Business Reply Mail (BRM) works for marketers beyond doing a simple job: carrying the response of a customer. It can also be effective in actively promoting response — if it’s done well.
Should you pay the postage or let the customer pay? It’s a vexing issue marketers have grappled with for years, and there’s no easy answer. Different types of companies and organizations have had different experiences both with testing BRM and using it as one of their direct mail reply options.
Even now, with response options like websites, QR codes, PURLs, voice assistants, as well as more traditional means such as phone numbers, business reply envelopes (BRE) and business reply cards (BRC) are still an important carrier for many industries.
Many companies want to provide a trusted way to protect the privacy of their customers and their personal information, while others simply want to offer a reply option.
To use BRM, you need a permit from the U.S. Postal Service so that replies can be drawn against your account. The actual response devices or carriers — BRCs and BREs — must be designed and sized in accordance with USPS regulations. Specifications for both are available in the Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) and compared to those of other pieces that flow through the mail system, don’t provide an opportunity for much creativity by design and production staff. Be sure to consult the USPS BRM page to find general information on standards and specifications
The beauty of using business reply mail is that you pay only for the envelopes or cards that customers return to you. So even a small number of responses is likely to cover the cost to your campaign. At the same time, you provide some peace of mind (and convenience) for customers who otherwise might look for a stamp to apply or worry about delivery.
Analysis of Business Reply Mail
Our statistics show that use of BRM as a response option has declined over the last 20 years. Mailers have shifted to driving prospects to go online, either by typing a website address or scanning a QR code.
So why should you use BRM for at least some of your campaigns?
- It stands out as an option others don’t provide.
- It makes it as easy as possible to respond by offering more ways to respond.
- It gives customers flexibility because it extends the shelf life of your campaign and more time to think about your offer rather than make a hasty decision.
Consider these companies that have reduced their mailing of BRM while not phasing it out entirely:
Another important factor is what response format prevails in specific industry categories. Here again, according to our analysis (shown in this chart) BRM has declined less in some industries compared to others.
For example, education mailers used 63.8% less BRM from the 2000-2004 period and the 2017-2021 period.
However, finance companies have decreased BRM usage by 45.5% over that same range. And nonprofits? Only a 32.6 drop in the BRM option.
The point is that for many marketers, business reply mail has a place among the reply options for their customers.
5 Business Reply Mail Ideas
It doesn’t have to be bland. While still coloring within the lines of USPS regulations, you can maximize the impact your BRM will have on recipients in the mail. Here are some ideas.
1. Reply ASAP
When your business relies on timely responses and deadlines, let the right people know about it. A short bit of copy gets the point across, reassuring the consumer that their First Class mail reply will be handled quickly.
Some examples from mail in Who’s Mailing What!:
- “Process Immediately” (Mutual of Omaha — a life insurance policy)
- “Rush my gift to help people in need” (World Help — a fundraising effort)
- “Priority Processing” (Disney Movie Club — a membership offer)
- “Time-Sensitive Mail Please Expedite” (Wolters Kluwer — a trade magazine subscription)
2. Provide Customer Help
It may sound simple, but it’s always a good idea to be helpful to customers with your mail where you can, so why not your BRM too?
Both of these examples:
- “Before sealing, make sure you remember to …” (New York Life — insurance enrollment)
- “To help us serve you better …” (Sirius XM — service renewal)
are followed by bullet-pointed lists reminding customers to check their work.
The copy on the back of many BREs is typical of many insurance providers, utilities, and more who ask respondents to send forms through the mail.
In this example, American Water Resources provides a checklist for customers signing up for water line warranty service.
3. Support Your Mission (or Sales Message)
For nonprofits, the limited space available on a BRE gives them one more opportunity to connect with a donor.
- “Our children thank you most of all” — St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
- “Yes, I want to support all AFB’s critical work!” — American Foundation for the Blind
In the example below, Human Rights Watch tries a little guilt (“Postage has been paid for you!”) but lets faux postage stamps symbolize its work to remind members of the need to make a gift.
Companies also can take advantage of the white space on a BRE.
“For members and spouses — rates up to 55% LESS” (AAA — a life insurance offer)
4. Additional Support for Your Nonprofit
Asking your customers to foot the bill for postage is possible even with a BRM carrier. All they need to do is place a first-class stamp on the indicia, and your BRE becomes a Courtesy Reply Envelope (CRE). You save the cost of postage on your account each time it’s done, and your donor feels a little better about helping.
In this example from February 2021, ASPCA put the request on the BRE:
“Your first-class stamp is another contribution to save the lives of animals in need”
5. Make Your Company Stand Out
Your company name can go in the address area, or the back flap, or the return address. But as long as it meets USPS specifications — spelled out in the DMM — your logo can as well. This helps make your brand just a bit more visible than others on an otherwise ordinary piece of reply mail.
The examples above from Nursing21 and ASPCA both place their logos in the address area.
In this health insurance mail piece below from November 2020, Blue Cross Blue Shield Arizona’s logo is very prominent in the corner card, as is the word “Medicare”.
How to Find BRM Ideas for Your Direct Mail with WMW!
With Who’s Mailing What!, you can use the samples in the collection to inspire or assist your own business reply mail. As noted above, this format doesn’t allow much room for creativity, thanks to USPS regulations. However, you may find copy variations and positioning that will help you.
- Just type “Business Reply Mail” in your search field. Apply one or more filters to customize your search.
- To narrow your search, select your category of interest (or specific subcategories). Other filters include time range and format.
- Control filter will help you explore time-tested BRM creatives that companies were using regularly in their campaigns.
Look through our best-performing Business Reply Mail samples in our FREE Look Up tool.
Business Reply Mail represents yet another opportunity to connect with consumers. As we’ve seen, many mailers know that some of their customers are still more comfortable with that option and use it to respond to offers in the mail.
And the USPS agrees.
As part of its 2021 Mailing Promotions & Incentive Programs, USPS offers companies and organizations a $0.02 postage credit for registered campaigns using BRM for a limited time only (April 1 — June 30) in 2021.
To see what’s possible with business reply mail, start with the examples above and in the Who’s Mailing What! database. Think about ways to adapt or draw inspiration from the mail found there. You’ll discover that a few simple additions or changes to your business reply mail will help it stand out and boost response.