Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A-Pile vs. B-Pile Mail – Which Should You Use?

Your customers sort their mail over a trash can.
When a direct mail piece arrives, the judge, jury and executioner stand ready to hand down a swift verdict:
Pitch it or read it.
Most direct mail gets pitched.
Why?
Because it meets the common definition of “junk mail:”
“a blatantly obvious, in-your-face attempt to sell or promote a product or service”
For a variety of reasons (including sheer quantity), junk mail has gotten an infamous reputation.The wildly colored envelopes, the Publishers Clearing House type offers, the teaser copy all over the outside of the envelope. You know junk mail when you see it.
This type of mail is called “B-pile” mail.
On the other side of the spectrum is “A-pile” mail.
“A-pile mail” is called such because it looks like a personal letter you got from a friend:
  • No indicia on the outer envelope.
  • Live stamp
  • Hand addressed or laser printed labels.
  • #10 envelope, typically
  • No window envelope
In other words, “A Pile” mail looks like personal mail. It does not telegraph a sales pitch in any way.
The whole concept of A-Pile is two-fold:
  1. It is more likely to get delivered
  2. It is more likely to get opened
It simply doesn’t matter how good your copy is and how powerful your offer and risk-reversal are…if your letter does not arrive or is not opened, your efforts are for naught.
Say What?
Yes, I did say…if your letter does not arrive…
“Adam, surely you jest!”
I wish!
The sad fact is not every US Postal Worker loves schlepping your wonderful army of “salesman in print” all over the country. There have been many occasions noted in the press of postal workers throwing away or simply hording mail. You can read about a few of these stories:
Michigan Postal Worker Hoarded Thousands of Pieces of Mail Instead of Delivering Them
Postal worker accused of throwing away mail
Postal Carrier Seen Throwing Away Mail
A common thread in many of these stories is many of these workers chose to hoard or trash the “junk mail.”
The reason?
Who knows, really? But I suspect it’s because a hand addressed letter with a live stamp on it looks like its coming from grandma to grandson. And grandma would get pretty upset if she found out her letters weren’t being delivered.
The other aspect of A-pile mail is a personal looking letter is more likely to be opened by the recipient.
When they are sorting their mail over the trash can, they are unlikely to throw away a letter that is from a letter or friend.
I first learned about A-Pile versus B-Pile from the late Gary Halbert, one of the greatest marketing minds ever. Gary was adamant that if you put a gun to his head, he would send first class, A-pile mail. No teaser copy or bulk rate postage.
The Counter-Argument
But not all junk mail gets thrown out.
In fact, much of what you may consider junk mail are actually time-tested direct marketing pieces that bring in millions of dollars for the sender.
Tested marketing pieces that pull the best response against competing pieces from the same company are called “controls.”
And controls should be studied by anybody in the direct response marketing business.
Because these alleged  “junk mail” pieces are controls year after year, the companies sending them are definitely making money. In fact, companies like: Rodale, Boardroom, etc. are some of the most sophisticated marketers in the world. They test every variable, including the outer envelope.
Does the fact that multi-million dollar marketers throw cold water on the idea of A-pile superiority?
The Verdict
It all comes down to your own testing.
For smaller companies, testing a B-pile mailing piece can drive up the cost (the cost savings from 3rd class mail are typically eaten up from the extra color printing costs).
Additionally, a smaller company may not have as big or powerfully segmented customer list. Since the list is the most important component of any direct marketing, it is a decided advantage to have a bigger list. Especially a house-list.
My personal experience has been A-pile out-pulling B-pile to new lists and drop-offs from current hot list.
95% of all my mailings now fit the A-pile criteria. And, there are ways to get an A-pile look and still pay bulk postage.
I think any small company starting out should test A-pile first. It is easier to test as the design components and printing are less labor intensive. You can test against an A-pile control easier, because there are fewer variables. And, if you are not mailing huge quantities, a small fraction of a percentage point in response will not be sufficient to justify the upfront labor and fulfillment.
If you are a larger company, where you can really profit from multi-variable testing, then a split run test A-pile versus B-pile would be in order.
With direct marketing, the only thing that matters is your bottom line.
And you have to test, test, test.
Some offers for some businesses would be well suited to go B-pile from the get-go. An A-pile mailing may not be congruent with sender or message.
One Thing
If you’re going to mail B-pile, go the whole way. Don’t half-a** it. Put teaser copy all over the envelope, make check boxes, get every whirly-gig you can think of incorporated on the envelope to get the reader to open it and not throw it away.
Marketers that send B-pile packages with wimpy little window envelopes and one line of teaser copy like “please open now” are sure to get pitched.
And another thing…
The more targeted your mailing, the easier of a ‘pass’ your B-pile mail will get.
For instance: if you are targeting expecting mothers of first child with an offer for discounted diapers, formula, bibs and the like, along with tips to get the new baby to sleep through the night, etc…you could plaster the envelope with bullets, dollar savings, testimonials and you could get a decent response. This provided you’ve got a very date, age, income specific targeted list.
But you’d still have to test.
That is…you’d have to test if you wanted to maximize your profits.

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