The outer envelope can be designed and tested to get direct mail opened.You only have 3–5 seconds to get recipients to open your mail (the Open NOW Rate of physical mail), which is why an envelope’s top job is to get itself opened. The outer envelope is typically the last piece of a direct mail package to be designed; yet the first piece your audience will see.

There it is, a blank canvas as large as 9” x 12” in many cases. What can you do with that space? A lot actually; or not much at all—it depends on how well you seize that opportunity. Let me give you a few ideas that you can experiment with in effort to get your mail opened by as many recipients as possible.

Ten tried-and-true techniques for outer envelope design:

  1. Use a Solid Color — A red, blue, or green envelope will stand out from the mailbox crowd and command attention. Address it with a nice font on a printed white label.
  2. Write a Teaser — This line of copy, typically set in large bold type near the address, tells readers there is something inside this envelope that they truly must see.
  3. Go Big on Personalization — Set the recipient’s name in big bold type with a promise statement like, “Jane, your dream vacation can really come true…”
  4. Use a Photograph — A beautiful photo with a catchy caption can connect on an emotional or aspirational level. Print it edge-to-edge for maximum impact.
  5. Ask a Compelling Question — The reader will want to open the envelope to find the answer.
  6. Offer a Freebie — Let the reader know there is something free inside the envelope.
  7. Specify Heavy Stock — The feel of heavier paper is associated with quality brands.
  8. Use a Window Envelope — This can give the reader a sneak peak at what is inside.
  9. Print on Glossy Stock — A gloss coat exudes quality and makes photographs shine.
  10. Or…Leave it Blank Simply send a #10 envelope with your return address and a live stamp to give it the appearance of need-to-know correspondence.

The envelope is an easily tested component of any direct mail campaign. Everything inside the package can remain the same to determine if one color, a teaser, or a photograph works better over another. You can also adjust the outer envelope creative depending on the recipient’s gender and other audience variables to feature images and messaging that will most resonate with each audience segment.

Envelopes come in all shapes and sizes presenting an array of possibilities for testing creative. When planning your next direct mail campaign, push the envelope to the top of the list and concept ways that can ensure it gets opened.