June 11 2010 10:34 AM

Any company that prints and mails transactional documents must carefully consider all components of their document preparation and mailing process. Once only an issue for high-volume mailers, economic challenges and rising postage costs make this exercise equally necessary for any size of company.

Before postage rates rise again, evaluate your approach to design, print and mail to ensure that you're minimizing costs and maximizing opportunities with your mailpieces.

Solutions for Document Preparation and Mailing
Watch the Weight and Maximize the Layout
One way to save costs is to work with a document design expert to maximize the effectiveness of your layout and minimize unnecessary white space or details. All design elements should be carefully selected for their importance on the page and the layout reviewed for easy readability. For example, there might be less-critical information that could be moved to your website or an online statement. This combined approach, which keeps the statement simple and provides detail online, is growing in popularity. It also supports the objective of ensuring that mailpieces are less than one ounce.

Sometimes it makes sense to exceed one ounce if you can avoid creating an entirely new piece of mail. Perhaps you can combine communications that go to the same address or recipient. In this case, the incremental cost of that second ounce is less than the cost of another envelope with its own postage.

Ultimately, it's best to stay under 3.5 ounces to avoid classification as a "flat" mailer that incurs increased costs.

Watch the Size
The USPS imposes a surcharge for letters and packages they consider difficult to process. Any "odd-shaped" mail (mail weighing more than 3.5 ounces, measuring more than 4.25 inches high or six inches long, or poly-bagged, with strings or other such devices) will be subject to a surcharge.

On the flip side, smaller documents can lead to postage savings. For example, a document design expert might find ways for you to utilize self-mailers and folded postcards. These postage-saving devices are one additional way a knowledgeable designer can help you save money.

Paper and Envelopes Matter
The weight of paper and envelope stock will also influence your costs. In general, paper should weigh between 20 and 24 pounds per thousand. Lighter paper stock might have difficulty working effectively with printing equipment, and heavier stock may take fewer pieces of paper to raise the weight of a mailpiece over one ounce.

Preprinted forms can also significantly raise costs. Consider working with a document design expert to develop an electronic form, perhaps with spot color for logos. Purchasing plain white paper can be far less costly. For envelopes, you can save by using double-windowed envelopes for your mailings. Work closely with a paper and envelope supplier to ensure the most cost-effective approach for your organization.

Maximize Marketing Opportunities
Every company can find hidden value in its mailed documents by using them as marketing vehicles. You're likely familiar with transpromo, a term used to describe the printing of targeted messages onto transactional documents. Transpromo has grown in popularity in recent years for one compelling reason: Unlike other marketing pieces, statements get opened. We know the average consumer spends between two and three minutes looking at their statements. In fact, a recent survey by InfoTrends found that 20% of the 1,000 consumers surveyed spent up to five minutes viewing their transactional document.

Another big-name case study that argues for transpromo is a partnership between Infoprint and the hotel chain Best Western. Best Western was looking to revamp its loyalty statements from a traditional mailing to a strategic marketing vehicle to drive more and longer stays. The study was done during the recession, yet the new Best Western statements delivered a significantly improved ROI and enhanced customer retention. Furthermore, Best Western was able to reduce postage and paper costs by reducing their mailings from three inserts to the one statement. And because everything was printed on one piece, they saved time, money and labor in assembling the pieces to go out the door.

From design to execution, the Best Western project only took four weeks, showing us that major statement changes that will save postage and paper costs can be executed pretty quickly. It's important to identify the salient messages and communicate them clearly, without too much flair. Consumers respond better to messages that aren't "over-designed."

With proper messaging and statement layout, it's possible to produce statements that command dramatically improved customer response. You'll save on postage costs by cutting back on other mailings. If your company doesn't mail marketing materials, then you may want to consider using your statements as another way to engender loyalty with your customer base. Don't miss the opportunity to leveraging technology to strengthen and maximize your customer relationships.

Mailing Alternatives
Technology has provided us with options besides "snail mail" that may be suitable for your organization. These options continue to grow in popularity.

Electronic Delivery Some point to electronic document delivery as a way to overcome the never-ending postal rate increases. It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor, and converting a portion of existing documents to electronic delivery can result in cost savings. A combined paper and electronic document may be one way to help recipients through the transition. Paper documents would no longer hold all specific details, but would instead point the recipient to secure websites for relevant details. This shortens the paper document, and thus is more economical to print and mail, yet still provide recipients with the essential information.

If you work with an external print vendor, make sure they have an alternative available for electronic document delivery. Even if you don't adopt this approach immediately, it's important to work with a provider that has the capabilities you might need in the future.

Facsimile Do you have smaller volume of documents to send? OK, it has become old school, but sending a fax does entirely eliminate postage costs and mail lag times and provides a traditional paper document for the recipient. If you send faxes fairly frequently, you might want to investigate fax software for your computer. Increasingly economical, this allows you to send an electronic document to a recipient via fax line, rather than printing and sending physically from a fax machine.

Whether you handle your mail yourself or outsource some or all of the process, it makes sense to periodically evaluate outsourcing alternatives. Remember, an outsourcing partner should help you minimize your paper and postage costs.
Benefits of an outsourcing partner include not having to worry about equipment maintenance or staffing for periodic volume fluctuations. Plus, they should offer you expertise in the latest printing and electronic delivery innovations.

We know we haven't seen the last of postage price increases. Mail center activities are often an overlooked function that can be managed to reduce costs and enhance customer communication and relationships. Before costs rise again, take the time to review your processes and see if any of these alternatives could benefit you.

Ane Ohm is the President of LaserNet, Inc. He can be contacted at aohm@laser-net.com, 920-593-6760 or www.laser-net.com