The Power Of The White Envelope


If you use direct marketing to reach customers, you’ve probably tried the traditional business letter. A lot of companies will stuff that letter into a envelope that screams “read me now” with starbursts, logos, and call-outs. Well bad news – customers are on to you. As soon as they see something that smells like a marketing ploy, they run. They don’t have time. If they have a problem, they’ll find you.

I’ve had the best luck (read highest response rate) with a plain white envelope. No logo, nothing. If you can handwrite the mailing AND return address, even better. A lot of companies will try to use a handwriting font, and for me, it doesn’t pass the muster test. Too obvious. No one writes that consistently.

The envelope is arguably more important than the letter. I say that only because the best letter, laden with user benefits and a measurable call to action, is useless if it’s never read. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. They get a ton of mail every day. They probably have a gatekeeper to screen out all of the obvious unsolicited marketing touches. The gatekeeper is usually afraid to automatically throw away a plain handwritten envelope. They don’t know who it’s from or what’s inside; not to mention that no one hand writes anything anymore. So you’ve passed the first test – do not get thrown away.

Even for your target audience, they cannot help but open a plain white envelope. It’s too intriguing. According to the DMA, direct mail has an average response rate of 2.77. I’ve seen response rates of at least 5% with the plain white envelope. And the best part is that it’s cheap and authentic.

So target well first. It doesn’t make sense to blast everyone you know with your solution. More than likely, if your offering appeals to everyone, you can find a better way to reach them than direct marketing. If you have a large list, segment them into manageable groups so that you can test different call to actions or letter copy.

Next, write a letter that speaks to your audience’s pain points first and then offer a solution. But only in bite size chunks. Don’t give away the all of your information with the letter. Create a desire to learn more and make it easy for them to find out more. Use every response technique you can – email, toll free telephone, fax, business reply card. You’ll be surprised at how different people take advantage of the different response mechanisms.

Lastly, use a plain white envelope with handwriting if possible. You may be tempted to use your corporate letterhead envelope, but don’t. I know that your marketing manager or corporate communications/PR team may freak out. But who cares, if you’re driving business you win. Branding comes from good experiences with you and your products more than it comes from repetition.

Nick Rice

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  1. Robert Kingston says

    Good article… I’m acctually looking to use a DM piece for my business.

    I totally agree with your point with regards to not decorating your letter and envelope. There’s no point in building your brand by sending out sales pitches everywhere. In fact, if you keep up sending them sales pitches with your brand all over them you might cause classical conditioning – If someone keeps recognising your brand and rejecting it because it’s “worthless junk mail”, they will associate those feeling towards your brand.

    Although, I can’t rule out the possibility that some instances might call for a brand name and logo on DM pieces.

  2. Robert, I agree. I think there is a lot of room for branding when communicating w/ current customers. They NEED to know that it’s from you. You’re not breaking through the door, you’ve already been invited it (hopefully).

  3. Works perfectly! Thanks for the help dear writer!

  4. Robert, Simple, effective and so doable. Some will say “what handwrite 100 targeted envelopes”- I’m too senior for that!”. but I did just that with my Sr. reps at a startup wireless braodband ISP chasing B2B SMB leads. I also had them hand deliver them (don’t forget I did a lot of database work upfront to create the right TARGETS!). We bough a few beers, did envelops after work-then had a blast “cold call delivering them” (after 10AM so the receptionists were free to HAND deliver them for US), We got calls same day! (and thats in Montreal the slowest market in NA) regards, Stu

  5. Stuart, you’re right on. I find it amusing how senior people shy away from the little things that make a huge difference. Even the receptionists like the personal approach – especially hand delivering the letters. It’s always good to get some face time with the gatekeepers. They can become your greatest ally.