When it comes to direct mail, no one knows better than the United States Postal Service™. We wrote the rulebook. Learn how to save time and money on your next campaign by picking the right size and shape of mail, addressing it correctly and choosing a way to pay for postage—all in this guide.
You know how to address a letter. Or do you?
You invest a lot of time and money in your direct mail campaign. That’s why it’s so important to be sure you’re not making address mistakes. Automated mail-processing machines will be reading your addresses, and they don’t leave much room for error.
Here are some dos and don’ts that can help make sure your mail reaches its destination.
- Use at least 10-point type, and simple fonts are preferred.
- Left justify every line in the address book.
- Leave one space between the city and state and two spaces between the state and ZIP Code™.
- Use black ink on white or light paper.
- Use a PO Box™ address or street address—but not both.
- If the address has a directional—for instance, NW for northwest—be sure to use it.
- Double-check ZIP Codes using the ZIP Code lookup tool on usps.com.
- Print addresses in all capital letters (preferred).
- Put anything below the ZIP Code line. Automated mail processing machines read addresses on mailpieces from the bottom up and will look first for a city, state, and ZIP code.
- Use patterns, prominent flecks, or shiny-coated paper for your envelopes. Some types of paper interfere with the machines that read addresses.
- Use reverse type (white printing on a black background).
- Let parts of the address slip out of view if your address appears inside a window.
- Cut off important information when using address labels.
- Apply labels at a slant.
- Use punctuation, with the exception of the hyphen in the ZIP+4 Code.
By double-checking that you’ve addressed your mailpieces correctly, you can help make sure they arrive where they’re supposed to. Mailpiece Design Analysts (MDAs) can assist with the mailpiece design and can provide technical assistance with using special papers. Contact the Help Desk for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To create a successful direct mailpiece, at some point you may need to think like a machine—an automated mail-processing machine. That’s what will be “reading” your envelope or card for key information. Mistakes in design can mean your mail doesn’t qualify for automation discounts—or in the worst case, prevent your pieces from going through the mail at all.
Here are three pitfalls to watch out for:
You want your mailpiece to look unique to catch customers’ attention, but an odd shape may not be the best way to do that. Certain shapes like squares and tubes are charged a higher price because those pieces must be processed manually. Such pieces are referred to as Customized Marketing Mail, or CMM.
Speaking of odd shapes, don’t mail bulky, odd-shaped things like pens or bottle caps in regular letter-size envelopes. You’ll pay more in postage, and the items are likely to damage the envelope and be lost.
The delivery address must go on the front of the mailpiece, the same side as the postage. And on a letter-size piece, we recommend placing the address within the optical character reader (OCR) area. This means the address should be within these boundaries:
- 1/2 inch from the left edge of the piece
- 1/2 inch from the right edge of the piece
- 2-3/4 inches from the bottom edge of the piece
- 5/8 inch from the bottom edge of the piece
A return address is required in some cases. For instance, you’ll need one if you’re asking the Postal Service™ to return mail to you that can’t be delivered, or if you’re paying with precanceled stamps or a company permit imprint. The return address always goes in the upper left corner of the address side of the mailpiece.
For more details, refer to the Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) 202.0, Address Placement, and 602.1.0, Elements of Addressing.
When you look at a piece of direct mail, you’ll see several markings on the envelope or card. While they may mean nothing to your prospective customers, they are important to delivering the mail, and they need to go in specific places. These include:
Postage, which can be paid with a stamp, meter, or permit imprint, goes in the top right corner. Information on the class of mail—for instance First-Class Mail®, Marketing Mail™, or Nonprofit—must be printed as part of, directly below, or to the left of the permit imprint, meter imprint, or stamp. For details on other options for price-specific markings, refer to the DMM 202.3.5, First-Class Mail and USPS Marketing Mail Markings.
Endorsements are markings that tell the Postal Service what to do with mail if it can’t be delivered. For instance, you may want them to return it to you or provide you with address change information. For details on where endorsements can be placed, refer to DMM 202.4.0 Placement and Physical Standards for Endorsements.
Barcodes contain a wealth of information that helps USPS® track and route mail more efficiently. To receive automation price breaks, your mailpieces must have a barcode. For details on barcode placement, see DMM 202.5.0, Barcode Placement Letters and Flats.
Consult a Mailpiece Design Analyst
Regulations can be confusing if you’re just starting out. To be sure your design will work, it’s a good idea to work with a Mailpiece Design Analyst (MDA). An MDA is a specially trained postal employee who can tell you if the finished piece will be mailable and suggest ways to make it eligible for the lowest possible postage rates.
By carefully following these suggestions and working with an MDA, you can design a mailpiece that is cost-effective and, most importantly, reaches your prospective customers.
The entire Domestic Mail Manual and other valuable postal information can be found on Postal Explorer® website at http://pe.usps.com/.