Nailing the classic #10 direct mail check package

What makes the direct mail check package work?

In the world of direct mail, there are just some package formats that are perpetually test-worthy. The classic #10 direct mail check package is one of them.

Direct Mail Check Package Example

If you aren’t considering the check package, dismissing it as unimaginative or overused, think again. You see many uses of the format because the direct mail check package format works because it engages recipients in several very human ways:

Greed: The hint of a check showing through the outer envelope is a powerful motivator for the recipient to take a moment more to check inside so they don’t miss out on something of monetary value.

Curiosity/Exclusivity: The implication that something of value (something that looks like a check worth money) and written out specifically to the individual.

Unexpected and value-related color and graphics: the appearance of color and pattern such as a banknote or check bonded background, poking through an address window on an OE (outer envelope) builds interest for the person holding the envelope. It can lead them to take the extra step and open it up. Unless there are inconsistencies and detractions on your outer envelope, few people can resist acting upon something they don’t normally see in their mail.

Timing:  Tax-refund season, investment dividend time, open enrollment periods for benefits, and the first week of each month are times people expect to see checks in the mail. Even if the recipient might be getting payment electronically, the temptation to confirm a check that might be theirs is normally too great to pass up.

In all these cases, by using the check package format, the marketer has at least gotten people to hold on a moment longer before tossing the mail into the trash bin and open the envelope. That’s the number one job – to get the envelope opened.

If it works so well, why do some marketers avoid using the direct mail check package?

Smart marketers aim for engagement, but avoid being shady or confusing. Sure, they lure the prospect into the package, but once inside, the role of the check-like component becomes clear. When I’m working on a direct mail check package for a client, I try to keep some basic stage management thoughts in mind. I treat the transition from the OE as a step that delivers on a promise.

Plainly put, don’t lie on the outside, and don’t confuse on the inside. Continue the importance of what grabbed the recipient’s attention once they open the envelope and engage with the inside components. Make the check component work harder to lead the person to action.

True, some direct mail check packages are shady and deserve the bad rap because they lure someone inside, and then go off in a completely different direction with no relevance to a check or some item of value once beyond the envelope. But well-done packages using the check component in a meaningful way perform very well. Check packages are versatile. They can be used for B2B and B2C direct mail, and work for product and service offerings, and if used imaginatively, for non-profit appeals.

Here are a variety of well-executed direct mail check packages and how they look in the outer envelope. If you’d like to see more views, sign up for news by contacting me. I’ll send you more views of the package and a review of the example you are most interested in. Drop me a line to sign up.

How to create an effective direct mail check package:

The illusion of a potentially valuable check is clear on the outside, and continues to provide a ‘check-like’ impression of value once the reader starts to engage with the interior components of the package.

  • The check component within a direct mail check package can work several ways:
  • It can be a coupon component, so it has some value in the next step of interaction, including a special offer number and directions of how to use it.
  • The check/driver can reinforce the value of the offer
  • The component can be used as a mechanism that ‘hands over value/goodwill’, as in a ‘giveback check’ in non-profit appeal packages

Don’t let the design tail wag the business dog.

Don’t make the mistake of having the check-like component look so much like an actual check that it causes confusion. Here are four often-overlooked ways to avoid confusion and issues.

  • Don’t use faux routing numbers at the bottom of the component
  • Clearly state on the face in readable-size type “THIS IS NOT A CHECK”
  • Maximize your surface area — Use both sides of the check component
  • Make sure the recipient has enough information to respond should they have the check component, but not the rest of the package. Not every detail, but at least a way to phone or visit online and respond.

Your direct mail check package can’t get by on looks alone.

Just because you include a $100,000 simulated check in your envelope doesn’t guarantee a win. A successful direct mail check package’s writing needs to be compelling and the entire creative message needs to be cohesive. Every part needs to have a purpose, every desired action focused, benefit oriented and clear.

For maximum ROI on your direct mail check package, be sure you are including a relevant, offer with a worthwhile perceived value. Whether it’s a % discount, upgrade or special exclusive pricing. Back this up with excellent tracking and follow-through on the responses rolling in.

Great books that share direct mail best practices should be part of your copywriting reference library, two of my favorites being Otis Maxwell’s Copywriting That Gets RESULTS, and the classic Direct Mail Copy that Sells by Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Disclosure: any Amazon link is an affiliate link.

What’s your number one challenge in getting better results from your direct mail? Share in the comments below!



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I'm a creative problem-solver helping clients who use Direct Marketing but need more effective lead generation and deeper customer relationships. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn.

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