Thursday, March 27, 2014

Neighbor Mail™

If your new customer prospects can be found in a neighborhood, a ZIP code, or other identifiable geographic location, then Neighbor Mail™ is a great way to start a direct mail marketing program. Deliver your message to every active address without having to buy a mailing list plus receive the lowest postage rate offered by the USPS.

Here are some advantages of Neighbor Mail™:

  • No mailing list is required. This saves the cost of acquiring a mail list, addressing the mail piece, and maintaining the mail list.
  • Mailings can be quickly produced and delivered. Most postal carrier routes are 400-600 addresses. By eliminating the time to gather a mailing list and address the mail piece, and by digitally printing the mail piece, a small mailing can be in the hands of prospective customers in just a few days.
  • No postage permit is required. Regular presorted mailings require use of a permit to mail at discounted postage rates, but no permit is required for Neighbor Mail™.
  • The mailing panel can be very small. Because the mail piece does not go through normal mail processing, there are minimal requirements for the location and size of the mail panel (the area containing the return address, indicia and outbound address). However, there are requirements for the wording of the indicia and the simplified address.
  • The mailing can be directed to businesses and residents, or residents only. Even though a carrier route or ZIP code may have a mix of residents and businesses, it is possible to exclude the businesses from the mailing and send mail only to the residents. It is also possible to mail to every address in a zipcode, meaning all businesses and all residents.

To learn more about Neighbor Mail™ and how it can benefit your business, contact Brigid at (215) 923-2679, or email her at

Q&A: Is it true that nothing can be placed in a mailbox except U.S. mail?

Yes. The mailbox access rule states that the mailbox can only be used for receipt of postage-paid U.S. mail placed in the box by USPS delivery personnel. This rule is part of the Private Express Statues (PES), a group of laws that give the USPS the exclusive right to carry letters for compensation.

The PES laws were developed jointly by the USPS, Congress and the President to fund the USPS obligation for universal service – to provide the American public with trusted and affordable mail delivery. The universal service obligation (USO) has many facets, including geographic scope, range of products, access to services and facilities, delivery frequency, affordable and uniform pricing, service quality and mail security.

Taken together, the USO, PES and mailbox access rule comprise the USPS monopoly.

Direct Mail Success with the USPS

We believe that a direct mail campaign is a valuable sales and marketing tool. Without the USPS, this tool would be too expensive and cumbersome. What other organization will deliver a mail piece anywhere in the country for 49 cents or less?

An active direct mail program is more than the offer, the printed piece and the mailing list. It is also the United States Postal Service (USPS) delivering the mail piece to the intended target. We admit that it can sometimes be hard to understand and follow the rules set down by the USPS to qualify for postage discounts. But we also recognize that without the USPS, direct mail campaigns would be more expensive and less effective.

It is likely that some of the frustration with the USPS results from misunderstanding its business model. For instance:

  • It has been almost 50 years since the postal service was supported with tax dollars. The Post Office was a government-funded department of the Executive Branch until 1970 when the Postal Reorganization Act was passed by Congress. The reorganization established the USPS as an independent government corporation, organized like a business, yet subject to Congressional oversight. Since 1971 the USPS has been funded entirely by the sale of postage, products and services.
  • The USPS cannot freely raise prices. Any change in postage rates must be approved by the USPS Board of Governors who act upon recommendations from the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). The USPS submits a rate case – essentially the justification to raise rates – to the PRC which reviews the case, invites public comments, and either rejects, accepts or asks the USPS to make modifications. The rate case must meet legal requirements for proposed rate changes and there is a cap on the amount of a rate increase for market-dominant products (i.e. those where the USPS has been granted a monopoly, like first class letter mail). Generally speaking, it takes about a year to institute a price increase.
  • Congress sets some of the business requirements for the USPS. Even though the USPS receives no tax support, Congress still regulates some of its business functions, including whether it can expand into new service areas in response to a shift in market preference, or requiring the USPS to charge below-cost postage rates for non-profit mailers.
The USPS is the largest postal system in the world, delivering nearly 40% of the entire world’s mail volume. In the United States, it delivers to 152 million residences, businesses and post office boxes. The USPS operates almost 32,000 retail locations; 10,000 of those provide 89% of total USPS retail revenue.

Working with the USPS

Businesses and organizations that use a direct mail campaign as part of their sales and marketing strategy know well that a significant amount of money can be saved on postage by presenting pre-processed mail. Discounts are available for mail:

  • whose addresses have been standardized, compared to the USPS list of deliverable residences and businesses, and checked for move updates;
  • that contains additional information about the owner of the mail, the mailing agent, the class of mail and postage rate; and
  • for mail pieces that are uniquely identified so they can be tracked through the mail processing and delivery system.
In addition, the USPS is helping mailers with ongoing direct mail marketing programs, promotions and postage discount incentives for innovative uses of mail that enhance how consumers interact and engage with mail.

Presenting pre-processed mail (aka presorted mail or bulk mail)

The USPS offers tiered postage discounts, with the discount dependent on how much pre-processing is done. The highest discounts are available to mail that can immediately enter the automated mail processing stream.

This level of pre-processing requires permission from the USPS to mail at discounted rates; checking the quality and accuracy of the addresses in the mail list; for folded mail pieces, affixing one or more wafer seals in the correct location; printing a machine-readable barcode on each mail piece; packaging the mail in trays, tubs, sacks or pallets to which machine-readable labels with postal routing is affixed; and transporting the mail to a bulk mailing acceptance facility. To qualify for this level of discount, most businesses pay an outside service – like Creative Characters – to prepare the mail.

2014 postage rate increase

In late January 2014, the USPS increased postage rates for all classes and types of mail in all discount categories. Because of the complicated formulas the USPS must use for a rate increase, the exact percentage increase varies by discount category, class and type of mail.

But for budgeting purposes, we recommend you increase your company’s postage expense allocation by 6%. This should provide a fairly accurate approximation of postage costs for 2014 over 2013.

2014 USPS mail holidays

In 2014 the USPS will be closed to observe ten holidays:

New Year’s Day (January 1)
Martin Luther King Day (January 20)
President’s Day (February 17)
Memorial Day (May 26)
Independence Day    July 4
Labor Day (September 1)
Columbus Day (October 13)
Veteran’s Day (November 11)
Thanksgiving Day (November 27)
Christmas Day (December 25)

Partner with the USPS and with Creative Characters

Conducting a direct mail marketing campaign can be easy and effective using a three-way partnership: you, Creative Characters and the USPS. We stay informed about the changes made by the USPS in the requirements to qualify for postage discounts and about incentives and programs they offer. Call Marya or Jason at (215) 923-2679 to review the opportunities that may apply to your direct mail program.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Use Direct Mail to Drive Web Traffic

Reuters research shows one of the best ways to build business is by using direct mail to drive prospects to your website. It’s the combination of direct mail with a website or landing page that packs the heavy marketing punch. Even Google uses direct mail to drive business. One of Googles direct mail pieces offers prospects $100 worth of free advertising. By mailing these offers directly to businesses, they are able to reach a different audience. And this kind of promotional direct mail works.

Study after study has shown that people put greater trust in information they get by mail than by email. They're more likely to read physical mail than email, which gets deleted before it’s even seen. If direct mail didn’t work, Google wouldn’t use it. Google wouldn’t use it if it was not profitable.

If you think this approach, using direct mail to drive prospects to a website or landing page, could be promising for your business, here are a few things that will make it more effective.

1. Present an interesting message. The message must capture prospects' attention and interest them so they'll stop whatever they're doing to go visit your website. The best kind of direct mail delivers a powerful message using minimal words. The headline must immediately arouse curiosity and promise a benefit of some sort. Then you have to offer an excellent reason to go to your website. The offer should motivate them to take the action that you want such as download a free report to get them to enter their contact information, or watch a video that will reveal the secret to a better life to get them to click a link to purchase. The piece must look effortless. However, writing it will require savvy communication skill. Put your biggest effort into coming up with the messaging that will move prospects to act.

2. Furnish a clear call to action. Now that you have their attention and they're ready to act, you have to provide a focused crystal clear call to action. You want them to visit your website site, so don’t provide alternatives or make them search for the web address. Attention spans today are very short, so if they have to put any effort into finding your web address or figuring out what to do, they will get annoyed and give up. You want them to move in the right direction, so make the next step simple, clear and easy to follow.

3. Use an easy URL to remember. Going from direct mail to a website requires typing the URL. They can’t just click a link, so don’t use a long, complicated URL that requires too much effort to type in. Make sure it’s memorable so if a computer isn’t close by, they will remember it when they are near one.

4. Give them a reason to opt in
. Capturing contact information is one of the most critical reasons for getting prospects to your website. You want them to opt in. But they won't unless you provide them some kind of incentive to do so. Maybe they'll receive a bonus whitepaper, or a valuable promotional code. Keep opt in web page copy short with clear, simple instructions for how to opt in. Some of the best opt in pages only have ten words on them.

5. Create a persuasive sales web page. When they opt in and your sales page comes up, you want them to be willing to watch your video, read your message or do whatever you’ve got there for them. The web page has to be interesting and appealing with easy to read lists of benefits and reasons to take action that can be viewed at a glance.

6. Provide a synchronized message. Successful campaigns have consistent messages and branding. The look of the direct mail piece and the web page should be similar and coordinate with each other presenting a clear unified message. The offer and the call to action should be identical for the direct mail piece and the web page. If the direct mail piece is humorless, don’t create a whimsical web page; make the web page humorless too.

The possibility of a positive response increases exponentially when all the pieces work in harmony with one another.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Power of PDF

PDF files are now so widely used in communication that we sometimes forget how important they are in printing. In the early days of desktop publishing when page layout programs proliferated and before graphic standards were developed, client-created files were often a nightmare for printers.
PDF files gave clients the ability to “lock down” formatting and gave printers the assurance that the image from the PDF would match the image from the application it was created in. PDF files are usable no matter what platform, operating system, or software was used to create the original file.

Despite the power of PDF files, one thing remains true – a PDF is only as good as the original file from which it was produced. To help you give us PDF files that will sail through preflight and processing, we’re focusing on tips for preparing files. We hope you’ll find them useful.

Please give me a call at (215) 923-2679 if you have any unanswered questions after reading this issue.

Booklets: Prep for Print

Booklets often require an extra pre-press step called page imposition. Page imposition is the arrangement of individual pages on a press sheet so the finished pages will be in order when the booklet is assembled.

When you are creating the pages for your booklet and working sequentially from page to page, you are creating a reader spread – pages presented in the order they will be read. During the pre-press step of page imposition, we change your reader spread into a printer spread by assembling individual pages to print on the press sheet. How we assemble the printer spread depends on the total number of pages in the booklet and the size of the press sheet.

In general, it is much easier for us to change a reader spread to a printer spread if the file format is PDF. In addition, if the number of pages in the booklet is enough to make an adjustment for creep necessary, it may be easier to make the adjustment using a PDF.

PDF: World Standard for Electronic Documents

Originally developed for office communications, the PDF file format is now the world standard for electronic document exchange. A PDF file’s unique characteristic – the ability to exist independent of the hardware, software and operating system used to create it – allows file creators to share documents and keep them secure from modification.

PDFs solve many problems associated with printing. PDF is the standard for submitting files to be printed. With PDFs, clients can use any platform and their favorite software program to create files. PDF files can be accepted and prepared for output to press or for digital printing knowing that the finished page images will be what the client expects.

A good PDF file begins with a good native file

As versatile as a PDF file is, the final printed product will only be as good as the original file you create. A PDF created from a poorly-designed file containing low resolution photographs, typos and grammatical errors will still have these flaws. A PDF created from a file that has no allowance for bleeds (i.e., an image that extends beyond the trim line) will still need to be repaired and resubmitted.

Here are a few tips to help you create good original files:

  • Set the page size to match the document’s final size after trimming.
  • Set the margins so that your text has a minimum of 1/4 inch (0.25”) of white space on all four sides.
  • Extend any image that bleeds beyond the trim line by a minimum of 1/8 inch (0.125”).
  • Set trim, score and fold marks outside live print area.
  • Make allowances for finishing operations such as folding, drilling and binding.
  • Use images of 300 dpi resolution at the size they will appear in the document. Lower resolution will produce pixelated images; higher resolution will increase file size unnecessarily, without improving print quality.
  • Use Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) for photographs rather than JPEG or GIF.
  • If printing a color photograph in black and white, save as grayscale before placing the image in the document.
  • Crop images in an image editor such as Adobe Photoshop.
  • Set screens and tints at a minimum of 15% and maximum of 85%.
  • Use the correct color space for the output; CMYK or Pantone for offset printing, CMYK for full color digital printing, and grayscale for black and white printing.
  • Delete blank pages before creating the PDF.
  • Use the right page layout program. For complex page layout, use printing-standard programs like InDesign or Quark XPress. Use Publisher and Word for simple layouts such as one-page flyers. Avoid using non-page layout programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, PowerPoint, or Excel.

Preparing a PDF for print

Before a PDF file can be used for printing, it must go through a process called preflight. There are two parts to preflight. Content preflight, completed by the client, confirms that all necessary components of the file are present, including placed graphic images, fonts, bleeds, and correct color assignment. Content preflight also includes spell checking and proofing to make sure everything is correct.

Technical preflight, completed by us, examines how the file is constructed and assesses whether it is ready for raster image processing – converting fonts, line art and photographs into dots for printing. During technical preflight, we check image resolution, color assignment, color separations, allowance for bleeds, trapping values, trim and paper sizes. We also impose multi-page documents into printer spreads so that pages will back up correctly.

echnical preflight may reveal problems with the file that will compromise quality or prevent processing. We’ll let you know if we uncovered a problem. If there’s an easy fix, we’ll give you the cost of repair so you can approve, or you can ask to have the file returned so you can fix it yourself and resubmit.

Please be aware that there are some problems that we consider “fatal flaws” that we’ll always ask you to repair before resubmitting the file. One example is an RGB color space when the file will be used for offset printing. This is because we want you to view the color after converting to CMYK or spot color to be sure it is acceptable. Other fatal flaws are lack of the one-eighth inch allowance for images that bleed and low resolution images. When submitting a PDF file for printing, it is very helpful if you let us know anything that intentionally deviates from standards, like a low-resolution, pixelated image included for artistic effect, so we will not count this as a fatal flaw.

Allowing for finishing operations

Some documents, like brochures or booklets, require additional work after printing that must be taken into account during file preparation. Here are the allowances for folding, drilling and booklet making.

  • Folding. To produce a completely flat and even fold, the size of panels that fold in must be slightly smaller. To compute the adjustment mathematically, determine the width of single panel if all were the same size, reduce the width of the panel that folds in by at least one-eighth inch (or more, depending on the thickness of the paper being used), divide by two and add that amount to each of the outside panels. In addition, remember that the position of the inside panel changes from the front to the back.
  • Drilling. When the finished product requires holes, allowance needs to be made in the margins. We recommend a half inch clear space on an 8.5 x 11 sheet, so shift the margin to the right for one-sided pages. For two-sided pages, shift right for odd-numbered and left for even-numbered pages.
  • Booklet making. Booklets consisting of more than two or three flat sheets folded into a booklet are subject to creeping. After binding, the unbound edge is trimmed to produce an even edge. Without an allowance for this trim, it is possible that text, page numbers or images may be trimmed away. Though paper thickness and the total number of signatures affect the allowance, you can use this rule of thumb when the booklet is 16 pages or less: subtract 1/32” from the face margin with each successive, interior sheet. This means move everything 1/32” toward the gutter margin.

Unleash the power of PDF

We hope this discussion will help you prepare perfect print ready PDF files. If you find you have questions, please call Marya or Jason at (215) 923-2679 and we’ll do our best to clear up any confusion.