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Folded Self-Mailers: A Comprehensive Guide to Creating Effective Direct Mail Pieces

Part of our series where we seek to uncover the most effective formats for your specific marketing objectives. We started our series with postcards—both standard and oversized. Now we’re adding a panel or two. Direct mail marketing has long been a popular way for businesses to reach potential customers and stay in touch with current ones. But with so much competition in today’s marketplace, it can be challenging to stand out and capture recipients’ attention. That’s where folded self-mailers come in. This versatile and cost-effective direct mail format can help your message get noticed and make a lasting impression. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore what folded self-mailers are, how to use them effectively, and the various formats and sizes available. We’ll also provide examples of successful self mailer campaigns and tips for designing and printing your own self-mailers. So whether you’re new to direct mail marketing or looking to take your campaigns to the next level, read on to learn more about folded self-mailers.

What is a Folded Self Mailer?

Simply put, a folded self mailer is a direct mail piece that is self-contained and can be mailed without an envelope. It is created by folding a single sheet of paper in a specific way to create a mailing panel, which can then be sealed and mailed. The fold can be in any direction or combination of directions. In other words, a folded self mailer is a letter-sized mailpiece (i.e. Smaller than 6-1/8” x 11-1/2” x ¼” thick) that has two or more panels created by folds that mail 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.) Let’s understand the key benefits of using folded self-mailers. Some of them are:
  • Cost-effectiveness: Folded self-mailers do not require envelopes, which can save on printing and postage costs.
  • Attention-grabbing: The unique format of folded self-mailers can help them stand out in a mailbox and grab the recipient’s attention.
  • Customizability: Folded self-mailers can be customized with messaging, graphics, and branding to match the company’s style and message.
Folded self-mailers can come in a variety of formats, each with its own unique features and benefits. These self-mailers allow advertisers to break the mold in their direct mail marketing campaigns, thanks to their visually appealing nature. Each panel presents boundless unique, and creative opportunities for marketers to show off their products and find clever ways to fold and shape their FSMs.

Formats of Folded Self-Mailers

Marketers can get super creative when it comes to folded mailers. It’s an excellent chance for them to exercise their creative juices and develop a design that speaks to their marketing message. Here are a few of the most popular FSM formats:
  1. Bi-fold
As the name implies, .the bi-fold is a single sheet of paper folded in half. It’s simple, cost-efficient, and probably the most widely used folded self-mailer type. The bi-fold is excellent for product guides and comparisons and is suitable for image-heavy promotions such as cars, clothing, and electronics catalogs.
Bi-Fold Brochure Bi- fold Brochure
  1. Tri- fold
The trifold is best employed for easy reading. Much like the bi-fold, it is extremely compact, a single sheet folded in two places and divided into three, even rectangular sections. The trifold is ideal for presenting visual content such as maps and infographics. It’s designed to effectively set up a “big reveal” thanks to its inner panels being completely hidden from readers.
Tri-fold Mailer Tri-fold Mailer
  1. Right-angle Fold
Also known as the French fold, the right-angle fold sees the sheet divided into four panels by being folded once horizontally and then vertically. This self mailer type is ideal for large graphic displays, and invitations to sales and events.
Right Angle fold mailer Right-angle fold Mailer
  1. Stepped Accordions
A type of folding that’s stylish and adds a sense of order to the content. Stepped Accordions are ideal for a variety of promotions, including events, marketing collateral, self-promotion, higher-ed and business brochures, brand guides, and more.
Stepped Accordions Mailers Stepped Accordions Mailers
  1. Oblong
As with any letter-sized mail piece, folded postcard mailers must be rectangular and mail at letter postage rates. Because there are particular requirements for the sealing of self-mailers with glue dots and wafer seals. We advise consulting with our knowledgeable team at Compu-Mail prior to the design phase to ensure that your piece meets the criteria for machineable postage rates. For an even more advantageous option, our skilled and innovative design team at Compu-Mail can create your piece according to the precise specifications, maximizing your marketing impact and minimizing postage costs.
Self Mailer
Oblong Self Mailer

Benefits of Using Folded Self Mailer

‍Being immensely eye-catching isn’t the only benefit of folded self-mailers. Here are some other advantages of this mail type that should persuade any good marketer to try them out.
  1. Cost-Effective
Running a business should be about earning money and not incurring avoidable expenses. Using folded self-mailers is an effective strategy to reduce costs in your direct marketing campaigns. Traditional letter packages require multiple pieces to print and handle as opposed to FSMs which are literally, just one sheet folded. Moreover, the mailpiece doesn’t need any envelopes since the printing press can carry out the folding. Although folded self-mailers (FSMs) are generally more affordable than letter packs, it’s important to note that FSMs may incur higher costs compared to postcards due to the larger paper size and increased ink usage. Additionally, the additional expenses of folding and gluing the mail pieces should also be considered.
  1. More Space For Conveying Your Marketing Message
If you have a lengthy marketing message, folded self-mailers  are an excellent choice. Similar to postcards, they provide extra space to include as much product or service knowledge as you need. Moreover, the smaller folded panels offer a creative way to present information in easily digestible pieces. The multiple panels of folded self-mailers allow marketers to incorporate images, infographics, and other visual elements to entice customers further and boost conversions. Additionally, including website links, social media links, and QR codes, digital interaction is possible, enhancing the marketing campaign’s effectiveness. Self-mailers are particularly suitable for B2C marketing campaigns, as they serve as a reminder for customers about specific events, provide discount coupons, or promote year-end sales. They are an ideal marketing tool to engage customers and promote various promotional offers.
  1. Visually Impactful
An effective strategy to capture customers’ attention is to make your folded self-mailer (FSM) visually appealing. The mailer’s design is the first thing they will notice, and, advantageously, there’s no envelope to hide it. By using a captivating design, you can instantly draw them in and then follow up with the right offer. Utilizing outstanding product photography is a proven method to entice them to explore your FSM, and a hook like “Biggest Sale EVER” can further spark their curiosity. Additionally, the extra space on the panels allows for the inclusion of other visual elements such as images and graphics, which have a higher impact as they are processed faster than text content.

Best Uses for Self-Mailers : Retail

Upgrading your piece from a postcard to an FSM gives you more room to support your call-to-action, but beyond that, not many changes as far as application. Again, self-mailers are well suited for the retail industry because it is 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 be happy to receive your notifications and coupons, despite the lack of one-to-one communication. Check out our article on standard postcards and oversized postcards for a more thorough discussion on the best applications for these marketing vehicles. That being said, our experience leads us to believe
  1. 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.
Foldable self mailers
  1. 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 a 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.

Examples of Self-Mailers

Folded self-mailers can be used for a variety of purposes, from promoting a product or service to sharing information or inviting recipients to an event. Here are some examples of successful folded self mailer campaigns:
  • Retail promotions: A clothing store might send a self mailer featuring their latest collection, with a special discount code inside.
  • Event invitations: A nonprofit organization might send a self mailer inviting donors to a fundraising gala, complete with event details and ticket purchasing information.
  • Product launches: A tech company might send a self-mailer introducing their latest product, with features and benefits highlighted inside.
  • Real estate marketing: A real estate agent might send a self-mailer featuring their latest listings, with property details and photos inside.

Requirements & Best Practices of a Self-Mailer

According to USPS regulations, folded self-mailers must meet the following requirements:
  • Maximum weight: 3 ounces
  • Maximum size: 6-1/8 inches high by 10-1/2 inches long
  • Minimum size: 3-1/2 inches high by 5 inches long
  • Fold orientation: Address side up
  • Sealing method: Tabs, glue, or wafer seals
It’s important to note that these guidelines apply only to standard folded self-mailers. If you’re using a non-standard size or format, you’ll need to check with USPS to ensure your self mailer meets their requirements. In addition to USPS guidelines, there are a few other requirements you’ll want to keep in mind when creating a folded self mailer:
  • Use sturdy paper stock: Choose a paper stock that is thick enough to withstand the rigors of the mailing process.
  • Use high-quality printing: High-quality printing ensures that your message is clear and legible.
  • Use secure sealing methods: Proper sealing is essential to prevent the self mailer from coming open during transit.
  • Use eye-catching graphics and messaging: Your self mailer should grab the recipient’s attention and convey your message clearly and effectively.
  • Include a call to action: Encourage the recipient to take action, whether it’s visiting your website, making a purchase, or attending an event.
  • Ensure readability: Use a legible font size and typeface, and avoid overcrowding the page with too much information or graphics.
Folded self-mailers can be a highly effective way to reach your target audience with your message, whether you’re promoting a product, event, or service. By following USPS guidelines and best practices, as well as creating a well-designed and compelling self mailer, you can stand out in the mailbox and make a lasting impression on your recipients.

When you shouldn’t send a Self-Mailer

  • If your product or service is positioned as high-end, elite, or exclusive, using self-mailers, including postcards, may give the impression of being cheap or lazy to your target audience, depending on the design and execution. Your potential clients deserve a personalized touch that makes them feel like the letter was specifically addressed to them.
  • If you are a non-profit organization seeking contributions, folded self-mailers may not be as effective as a traditional letter in creating a personal connection with donors. Additionally, without an outer envelope, you may face limitations in including a reply function, such as reply cards or envelopes, which are crucial for soliciting responses, especially from new donors. You may need to be creative with your design to incorporate a reply function.
  • If you are marketing a professional service or sensitive financial products, building trust with your brand is essential. Pretty pictures and great offers may not be sufficient in creating that trust. A sealed envelope can convey a sense of privacy and professionalism, which is more likely to elicit trust from your target audience.

Self-Mailers vs. Postcards: Which Direct Mail Format is Right for You?

Sel mailers vs postcards
Choose the Right Mailer For Your Business With Compu-Mail
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. The graphics can play on those folds and panels, to create a visually and tangibly interesting marketing piece.

Difference Between Self-Mailer Vs. Postcard

To understand the key differences between self-mailers and postcards, you can look at the table below:
Feature Self-Mailers Postcards
Design Options Self-mailers offer a wide range of design options and formats,including folds, pockets, pop-ups, and die-cutting. Postcards have a limited design format due to their size and layout. Design elements are limited to a single-sided or double-sided layout with a pre-determined size.
Printing Quality Self-mailers can have high-quality printing due to their larger size and thicker material. Postcards generally have medium-quality printing because of their smaller size and thin material.
Cost Self-mailers are generally more expensive to produce and mail. Postcards are more affordable because of their smaller size and simpler design.
Mailing Size Self-mailers can be larger and weight, requiring extra postage and packaging costs Postcards are smaller and lighter, making them easier and cheaper to mail
Message Delivery Self-mailers offer multiple panels and sections, allowing for more complex messaging and storytelling. Postcards offer a single message, but the message is easier to read and understand.
Response Mechanism Self-mailers can include enclosed response mechanisms such as envelopes, reply cards, or coupons. Postcards do not typically include an enclosed response mechanism, limiting response options.
Message Personalization Self-mailers can offer a high level of personalization, including variable data printing and targeted messaging. Postcards have a lower level of message personalization because of their limited space and design.
Self-mailers and postcards each have their own advantages and disadvantages that should be considered., depending on the goals and needs of the marketing campaign. Self-mailers are more versatile and offer more design options and messaging possibilities, but they come at a higher cost. On the other hand, postcards are more affordable and easier to mail, but they have a limited design format and messaging space. Marketers should consider their budget, message, and target audience when choosing between self-mailers and postcards for their direct mail campaigns.

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 one of our experienced staff at Compu-Mail 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. With various formats and sizes available and templates and design resources at your fingertips, creating a successfully folded self-mailer is within reach for businesses of all sizes and industries. So why not see how a folded self-mailer can take your direct mail marketing to the next level?