Direct Mail 101


Any Direct Mail (DM) project consists of two things: the list is first, the actual product being mailed is second.

The List

The list used can be your own customers and clients, or a list can be purchased.  The proprietary customer list is, in a word, golden. This will provide the most cost effective, highest rate of return as these people know you and have worked with you in the past. A purchased list can be residences (a saturation list), or you can add any number of demographic parameters to fine tune it. Acceptable formats for mailing are Excel CSV (preferred), XLS, XLSX, and XML. There are many others including .TXT which can be accepted. All information should read left to right as a single record. Common MS Word formats like .doc are not acceptable as they read top to bottom.

Common list field headings are, from left to right: Full name / Title / Business / Address 1 / Address 2 / City / State / Zip

Other headings can easily be added such as account number, department, dates and more. Also, any data within a field must be consistent. Names are in a name field, not in an address field. Business names must be in a field under a business heading, not under an address heading. Last, only one file should be provided per job. Multiple files can be imported, but that adds complexity and cost.

The Product

Is it a letter, a post card, a folded self-mailer, or newsletter? If a letter, that should be self-explanatory. A sheet(s) that goes into an envelope. Must be within the dimensions of a minimum size of 5”L x 3.5”H to a max size of 11.5”L x 6.125”H to achieve automation letter rates. A post card is the same size for automation rates, both minimum and max. One more thing on letters to achieve automation rates - the envelope must be flat and consistent. No inserts that will not bend or could break. This would include pens or keychains and other promotional type products. Last, for all products intended to have automation letter rates, the address and Barcode must be in line with the longest horizontal dimension.

A folded self-mailer (FSM) must be a single sheet and has the same size requirements with one size exception, max size is 10.5”L x 6”H. It cannot be more than 10.5” long, or it becomes a USPS flat size, which cost more in postage. Last, a simple FSM must be tabbed on top with at least two 1” tabs, within 1” of either edge. The flap must be on the back and the final fold on the bottom. There are other more elaborate rules for FSM with other folding formats, but those will not be reviewed here. Suggested sizes and papers to use are 8.5 x 11 folded to 8.5 x 3.625, 8.5 x 14 folded to 8.5 x 4.67, 17 x 11 trimmed to 17 x 10.5 and folded to 10.5 x 5.67. Suggested papers for all these sizes are 60# or 70# white offset, 80# and 100# gloss text, 80# white cover and 100# gloss cover.

For both of the above products, postcards and folded self-mailers, they must be oriented as landscape, long dimension first and horizontal second. The mail address should be a minimum of 4”L x 2”H in the lower right, all white space. The indicia and return address can fit within this area as long as they are small enough not to interfere with the Barcode.

A common newsletter, 8.5 x 11, is considered a USPS flat size. Normal page counts are 8, 12 and 16 pages. Stock should be at least 60# white offset. If stapled, the staple should be on the long side. The top of the last page would contain the mail area. Spine would be on the right as it is held in hand.

There are many more sizes and formats that are acceptable to mail. The above are just the most common.

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