[MAIL FORMAT SERIES] Meet the Folded Self-Mailer

Part of our direct mail format series where we guide you in uncovering the most effective format for your mail projects with stats and ideas. This one covers folded self mailers.




May 21, 2015

Part of our series where we seek to uncover the most effective formats for your specific marketing objectives.

The Folded Self Mailer, Defined

We started our series with postcards—both standard and oversized. Now we’re adding a panel or two.

A folded self-mailer is a letter-sized mailpiece (ie. Smaller than 6-1/8” x 11-1/2” x ¼” thick) that has two or more panels created by folds that mails without an envelope. Similar to a postcard, the marketers’ message is not gated by the envelope, making it easily digestible, and easily identified as ad mail. (This can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the recipient’s relationship with your brand.)

Common methods of folding include:

  • Bi-fold
  • Tri-fold
  • Right-angle fold
  • Oblong

As with any letter-sized mail piece, self mailers must be rectangular in shape and mail at letter postage rates. Because there are very specific requirements for the sealing of self mailers with glue dots and wafer seals, we recommend conferring your Compu-Mail Client Service Representative before the design stage to make sure your piece qualifies for machineable postage rates.  

Best Uses for Self Mailers – Retail

Upgrading your piece from a postcard to a FSM gives you more room to support your call-to-action, but beyond that, not much changes as far as application. Again, self mailers are well suited for the retail industry because it comes as no surprise to the recipient that they are one of a million others who will receive the same piece. If they like your brand, the recipient will just be happy to receive your notifications and coupons, despite the lack of one-to-one communication.

Check out our article on standard postcards for a more thorough discussion on the best applications for these marketing vehicles.

That being said, our experience leads us to believe folded self mailers are well suited for loyalty program mailings. Standard or oversized postcards work great for updates and promos connected to loyalty programs, but for special occasions such as initial enrollment or anniversaries, FSM and the space they provide for exciting graphics can add a special touch.


There is also a place for folded self mailers in acquisition campaigns. Take for example this unique, rounded self mailer. A piece like this really stands out in a mailbox, and gets opened – because who wouldn’t be curious to see how this piece is constructed? After getting noticed and opened, the piece hooks the recipient with few great offers with clear calls-to-action, and is in the likeness of a tire which makes the connection to the product being sold. This particular client saw a great response from such a unique approach.

Why You Shouldn't Send a Self Mailer

  • If your product or service is high-end, elite or exclusive. Self mailers, postcards included, could come off as cheap or lazy to your audience, depending on the design and execution. Your potential client deserves to feel as though you typed the letter and licked the stamp just for them.
  • If you are a non-profit asking for contributions. Folded self mailers aren’t as personal as a letter, which is important when appealing to donors. Possibly more importantly, you’re also limited on the inclusion of a reply function because there is no outer envelope. Reply cards or envelopes are essential if you expect any response, especially if you’re appealing to new donors. So without that outer envelope, you’ll have to get creative with your design to include a reply function of some sort.
  • If you’re marketing a professional service or sensitive financial products. Buying into your services requires a level of trust with your brand, and trust isn’t built by pretty pictures and great offers. A sealed envelope is more likely to elicit trust as it conveys a sense of privacy and professionalism.

Self Mailers vs. Postcards

Folded self mailers received the second highest percentage (17%) of intended response, falling below the postcard (26%) in the USPS’s 2012 Household Diary Study. One can speculate that these results indicate postcards and self mailers generally are being sent for products or services with short buying cycles—impulse buys, necessities, price-driven goods.

If you market within a short buying cycle, you might consider testing both postcards and self mailers to see which has greater lift. Self mailers may run you a few more cents per piece, but the response may be greater, causing your cost per acquisition to remain the same or even decrease.

The distinct advantage of self mailers is the room for creativity they provide. Whereas a postcard is flat and limited to the front and back panel, self mailers can incorporate unique fold techniques with many panels, and the graphics can play on those folds and panels, to create a visually and tangibly interesting marketing piece.

Top Takeaways with Folded Self Mailers:

  • Special folds and the extra space they provide leave lots of room for creativity.
  • Self mailers are easily recognized as ad mail and thus do not create a one-to-one, personal feel.
  • Without an outer envelope, private information or offers cannot be relayed securely via a folded self mailer.
  • Be sure to consult with your Account Executive in advance to understand the postal requirements for how your self mailer must be sealed and what special folding techniques are available for your project.

Finding the right format is about understanding your objective: If your marketing message is not a personal appeal or sensitive in nature, a folded self mailer grants you an opportunity to wow your recipients with a unique and informative piece.

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