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To BRE or not to BRE. (The DM notebook).

Even in 2002 there is still debate over whether to include a business reply envelope (BRE) in a newsletter marketing package.

The debate doesn't really occur among consumer publishers. In the last survey I did on the question, 95 percent of consumer titles included a BRE (although I see what might be described as a mini-trend among smaller titles to make it a "courtesy reply envelope" rather than post-paid).

The motivating factor is, "Why would you make the prospect at his or her desk or kitchen table look for an envelope or a stamp?"

The picture is considerably different for business-to-business titles. The response there showed that only about 50 percent include a BRE in the package. The rationales:

* "I deal with bureaucracies, educational organizations, hospitals, etc. Their seven-part purchase order won't fit into my #9 reply envelope."

* "Our prospects work in large corporations. Orders come from the purchasing or accounting department that uses its own envelope. Our BRE just gets thrown away."

On the other hand, more and more companies are using credit cards and more b-to-b publishers are accepting credit card orders. In that instance, as well as for "Bill my company" orders, including a BRE makes it possible for the prospect to complete the order, insert it into the BRE, and toss the envelope into the outgoing mail without ever involving the accounting department.

Some publishers "compromise" by including a business reply card (BRC) since "almost 100 percent of my orders are 'Bill me's."' Still, why not encourage some percentage to include a check or credit card instructions by giving them an envelope?

If you do use CREs, print "Place postage here" in an upper-right-hand corner box to avoid a possible postage-less envelope going into the mail.

Does including a BRE really boost response? Like almost every question in newsletter direct mail, the answer is, "You have to test." One thing is reasonably certain, for the typically priced business newsletter, on a mailing of 20,000 pieces something like two or three additional orders would more than repay the costs of including a BRE.

If you were to do an A/B split test on a 20,000-piece mailing results might very well look something like this:

Response w/BRE: 42

Response w/out BRE: 38

A difference of 10.5 percent is more than enough, projected to the full mailing to pay the cost of the BREs, but in all honesty it's certainly not a large enough difference in results to be statistically significant.

Perhaps this is an area in newsletter marketing where it is simply better to go with your gut instinct. "BRE or no BRE" would have to rank about 17th on my list of things to test in a DM package (somewhere about the same as "third color for the letter signature").

Other publishers ignore the question of whether or not BREs boost response and base the decision on whether or not the BRE tips the mailing into a heavier weight category.

Another reason for the hesitancy of some marketers to include BREs is the "annoyance factor." More than 30 years ago, my first newsletter industry boss told me, "If you give people postage paid envelopes, they are going to send you back stuff in them."

Torn-up promotional packages, hate literature, expired supermarket coupons--I've gotten them all. Frankly, if you receive a modest stack of BREs including orders and checks. and if some clown wants to send me a cartoon on my nickel, I can live with it. And, if they ever did, USPS no longer delivers a postage-due brick if some bozo tapes your BRE to it.

Question for the Department of Human Nature: Why do so many of the folks who scrawl, "TAKE ME OFF YOUR LIST" in magic marker and return the promotion to you usually carefully remove the mailing label so you can't do what they demand?

One solution: I knew a publisher who printed a "prospect code" on his BREs. "It was the same one on every envelope, PC3630331, but evidently some of these clowns think I can use it to track them, because my volume of crank mail went way down."

Including a BRE adds perhaps five percent to the in-the-mail costs of the typical newsletter package. I say, "Go for it," and spend your time worrying about more important testing variables.
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Author:Goss, Fred
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Mar 31, 2002
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