Our postal system is the latest victim of terrorist attacks. How can the $528 billion direct-mail industry avoid becoming a casualty? We spoke with direct marketers to get advice on the best way to conduct business through the mail today.

Break the old rules.
Traditional rules to get envelopes opened have changed, says Rich Maradik, CEO of direct marketing firm Smart DM. Do not use generic reply addresses that don' t reference your brand name or logo, particularly in business-to-business mailings. Envelopes with generic return addresses marked " personal and confidential" or " urgent" will not be as effective as they once were. Make customers feel comfortable--their perception is critical, he adds.

Coordinate all your marketing campaigns.
Maradik recommends coordinating your direct-mail campaigns with other direct media, including e-mail. Some companies are notifying customers in advance of mailings they are sending--either through e-mail or telemarketing.

Use a permit imprint instead of a stamp.
A permit imprint, which may be printed or stamped on bulk mailings, includes the postage rate, the words "US Postage Paid," the city and state where the permit is held, and your permit number. According to Kelsey August, CEO and owner of direct marketing and fulfillment company Lone Star Direct, permit imprints help customers track the source of their mail. If a customer is concerned about opening a piece of mail and it has a permit imprint, they can call the post office from which it was mailed, and using the permit number, the sender can be tracked within minutes, she says.

Use an alternative to envelopes.
August encourages the use of post cards, oversized post cards, and mail that is folded and can be simply opened with a tab, so all your information is exposed. Plus, these pieces generate good response rates, she adds.

Use the post office as a partner.
The post office has been a great partner and a great resource for her business for years, says August. Post office account executives, who you can find online, can answer any questions regarding direct mailings in general and concerns you have now, she adds.

Consider security issues.
Maradik has notified all his customers of security measures SmartDM has in place to prevent bioterrorism in mail they produce. These include background and reference checks on all employees, 24-hour security camera monitoring, inventory management, and controlled facility access.

The Direct Marketing Association offers suggestions to address security issues in direct-mail campaigns.

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Published on: Oct 31, 2001