Self-mailers in B2B Direct Mail: Advantages and Disadvantages

Alan Sharpe

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Business-to-business direct mail marketers have learned through testing that a letter in an envelope will usually generate more sales and pull more inquiries than a self-mailer will.

Why is that? And on what occasions are you wise to use a self-mailer instead of a letter?

A self-mailer, of course, is any flat piece of mail that arrives at its destination without an envelope. It mails “by itself, ” and so has no need of an envelope. Postcards, strictly speaking, are self-mailers, but the kind of self-mailers I am talking about here are the ones that have a fold in them.

A classic self-mailer is a sheet of card stock, 8 ½ X 11 inches in dimension, folded in half to make four panels, and sealed at the edges for mailing. On the two outside panels, the ones you see when the piece arrives at your office, are the mailing address, return address and stamp on one side and (usually) a promotional message or teaser on the other.

1. Cost: The primary advantage of self-mailers is their lower cost. Because they mail on their own, they are cheaper to print, are easier to assemble (no need to match addressee on letter with envelope with reply card), and require less handling (no envelope and lettershop inserting costs).

2. Simplicity: Self-mailers are usually easier to design. A graphic artist does not have to design a mailing envelope, letter and brochure, but instead designs one sheet of paper front and back.

3. Space: Self-mailers are a cost-effective way to present a lot of product photos, graphs, charts and other images.

4. Flexibility: Self-mailers can be as simple as a sheet of stock folded in half or as complicated as a large sheet of stock folded in ingenious ways, with tear off coupon, order form and pre-formed business reply envelope all in one.

1. Performance: The main disadvantage of self-mailers in business-to-business direct mail is that they hardly ever outpull the same information enclosed in an envelope.

2. Appearance: Self-mailers also yell “promotional message inside. ” They are, by their very function, promotional. No one sends a personal message to friends in a self-mailer.

3. Tone: That brings up the third disadvantage. Self-mailers look less personal than envelopes do. And when you are writing to businesspeople, you want your correspondence to be peer-to-peer, not vendor-to-customer.

These are some of the reasons that self-mailers perform poorly compared with envelope mailings. Particularly in business-to-business lead generation, you want your direct mail piece to be perceived as professional and personal. If you are mailing to prospects in the C-suite (chief executive officer, chief financial officer), a letter in an envelope is the method that has proven most effective over the years.

Self-mailers are still effective at selling products and services and generating leads, though. Business-to-business direct marketers have found self-mailers to be effective in the following cases:

  • seminar invitations
  • event announcements
  • trade show booth traffic generation
  • software upgrade offers
  • mailings to prospects who do not have a mailroom screen their mail (barbershops and factory foremen, for example; my thanks to Dick Hodgson for this tip)
  • mailings where you want the prospect to pass along the mailing to colleagues
So how do you decide if a self-mailer is better than a letter and an envelope? You test. Create a cost-efficient format, find a good printer, and test the self-mailer against a standard envelope mailing. If you are doing a first-time mailing for a new product or service, I’d go with an envelope, letter, brochure and reply card first. Then test a self-mailer against it later.

About the author
Alan Sharpe is a business-to-business direct mail copywriter and lead generation specialist who helps business owners and marketing managers generate leads, close sales and retain customers using business-to-business direct mail marketing. Learn more about his creative direct mail writing services and sign up for free weekly tips like this at

© 2005 Sharpe Copy Inc. You may reprint this article online and in print provided the links remain live and the content remains unaltered (including the “About the author" message).


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