Why the Return Address on Your Envelope Matters

Credit: Pixabay by Monfocus

Who the mail comes from can influence response.

Which envelope would you open first? One from Donald Trump or from Joe Biden? A mailing from your current bank or from one you’ve never done business with? And what if you had no idea who sent you the letter because all that appeared in the upper left corner of the envelope was a street address?

It’s no secret that getting the envelope opened is the first, and some would argue the most, important step toward a successful direct marketing program. Think of your own behavior. Once it’s clear the letter is addressed to you, your eye probably travels to the upper left of the envelope to see who it’s from.

The “from” line in an email is cited as a key determinant of opens. In the world of nanosecond decision making, the return address on your envelope could be the number one determinant of your prospect’s keep or toss decision as well.

The return address as a response lever

The post office requires commercial mailers using a permit or precanceled stamps (which means virtually all bulk mailer) to have a return address. Specifically, a bona fide address appearing either on the upper left of the envelope or on the top of the back flap of the envelope. Other than that, the post office is indifferent to how the sender is identified.

Think about how the “who” behind the mail can make a difference in your prospect’s perception of what they are getting and why. Following are some alternatives and the strategy we use at Gunderson Direct to choose an effective return address:

Street address versus a PO Box: Standard class business mailers don’t need to worry about returns flooding their offices. Still, many use a PO Box rather than their actual street address — especially, if there is no central business location. What does a PO Box say about your business? For a large, established brand, it probably means little. For a start-up with little to no brand recognition, a street address (especially a recognizable one) communicates a credibility that a PO Box can’t.

Local versus non-local return address: Is there a benefit to being a local business? For online-only businesses it’s not an issue. But, in some cases, prospects knowing the business has a local presence is a plus. For example, we have found response for a lender can improve when localizing the return address to the prospect’s home city. This is especially true if you are driving business to a physical location.

Company logo versus company name: A logo lends a generally more upscale feel to the mailing — as long as it looks good printed in a small space. A logo mark that includes more than just the company name can be hard to discern. This is not just a design decision, however. Is the logo highly recognizable, so it clearly identifies your company, or will it just come across as a design element? Logos, especially in color, tend to communicate advertising mail. More official looking mailings generally shy away from logos or color on the envelope altogether.

Add a person’s name: The actual sender (the person signing the letter) could also be used in the return address to encourage opens. You see political mailers experiment with this tactic all the time. Is it from the political party? The head of the party? Another nationally known figure? Or someone central to a cause you’ve given to before? Same with business mail. Your letter could come from the CEO, a local store manager or the head of a department. A well known CEO could do more to get the envelope opened than the company name.

No company name at all: What’s in a name? The USPS does not require a company or sender name. Your CEO’s ego aside, not knowing who the mailer is sometimes the best option for envelope opens. There are two scenarios where this “stealth” approach is particularly effective: 1)Your brand is unknown, so your name is meaningless to the prospect or; 2) you are mailing a competitor’s customer with a switching strategy. In both cases the prospect could be more likely to open the envelope not knowing who it’s from.

How does it show

As stated above, the USPS requires the return address to appear either in the upper left of the address side of the envelope or on the back flap. Where the return address appears can have response implications.

Front or back?: By far, the most common return address placement is in the upper left on the address side of the envelope. It’s typically the simplest to produce and the most cost effective as well. Moving the address to the back of the envelope cleans up the front address panel and gives it a more upscale look or invitation feel.

Return address showing through a window: Some mailings will use an oversized window or a double window so the return address can appear in the upper left of the envelope even though it is printed on the letter itself. This has an official look about it that tends to draw attention. Another benefit of this approach is that it’s a cost effective way to use variable return addresses if you want geographic specificity as discussed above.

The final word

We put a lot of emphasis deciding who we mail to. It also pays to think about who our prospect perceives our mailing is from at first glance. Think it through before you print your envelopes.

Interested in trying out direct mail and adding it to your marketing mix? Then drop us a line.