direct mail, Marketing

Why Some Envelopes Get Opened Faster


Uh, no parking after 5, please.

Life deals ironic hands to all players.  Timing is everything.

Last week, a fast moving car barged through the corner of our house leveling three rooms. Radiator coolant ended up on our coffee table.

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“More than you know, Mr. Brown!”

This week, we received a mailed life insurance  offer from Physicians Life Insurance Company.

Regardless of circumstances, this envelope would get opened, and here’s why.

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“Please Keep It In A Safe Place” is an arresting instruction.

Your Beneficiary Card is Enclosed. Please Keep It In A Safe Place.

The #11 envelope starts with the cautionary instruction above, and has a tiny die-cut window revealing a scannable OCR-A number, the inferred key to wealth for my beneficiaries.

It takes an iron-hard constitution not to open the envelope to see what is inside.   And true to their word, Physicians has attached a varnished card to the letter enclosed.

Physicians 2015-04-16 597 CARD

The card is a token, and as promised on the envelope, to be saved. Note the 800-number.

Let your beneficiary know you’ve applied for up to $10,000.00…

The bold, 16-pt. font is positively encouraging. Congratulating us as Illinois residents, aged 45-80, which suits my wife and I respectively to a tee in her opinion, that we are guaranteed a Secure Promise Plan.

They prompt us to ask our beneficiary to keep the card in a safe place.   (But in your case Mr. Brown, not in the back of the house.)  It didn’t actually say that, but the suggestion is uncontrollable.

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The headlines: we are eligible for a guaranteed policy. Details to follow.

These are powerful words, usually reserved for protecting wills, social security cards, PINs, firearms and Pokemon.

The following letter reverts to 12-pt courier, fixed space font, as if it came off the very typewriter we keep next to the rotary phone on our vestibule in the front parlor.

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Straight forward benefit headlines. Orderly, easy to read.

It is only moments later that my suspicions are confirmed that we don’t actually have a policy yet, but if we just apply by May 4th, we are golden.

The Bottom Line

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Courier font: back to the 60’s! But it works.

Physicians wrote perfect copy, presented by a hard working envelope.  Most important, the enclosures pay off the reader’s expectations, and have shifted into second gear with an orderly sales presentation.

Everything is according to the rules, and you can bet the Physicians legal crew spent hours in the office before retreating to the golf club lounge vetting the whole kit, extending their discussion out to the first tee about the careful use of commas.

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Policy details on varnished filigreed paper. Impressive, but not pretentious.

From the prospect’s point of view, life insurance is not an impulse decision for most people.

Still, for those who might be teetering on the edge, like us and the lucky folks in the car, the Physician’s package gives pause to consider.   And the sale is entirely dependent upon the envelope getting opened, which this piece accomplishes.

Radio, TV and web don’t hold a candle to direct mail when it comes to delivering all of the decision-making tools…on workable, readable, paper.   The deal, the sales support, the application, and prepaid reply envelope, complete with return address are presented for thoughtful consideration.   But it’s the envelope which kicks it off.

Let's put the meter by the commode.

Let’s put the parking meter by the commode.

Meanwhile, we are rebuilding our house!

direct mail, Marketing, Media

Triple-A’s Got You Covered!

AAA 2014-09-06 483

An 11×13 kraft envelope. Pricey, but outstanding in the mailbox.

The AAA insurance offer I just received is a classic example of a winning direct mail design, with an important twist: it’s a fulfillment package. By that, I mean that it fulfills my request for a policy.

Only thing is, I didn’t request it.

If you’ve ever been concerned about getting insurance, procrastination is the obstacle. AAA’s direct mail effort overcomes that challenge. Why it works so well is that it presumes I want coverage.  Like Radar knowing Col. Blake needs a pen before he asks for it.

I don’t need coverage. But there are a reliable percentage of people out there who really do want insurance, and this optimistic kit sets the table very nicely. Here’s how:

1. Trust: being a AAA member, I trust and use the company for roadside assistance, and a pretty much guaranteed 10% off any hotel bill.

2. The Envelope: unusual, but not weird. It’s big.   AAA is paying USPS a significant postage premium for this over-sized envelope, but as in life, size counts.   It’s kraft brown paper, portrait orientation, and has a “business forms” look about it with side zipper for opening.

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This label sets the agenda: there’s stuff inside, and it’s “yours”.

3. The oversized label announces “HERE IS YOUR NEW POLICY KIT”.  Yikes.  What’s this?

4. The manifest: the label details five items inside, including a “Summary of Coverage” which one would infer is already in effect. Amongst other things, there is a “Thank You Gift”, again reinforcing the fait accompli.

5. DO NOT BEND: marketers can only say this if there is a  legitimately unfoldable item within… like a sterling silver name plate… no, sorry, not really, but it does raise our hopes.

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“OFFICIAL ELIGIBILITY” is good enough. The zip strip advises to fold and tear off…as if we needed help.

6. An OFFICIAL ELIGIBILITY LETTER: sounds a little pretentious. I would have dropped “LETTER”. But the title is followed by some computer-generated data dropped into pre-printed boxes.

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Evolutionary Throwback: Upper Case Dot Matrix… for the 80’s crowd.

Note the font. Institutional in appearance, it would warm the cockles of any actuary’s heart just to hear the buzz of an 80’s-era dot matrix printer ripping across the page as a cogged wheel advances the continuous form.

7.   The terse opener: “This is to notify you”

8.   The heads up: “What This Means To You:”

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Commanding, but not demanding copy… and risk is eliminated in three bullets.

9.   Three “No Risk” bullets:  there are two kinds of risk in direct mail.   The obvious one is, “getting ripped off”.

The not-so-obvious risk is the personal hassle that follows saying “yes”.   This letter advises there will be no medical exam, no sending samples, and best of all, no sales person.  So we can put the latex gloves away.

10.   Your Next Steps: from here on, the letter simply instructs the reader how to apply.   There are 5 steps, the last being a deadline date which will be reinforced throughout the kit.

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Penmanship fitting for a President!.

11.   Very important: the letter is signed by a titled officer of AAA Life Insurance.   Unfortunately, I think the writer, Harold W Huffstetter, Jr. suspects that I am a nefarious check forger.   If that is his actual signature, I cringe at the zeal and rabid discipline of his 4th grade teacher who taught him penmanship.

12.   A personalized COVERAGE SELECTION CHART.  (Not shown) There are oodles of legal hurdles that surround direct mail insurance marketing– the prospective insured can’t complain for lack of information.   A close look offers a financial pat on the back for non-smokers, though.

Incidentally, dirt cheap prices start at 18 years of age.   Do Millennials buy insurance?   I doubt it, but it entices the Baby Boomer to look on.

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Application is highlighted and well-spaced.

13.   A color-highlighted application form.  Again, this form probably underwent a martyr’s gauntlet of legal reviews.  I like it because it adds color to an other-wise bland package.   And there’s appropriate spacing for names and addresses.

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This QR code (smudged for confidentiality) pulls up my information.

14.   But note the QR code in the upper right corner.   Could it be that I scan that and immediately apply online?  Nope, and a good thing too.   A distracting jump to a website at this point could kill the sale.

In fact, the QR code is for the data-entry folks at AAA.   When scanned, it identifies me, and all the tracking detail attached to my record.

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Questions are answered. Note the display of contents.

15.   The SUMMARY OF COVERAGE is explicit.  What is attractive on this piece is the table of contents on the front cover.   This is a benefit piece, and again, is described in plain, low energy language.

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Labels. We will never have enough labels, really!

16.    My Thank You Gift.   This is what everyone looks for in the kit.   The unfoldable item.   Here, the gift is a set of address labels.

You know, there is a future for address labels that extends beyond mailing your next bill payment.

Address labels find themselves on everything portable: cell phones, laptops, tablets, phone batteries, cameras, dog collars, staplers, strollers and DVDs.   If it moves and it’s yours, it could use a label.   Warren Buffet may label every freight car of BNSF Rail some day.

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The reply envelope has two perfs. One for tearing, one for folding. Don’t mix them up!

17.   Lastly, a blue reply envelope with motherly reminders to sign and date your application and…AND… to affix your PERSONAL PROCESSING LABEL!

While you may think this is hokey, I bet you a dollar that AAA’s mail box is stuffed with reply envelopes that carry the label, regardless of its seeming irrelevance.   Why?  First, we don’t want to jinx our life karma.  And second, we like to play with sticky things. Honest.

One thing with the reply envelope– I wonder how many get destroyed by confused customers who tear off the wrong perforation.  white_scissors_u2704_icon_256x256A little scissors icon would help.

When reduced to ink on paper, insurance marketing is pretty staid, but consumer friendly.   What it lacks in emotional appeal it makes up in trustworthiness, as this kit demonstrates.   Most important, it didn’t try to sell; it assumed already that I was prepared to apply.

And that’s why it works.


Thanks for taking the time to get to here.   Please pass this along to your direct mail friends.  Thanks!