazz you can put into a standard-size campaign—even just by adding to the humble envelope. Logos, color, paper texture, a refreshed font, and “teaser” messaging can all be customized onto an envelope to make your campaign stand out without increasing postage. And there are other subtle little extras, like window shape and size, you can add to a direct campaign without adding to the size or postage cost, but which also add to appeal.

Follow the rules.

Did you know that you can get slammed with extra postage if your otherwise obediently letter-sized campaign doesn’t meet certain criteria?

Too thin A letter has to hit a sweet spot in thickness, between .009 and .25 inches. If it’s thinner or thicker than that, you’re paying more.

Hip to be square – Maybe it’s hip, but it’s more expensive. Rectangular shapes give you the best postage rates.

Weight watcher – Keep your mailer under one ounce for the best postage rates.

Tabs, folds, and panels – If you’re sending a self-mailer, the fold needs to be to the right of the address or below the address to spend the least on postage. For a tri-fold mailer, keep the address on the center panel. And 1-inch tab closures will work great for a mailer under 1 ounce, but after that, you’ll need bigger tabs.

Again, there will be times when the rules for “cheapest” need to be broken to send exactly the right message and get the response you need. But that’s for you and your bottom line to decide.

Get help one more time.

Professional printers know a thousand tips to save you a little here and little there, but it all depends on how your campaign elements best combine with the printing and mailing process. USPS can help here, too. Their MERLIN program is not a wizard (I know, we all wish!), but it is a Mail Evaluation Readability Lookup Instrument, and it can help you know whether your campaign will require extra costs before mailing. Expert assessment especially pays off the larger your mail-out.

Wondering what the best envelope might be to put the finishing touch on your campaign? Letter Jacket can help you maximize your investment, stay within your budget, and look fabulous too. Come see us, check out our inventory, or chat with an associate. We would oh-so-love to help you!

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