Let me tell you what your ad agency doesn’t know….how to maximize the opening of an envelope.

There are 5 outer envelope “rules” you should follow to overcome your direct mail
piece’s first and often toughest marketing obstacle: making sure that your outer envelope supports and accentuates your message rather than taking away from it.

Your outer envelope’s design, then, has just two basic goals:

  1. To transport your message (letter, liftnote, order form, sales sheet, brochure, etc.) to your prospect. Good news—this one’s easy! Just make sure that your envelope design doesn’t have any serious structural flaws and conforms to postal regulations, and you’re ready to go!
  2. To entice your prospect into immediately ripping it open to read your message. The first half of this goal is easy: a poor design will almost certainly be ripped apart as your prospect tosses it—along with the message it contains—right into the trash. A good outer envelope design, however, should improve the performance of the direct mail piece inside.

To help ensure that your outer envelope gets your message read, and not discarded, there are five elements you need to maximize. They are:

  • Your prospect’s name and address
  • Your return address
  • Stamp or indicia area
  • Front teaser copy
  • Back teaser copy

Each of these elements plays an important role in getting your message read, and each has its own pitfalls and opportunities you need to be aware of. Remember, the only purpose of your outer envelope is to get your prospect to open it with a burning desire to discover what it is all about inside.
Tip 1: Make sure your prospect’s name and address are correct!
While this might sound simple, too often mailing lists have been populated with faulty information. Misspelling your prospect’s name or using the wrong title (Mr. when it’s a Mrs., etc.) is a fast way to lose credibility, and without credibility, it’s tough to make a sale. Whenever possible, always check and double-check the information that you’re given.
Tip 2: Don’t give yourself away with your return address!
Surveys indicate that the very first thing your prospect will look at on your envelope is the return address. Therefore, it’s always best to put just an address without a company name. This way, any preconceived notions your prospects may have about your company will not prevent them from reading your entire sales message before making up their minds. Important: Always list a street address—never a PO box.
Tip 3: Whenever possible, use stamps!
Bulk rate stamps resembling “real” postage stamps cost the same as printed indicia or metered envelope, yet result in a return rate that’s consistently 10%–15% higher than the other two options. Plus, there are a wide variety of designs to choose from that could potentially enhance your sales message.
Tip 4: Say it big on the front!
The teaser copy on the front of your envelope is your first and best chance to get your prospects engaged in your message. Therefore, it should be headlined by a big, bold message that grabs the reader by the lapels and makes them pay attention.


Tip 5: Back it up on the back!
Once you’ve successfully engaged your prospects with your bold front envelope copy, the back is where you should provide them with even more enticing evidence that their time will be well spent reading your mailing materials. Short testimonials or lists work very well on the back.


Great outer envelope teaser copy that increases the value of your direct mail message: 

  • Doesn’t give away too much information.
  • Always teases the prospect into reading more.
  • Avoids questions, especially those that can be answered with a “no.”
  • Avoids humor. Cartoons, humorous line drawings and jokes don’t usually test well, and they run the risk of offending your prospect. In addition, they may set you up as a joker, not a serious contender to serve their interests.
  • Is highly charged and emotional. Great outer envelope copy motivates your reader to open the envelope immediately, not put it in a pile to read later or toss it in the trash.
  • Immediately shows your prospect that it is in his or her immediate self-interest to open the envelope and keep reading.
  • Sounds urgent, timely or valuable.
  • Sets a theme for the promotion inside.

Warning! The rules are different for B2B envelopes!
When sending business-to-business direct marketing, these outer envelope copy rules of thumb need to change in order to motivate the “gatekeeper” to allow your message through to the decision maker.
A gatekeeper may be a:

Mail room attendant
Executive assistant

Because gatekeepers are being paid to weed out your message, their jobs are at stake if they waste the boss’s time with something he or she won’t want to see. Therefore, getting past the gatekeeper can be no small challenge.
Before I spoke at Unisys for a 3-day, in-house marketing bootcamp seminar for its marketing staff, I interviewed the mail room manager and discovered something shocking: 90% of all mail Unisys produced for itself for its prospects would be rejected by its own mail room criteria!
I’ve discovered since then that the 3 main rules to getting past the gatekeepers are:
Rule #1: Create a perception of value.
If your direct mail appears to contain valuable information or items, it will make it past the gatekeepers. In the end, a gatekeeper’s decision to pass along your letter to the decision maker is a subjective one, and dependent upon making them believe that their boss will be happy to get it. Bulky envelopes, newsletters or high-quality paper and snazzy graphics often do the trick.
Rule #2: Appear to be continuing correspondence.
If it appears that your mail has been sent as a result of a past order or correspondence, it will make it past the gatekeepers. For example, try writing “Here is the information you requested” on your envelope.
Rule #3: Appear to be personal.
Personal correspondence between a sender and recipient is considered an acceptable communication to pass along. Having the recipient’s address information handwritten is usually enough to give that impression. Today’s advanced technology makes this easy.
Keep in mind that creating a compelling outer envelope is a highly delicate task that should always be accompanied by extensive testing.
Sometimes (but rarely), after weeks of planning, it turns out that a plain white envelope with a simple return address will get vastly superior results to even the most brilliant outer envelope design. Still, most of the time, teaser copy—great teaser copy—far outperforms a plain envelope. That’s why testing is a crucial step.
If you would like a FREE consultation on your outer envelope design needs, or would like to discuss having us help you create copy and strategy, contact Caleb Huey at caleb@cdmginc.com, or call me today at 1-310-212-5727. I’m here to help.