Through the work I have done for quite some time, I’ve had the opportunity to work with database marketers still using snail mail. I can hear you asking yourself why anyone would still use mail, but did you know for many industries, the battle for the customer is often won or lost at the mailbox? Did you know that although Millennials seemingly spend a great majority of their time glued to their digital devices, 84% of them look through their mail on a regular basis or that 64% say they would rather search for useful information in the mail than email?

Even though direct mail has a slightly higher acquisition cost, it is still an important part of anyone’s marketing toolkit, but how should you think about the investment you make in design and printing a mailer?

Welcome to Drivetime Marketing.

Years ago, I worked for a company that was VERY budget conscious. I once asked the question if we were designing our mail for value or for experience. As a brand marketer, I was – I am – pro-experience, but the budget conscious team I was working with sometimes struggled with the very thin line they had to navigate between the two.

So, I turned to our agency’s production manager for some suggestions on managing a print budget to create mail that would enhance our brand story without cutting corners. She was often tasked with identifying ways to maximize client budgets while still producing mail that would stand out. Believe it or not, it’s not that hard to do if you work closely with your agency’s production expert or your printer – or both. 

There are five things you can tweak when challenged with a budget.

First, let’s talk about color.

The easiest way to keep costs down when producing a print project is to only use black ink. If you’re still reading a physical newspaper, you see this every day. You can also opt for black ink for brochures and mailers. And, I have to tell you that I love black and white photography. Just take a moment to Google “beautiful black and white images”. You will find some of THE most captivating image that will certainly get attention if you go that route.

Please don’t Google and swipe. Make sure YOU have the rights to images you use.

However, the advent of digital printing has made full color just as budget-friendly. Because digital printing doesn’t require the creation of a plate, it greatly reduces the time needed to print, and because of the lower cost, digital printing is a great option for small jobs. There is some research supporting the theory that people may respond better to color than black and white.

If you just can’t bring yourself to go the black and white route, stick to the 4-color process without adding any of the bells & whistles like foils and spot varnishes. Save those special effects for when you want to up your game.

Then, there is the size.

First and always, you should understand the printer’s limitations before you start designing. If you’re mailing, you’ll want to get up to speed with the Post Office’s guidelines to avoid any budget busters like oversize mailers. Bookmark the guidelines web page and refer to it often. We’ll include the link in the show notes if you don’t already have it. Believe me when I tell you it will come in handy time and time again.

Your agency’s production manager can always guide you, but if you’re trying to handle your production in-house and are in doubt as to whether or not your piece is compliant with USPS standards, take a quick trip to your local post office and ask. If you’ve ever mailed something that does not fit the USPS specific size limitations, you will quickly find out that the surcharges you incur for postage may outweigh the price you paid to have the mailer designed & printed.

Next, consider using the printer’s house stock.

Because the printer often buys this paper in bulk, they can pass on the discount to you. Choosing this option can not only save you money, but it can also save you time since you won’t have to wait for it to arrive.

Also, making sure your mailer is an appropriate weight can help you save. For the post office, the size is just as important as weight. No one likes surprise charges. It’s right up there with resort fees and checked baggage charges (but that’s a personal grievance and probably a topic for another day).

Folding is also something that can both increase your wow factor and your costs.

If your piece will be folded, and you are trying to stick to your budget, you’ll want to design it so that it can be “machine folded.” That means it doesn’t require any handling by a human being. There’s a website called Designers Toolbox has excellent examples of standard folds. It’s a valuable resource for you. If I were you, I’d bookmark that one as well.

You can always get fancier with your fold, but once a piece requires labor for the fold, the price will increase. However, I have to say that I love a creative fold when the event is right. It adds a little something adventurous to the piece. I mean, it is fun to discover what the next fold will reveal. Right? I love getting Fold Factory’s Super Cool Fold of the Week in our inboxes.

Number five of the things you can look at when balancing budget and experience is bindery and finishing.

For those of you who don’t know these terms, bindery is when multiple pages have to be kept together. Finishing is all of the things you can do after something is printed like die cutting or stamping and embossing.

Saddle stitching is typically the budget-friendly option for binding. It’s a simple process that staples multiple pages. You usually see this with training manuals. There are a variety of bindery options, but since we’re talking about saving money, it is the best method to keep your project in line with your budget. Pages of a common size are fed into a machine and presto – pages are combined with little to no human handling. There is, however, a myriad of bindery options available to you.

Finishing can add significantly to your printed piece, but your printer may offer some options that are what they call in-line, and they may add less than you think. It’s always a balance. Right? 

As you can see, there are a few potential budget-busters that are quite easy to manage. Whether you’re a “spare no expense” or a “we’ve got to figure out how to make it work” marketer, you can still create dazzling mailers that will tell your brand story and respects your budget. Work with your agency and printing partners to take advantage of the options available to you to create great printed pieces that will tell your brand story.

That about does it for us this week. Thanks for letting me share some of the tips, tricks, and tools I’ve learned during my marketing career. I love spending this time with you and hope you do too. Join us next week on Drivetime Marketing.

If you’re a casino marketer, make sure you check out our Casino Marketing Masters Facebook Group. We’re building a nice community there of marketers sharing some ideas and challenges.

A version of this originally appeared as a column in the March 2018 issue of Biz New Orleans.

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