Direct Mail Marketing – Sending Bulk Mail
If you have a product or service that you would like to advertise, bulk mail has been shown to be a very effective means of advertising. It can be highly targeted and, if done right, less expensive than other forms of advertising. People tend to read bulk mail more than bulk e-mail, which is often classified as “spam.” This article provides a basic overview of sending bulk mail through the United States Postal Service.
Create Your Mailing List
Creating a mailing list can be either cheap and time-consuming, or expensive and easy. Using a mailing list provider such as InfoUSA, you can target your mailing list based on business category, location, annual income, or any other number of variables. Of course, this comes at a cost.
You can also gather a list yourself by doing research online. Using the Yellow Pages or other such free service can give you access to essentially the same information. This process, however, is much more time-consuming. If you are already an established business, you may have your own mailing list that you wish to use.
In order to qualify for bulk mail discounts through the USPS, you must have at least 200 domestic mail pieces, sorted and trayed, and each piece must weigh exactly the same.
Apply for a Bulk Mailing Permit
Contact your Post Office’s local Business Mail Entry Unit and ask them for a bulk mail permit. You must have a permit number in order to send bulk mail. Bulk mail is also called “Standard Mail” which is a lesser class than First Class, but the advantage is a cheaper per-piece cost. Standard Mail also does not automatically get forwarded or returned if the mail piece is undeliverable; an additional cost is incurred.
At this point, you may choose if you want to affix postage yourself, or if you want to have a “Permit Imprint.” Affixing postage yourself is time-consuming, but there is no permit fee. A Permit Imprint allows you to print your permit number onto the mail piece and write “US POSTAGE PAID.” This way, you can pre-print envelopes and not have to worry about manually affixing postage. However, a permit imprint incurs an annual fee. Again, the less work you do, the more expensive the process will be.
If you are looking for a direct response mail, you may also want to consider applying for a Business Reply Mail permit. This allows you to pre-print envelopes for business reply purposes. This way, you — not the sender– will pay for the postage. There is a permit fee for this as well.
There are limitations as to what can be sent via Standard Mail. For example, the pieces must be advertising pieces — you cannot send invoices or payments via Standard Mail.
The Post Office requires that bulk mail be sorted and placed on USPS-approved trays with sleeves. These products are generally available for free from your local post office or from your local Business Mail Entry Unit.
Cleanse and Prepare your Addresses and Mail Block
The Post Office requires that the addresses in each mail piece conform to certain USPS standards. For example, it requires that you use the abbreviation “Apt” instead of the number sign (“#”) to designate an apartment unit. It also highly recommends – though not requires – that you include the full Zip+4 codes, which means adding the extra 4 digits after the standard 5-digit zip code. In most cases, this can be done online through mail cleansing software, or with downloadable software.
The address mail block has certain optional but potentially cost-saving options. For example, if you place USPS-approved barcodes on your mail piece, you may be entitled to additional savings.
You may also choose at this time how you want the USPS to handle undeliverable mail. You may want to add ancillary service endorsements, such as “Return Service Request” or “Address Service Requested.” These must be written on the mail piece and the undeliverable piece will be treated accordingly.
Print and Sort your Mail Pieces
This is the part that keeps most people from running a direct mail campaign. Mail pieces must be sorted according to very strict specifications. The most convenient way of doing this is to sort your mail before you print it. If you are using Microsoft Excel, for example, then you may sort the spreadsheet by Zip Code before you print a Mail Merge, and the sorting is done for you.
When sorting, there is more to consider than just by Zip Code. For example, the mail must be sorted and bundled according to distribution center. All of this information is available on the Post Office’s main Web site.
Stuffing envelopes is another tedious process. If you plan on doing multiple or ongoing mailings, you may want to invest in a folder-inserter, which is a machine that essentially automates the entire envelope-stuffing process, from folding the letters to licking them shut. The prices for these machines range from several thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.
Deposit Your Mail
Unlike First Class mail, Standard Mail must be deposited at a designated drop facility. You can discuss where this drop point is with the Business Mail Entry Unit.
If you are willing to do this additional work, the most you will pay for a standard #10 letter-size mail piece of less than 3 ounces is just over 27 cents per mail piece. If you sort well, and follow the USPS instructions, you might be able to get the price down to 23 cents per piece, or even lower. If you send more than a few thousand advertising mail pieces a year, bulk mailing may be a good option to explore.
For More Information
The United States Post Office offers the best information on setting up a direct mail campaign. You will have to contact them anyway to set up the appropriate permits, and they will answer any questions that you may have.