By Kathy Tobin, VP/GM, HP Specialty Printing Systems Imagine the final bill for your leased minivan arrives in the mail. You pick up the envelope and the first thing you see is the carmaker’s top-of-the-line sedan – the model you almost leased instead of a minivan – in your favorite color. Right next to it is a personalized message indicating you are already approved for a new lease on the sedan. If you are a print service provider (PSP) or marketer, you can see how an envelope like this is bound to get a good response. But you probably also recognize that, without the envelope, your clients’ letter mail just isn’t working as hard as it can as a marketing piece. Marketers have long understood the impact of using envelopes. Industry research has continually shown consumers are more receptive to direct marketing when an envelope is used. A study on the subject from Pitney Bowes, one of HP’s largest partners in the mail industry, also indicates that 69 percent of consumers would be more likely to open a mail piece with color text and graphics first compared to a plain white envelope without messaging. The power of the envelope Traditional printing technologies have made it difficult and expensive to produce personalized, color envelopes. Even adding full-color customization to pre-converted envelopes is a rarity today because of cost and complexity. Fortunately, a new generation of printing solutions is now helping marketers overcome these barriers so their envelopes can become tools that boost response. Digital printing can now combine the power of full-process color and full customization at a much lower cost, creating effective envelopes that can make direct mail more successful. A study of focus groups and survey data from the Envelope Manufacturing Association Foundation hints at the impressive potential for envelopes: “The envelope has the power to transform ‘mass communication’ into ‘my communication.’ Across the board, Americans respond to an envelope that personalizes the communication with a style, look and feel that conveys the intimacy and individuality of one person speaking to another.” With the USPS’ most recent estimate of 100 billion pieces of direct mail arriving to U.S. households annually, marketers find it’s more challenging than ever to make their pieces stand out. The envelope is the key. Customized envelopes, with targeted messages using customer names, are already commonly used because of their ability to lift response rates. But these types of variable-data messages are often printed in black or spot colors, limiting their appeal. Full-color text and image customization not only carries its own inherent appeal as a means to improve response, it will become increasingly important as a means to stand out from mono- and spot-color customized envelopes. Breaking the barriers Today’s newest four-color process inkjet technology – an imaging platform HP provides to original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners – integrates with inserter devices and existing workflows to print on the outside of the envelope, minimizing capital and operating expenditures for service providers. This translates into significant added value at affordable costs for direct marketers. This year, letter shops and other PSPs operating in the mail space will begin adopting this new technology to offer marketers high-resolution color graphics, images and variable data messages on envelopes. Pitney Bowes is the first OEM partner to offer these capabilities, with its new Connect+™ Customer Series customer communications solutions and Mailstream Productivity Series high-speed inserting systems. These types of new offerings coming to market significantly increase the “open me” factor in the crowded world of direct mail marketing. Maximizing return on direct marketing investments Several years ago, printing’s digital color revolution enabled marketers to send targeted, high-impact brochures, letters and transactional statements. But those same marketers can only maximize the return on investment for the contents inside of the envelope if customers open it. Don’t overlook what may be the next step to taking direct-mail ROI to the next level. When it comes to envelopes, you can increase the chances recipients read the message inside when the message outside features high-impact personalization.