Direct Mail Envelopes

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One of the tell-tale signs of promotional direct mail is the use of so-called “teaser” copy and graphics on the direct mail envelopes.


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Over the years, I have had many clients who have been reluctant to use teaser copy because they thought their mail would look too much like advertising mail (better known as junk mail – eek!).

Well guess what! If you’re using direct mail to promote your business, it IS advertising mail. Of course, it’s only junk if the people you are writing to don’t want it or aren’t interested.

But that has more to do with your list than with what you put on your direct mail envelopes.

Readers are very adept at distinguishing between personal mail and advertising mail. So no one (well, almost no one) is being fooled. At some point – whether you use teaser copy or not – readers are going to figure it out.

Your envelope may be your only shot.

Let’s be clear here. You are, in fact, selling something and there’s nothing wrong with that. Why hide it?

We know that some or many people throw away their mail without ever opening the envelope.

That’s okay because we also know they don’t throw it away until they at least look at the envelope.

Assuming your target audience would have an interest in what you’re offering (again the list), wouldn’t you want that offer to be at least seen by everyone?

7 ways to approach your direct mail envelopes

If you’re wondering what to do with your own envelopes, you have a number of options (and not all of them are good).

1. The corporate envelope – this involves simply using your regular business stationary – those #10 envelopes you already have with your company name and address in the upper left corner. This is typically use for general business correspondence and many people use them for their direct mail promotions as well.

2. The blind envelope – this is a completely plain envelope with no copy or design of any kind. The idea behind this envelope is that the recipient has to open it before they can throw it away. This type of envelope is not for everyone. Even if it works, a blind envelope looks unprofessional which should be a concern for many organizations.

3. The tell-all envelope – this envelope puts everything out front for the reader to see. It may include a description and photo of the product and the offer. It doesn’t have room to tell everything, but it gives the reader enough information to decide whether to open the envelope. I believe this is the safest approach because it leaves little to chance. It is my favorite approach.

4. The teaser envelope – this type of envelope requires the greatest amount of creativity. It doesn’t tell you what’s inside, but it makes you curious enough to find out. When done well, the teaser can be a real breakthrough. If done poorly, it can backfire and your recipient may never know what’s inside. One of the best examples of a teaser envelope used the following copy: “Your bank is hoping you never read a word of this …” Curiosity is sure to get you to open this envelope.

5. The VDP envelope – printing technology has brought new creativity to envelope copy. Variable data printing (VDP) allows you to incorporate the recipient’s name (or other personal information) into a graphic. For example, you might have a graphic of a birthday present and within that graphic, you might say: A birthday gift for Sally. This will certainly get the attention of your recipient.

6. The see-through envelope – envelopes come in all shapes and sizes – and many come as see-throughs as well. See-through envelopes leave nothing to the imagination. Obviously, the inside components need to be designed with this in mind. Variations of the see-through envelope are envelopes with large windows that show more than just the address box.

7. The deceptive envelope – you’ve seem them before – fake “Express Delivery” envelopes and “Urgent – Important Information Inside” envelopes and “Official Government Documents Inside” envelopes. They are misleading and deceptive. Their goal is to trick you into getting the envelope opened. They may work but they misrepresent the inside components.

Like everything else in direct marketing, there is no way to know which of these direct mail envelopes would work best for you. You can eliminate some pretty quickly. Maybe only a few fit your corporate brand image.

But as always, the only way to know for sure is to test. Good luck!


Written by Bob McCarthy

This article may be reprinted without permission as long as the article includes the following credit: Bob McCarthy is a freelance copywriter and consultant specializing in direct marketing and lead generation. His website is He can be reached at 508-473-8643 or by email at [email protected]

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For many marketers and business owners, direct marketing mail is still an important weapon in their offline marketing arsenal. There’s not much that can match the effectiveness and efficiency of a well-designed and carefully written direct marketing mail package and the true student of direct response marketing is constantly on the lookout for little tweaks that will give them a bump in response to make more sales and generate more leads.

Today I want to focus on an often over-looked, left to the last minute component of many direct marketing mail packages – the envelope. If you were to study any of the great direct mail marketers, each will reaffirm the critical importance of the design and look of your envelopes and how certain design principles can result in very profitable increases in response.

If you were to ask any layperson what the purpose of the envelope is and they will typically say its job is to hold your mailings contents together and get them delivered as you intended without them getting lost or damaged.

And they would be right. This would be the “physical” job of the envelope (and an important one at that), but it would not be the answer we marketers are focused on. Ask any sharp marketer what the purpose of an envelope is and he or she will tell you it’s to ensure the recipient notices your direct marketing mail and opens it immediately.

This is what your envelopes must do and in today’s world with all of the junk mail that we receive, this is no small task. Whole books have been written about envelope design and strategy and if you’re so inclined I would suggest you seek out books written by Dick Benson, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Denny Hatch, and Dan Kennedy.

If you don’t have the time or interest, you’re still in luck because I am going to give you several useful and easy-to-use strategies for ensuring your envelopes are getting ripped open immediately.

Two Envelope Design Strategies

There are two basic strategies you can employ when designing your envelopes. The first is what I call the positive recognition strategy. This strategy is designed to result in an “Oh, it’s from your-name-here and I need to open it” response.

This strategy works when you have a relationship with your recipients and that relationship alone is enough to get them to open the envelope (thought you may still want to use several of the envelope booster strategies I mention below).

The second strategy is to arouse significant curiosity from your recipient with your direct marketing mail piece. This strategy can be used with any type of market, cold or warm and it taps into one of the strongest human emotions – curiosity – to get them to open your envelope.

There are different ways you can arouse significant curiosity with your direct marketing mail envelopes, including:

• The envelope that carries a promise
• The important-looking envelope
• The questioning envelope
• The tell-all envelope
• The blind envelope

There are certain parameters that need to be considered when and how to use one of these styles of envelopes and to see examples of each of these, watch this video:

Direct Marketing Mail: 10 Smart Envelope Boosters

Regardless of which of the two design strategies you use, there are several “envelope boosters” you can use on your envelope to get the attention of the recipient and practically guarantee they will open it immediately.

These envelope booster strategies are all concerned with “the look” of your envelopes and what you are doing on them to grab attention and yield response. Each is easy to use and anybody reading this article can and should use all of them when designing their envelopes.

1. Fun, live postal stamps – actual first class stamps get more response than bulk rate stamps. Consider using special edition, fun stamps to get more attention.
2. Use both sides – printing on both sides of the envelope can be a smart strategy to get your envelopes to stand out from the rest. Consider adding photos or testimonials to the other side so they will be seen as the envelope is being opened.
3. Non-paper envelopes – there are several alternatives to traditional paper envelopes, including translucent, mirror, linen, denim and clear envelopes.
4. Unique envelope shapes – consider sending your next direct marketing mailing in a unique sized envelope that stands out from all the #10 and 9 x 12 envelopes that fill your mail box. One size I like to use is the invitation sized envelope to send personalized mailings.
5. Colored envelopes – a smart strategy to tie into the time of year or an upcoming holiday (e.g. red envelopes for Valentines Day). There are just as many envelope colors as there are sizes and materials.
6. Tease with CopyDoodles® – using handwritten fonts and doodles and teaser copy on your direct marketing mail envelopes helps them stand out and get noticed right away.
7. Alert with CopyStamps – simulated rubber stamps on your envelopes creates a sense of urgency. Like any of these boosters, these should be used within the correct context of your entire mailing.
8. Engage with CopyComics – Putting cartoons on your direct marketing mail envelopes can be a fun and unique way to engage your recipients, especially when they are personalized to the individual. Check out this video where I show smart ways to use cartoons in your marketing.
9. Fun, quirky elements – In this day and age, anything that stands out from all the plain vanilla marketing is a good thing. There are certain elements you can add to your envelopes to make them appear as one-off and individualized as possible.
10. Unique photos – I love using fun, unique photos on envelopes. Photos are proven attention-grabbers and should be used in your direct marketing mail design arsenal.

Direct Mail Handwritten Envelopes

For more details on these 10 envelope boosters and to see examples of each, please check out this video:

Direct Mail Envelope Teasers

I hope this article has opened your eyes to the rather important job your envelopes have and the major part they play in getting maximum response out of your direct marketing mail campaigns. Your envelopes should not be an afterthought when it comes to creating profitable and response boosting direct marketing mail.

Award Winning Direct Mail Envelopes

If you would like to discover more ways that your marketing can stand out with the use of CopyDoodles and copy cosmetics, check out our Copy Boosting Profits Secrets Course and our CopyDoodles Best Practices Webinar Series!