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Meet the Mailers: Raising Direct Mail Response with Embellishments

In this episode, we talked with Kenmore Envelope about embellishments the company incorporates in its high-end direct mail campaigns for a variety of commercial and non-profit clients.

In this episode, I talked with Scott Evans, President & CEO of Kenmore Envelope Co. Based in Richmond, VA, Kenmore specializes in high-quality printing and converting envelopes.

Much of our discussion centered on embellishments that the company incorporates in its high-end direct mail for a variety of commercial and non-profit clients.

As Scott explained:

[E]mbellishments across the board are really strong right now. It allows us to produce some just amazing products that, five years ago, it wasn’t happening in direct mail, it wasn’t at this level. Now, you have the opportunity to stand out when a product like this comes to someone’s home. And what really helps our clients really drive that response is to be different in the mailbox and stand out.

Scott EvansPresident & CEO
Kenmore Envelope

Among the topics we covered:

  • Scott’s background & day-to-day role
  • Kenmore’s services & how they work with clients
  • Advantages to mailing envelopes
  • How embellishments get envelopes opened
  • Adding digital presses to their lineup
  • Trends in embellishments

Here are some questions and answers from our conversation (edited for clarity and space):

  • Let’s just jump right into it and start talking about envelopes. Can you first do a quick rundown of your envelope services?

So Kenmore over the history of our company, our niche is mainly focused on – and we can do a lot of different things – but our niche is flat sheet litho converting envelopes. And our goal is always to be the best flat sheet litho converter envelope supplier in the country. So, in my 20 years, that’s been our niche, that’s what we focused on. And that’s what we really excel at. Now, over the last 5-6 years, I think as we invested in new technology, it’s really pushed that even further within high-value, embellishments, and different kinds of things we bring to the market, but it’s all about speed, litho convert envelopes quickly.

We also have flexo capabilities and web capabilities. We have a jet department that still runs within our operation, which is very important for us. We also have had some digital equipment that we’ve added. And then Kenmore is continuing to look into the future. What’s next for us? Is there something beyond envelopes? Are we going to stay only in envelopes? And that’s part of my responsibilities.

  • What are the advantages of using an envelope?

What we’re seeing across the board, and it’s really interesting right now – we’re seeing more and more money moved from digital into print right now. And it’s exciting. I think if you look up, you’ll get specs from all over the place, but for the most part, you hear [digital] response rates are falling, and that’s 9-11%. Lob did a really nice study last year on mailers, and they found that 75% of marketers, you know, believe that direct mail is the highest return on investment of all marketing. So the envelope is continuing to lead the way, and then where we kind of feel like we can really move the needle on that last 20%. So I think 40% of your mailing is really delivered by the data, 40% by the offer, I think that the last 20% is the creative elements, is how the package is put together, it’s when you’re hitting it to market. So where we feel like we can excel for our clients is that 20% that really gives them a big lift and can really change the game on that mailing.

I think it’s security, I think it’s more attractive, I think they can show off their brand better, I think they can utilize embellishments a lot more with an outside envelope package than, say, a postcard or another format. It’s a lot more substantial. I think when someone receives it at home, it’s more meaningful. And then we’re starting to really incorporate QR codes. We partner with Flowcode … Anything that can direct a call to action, from the mailing to a cell phone, we embrace the fact that everybody has their cell phone with them all day, every day, and is easy, right? So if there’s any way that we can increase that activity between the two, the better it is for the envelope. There are a lot of new things that are coming out that we’re staying on top of. And yeah, I think that our clients are getting higher response rates on an envelope package than they are on postcards.

  • I want to talk a little bit about some of the marketing advantages of using envelopes, and particularly about some of the ones that you use: the trailing edge die cut … this one using rub-n-smell scent from Scentisphere, and this lovely Northern Lights mailing …What is the return that people see from that?

Yeah, trailing edge die-cut. I think it’s a way to stand out in the mailbox. It’s not very expensive to do for our clients. It’s definitely a way for them to distinguish themselves, increase response, and then also engage with the postal service from a discount perspective for the promotion. [T]railing edge die-cut has been strong for us, but the other samples that you showed with the Scentisphere, so we’re incorporating scent into our envelopes, and that’s been kind of a big hit for us and our clients. And Northern Lights, now, then you start talking about cold foil, and that one didn’t have the cast and cure on it. But yeah, you start going into cold foil and spot UV using cast and cure holographic patterns, and we feel like we’re on the 100% cutting edge on pushing what’s capable on envelopes. And we’ve spent probably as a team the last couple years looking at the packaging market and trying to figure out, OK, what is packaging doing that’s driving response?

[W]hen you go into a store, why are you picking one product over the other? So when we had the vision of bringing cold foil to envelopes, that was kind of the drive. It’s like, “Hey, we’re seeing cold foil everywhere in packaging, why isn’t it in direct mail?” So we have some amazing partners, Eagle Systems being one of them, to help us install the cold foil unit on our Koenig & Bauer Rapida 106. And that’s been a game changer of what we can bring to our clients: multiple colors or foil, not just one color or foil, image foil. The creativity is endless. I mean, you can have foil where you want it and don’t put it where you want it and you get as many colors of foil as possible.

[O]ne of our clients has shared with us that in one of their recent mailings, they got a 35% lift using cold foil, so that is huge, obviously. There’s been expenses associated with cold foil, but with that kind of return on investment, it was a big hit. So they rolled out a decent-sized test – it tested really well. And then they did a major rollout of it. And right now, we’re currently engaging with a few clients that are looking to bring in the cast and cure product to holographic patterns, or cold foil. So we’re starting to see this really take off and build momentum. And that’s usually what happens in direct mail, you see one person do it, or someone sees a competitor do it. And they’re like, “hold on, you know, we want to get on that bandwagon.” So yeah, there’s a lot going on with embellishments, which makes it a really exciting time at Kenmore. It really pushes our people to do some cool things.

  • So, what kind of embellishments do you see trending for envelopes right now? You mentioned cold foiling, but I’m also thinking of maybe grits and soft-touch, some more of the texture.

Yeah, we’re still seeing a lot of consistency. The soft-touch actually had a large order hit this week. But yeah, we’re seeing soft touch, we’re seeing some great coatings, we’re seeing glitter … we run a few glitter jobs here and there as well. Anything, also with spot UV, so we take the time to get a Cyrel Plate. And we use a high-gloss UV coating and a coating unit. So anybody that wants something to pop, whether it’s a credit card, or whether it’s any sort of embellishment or any sort of part of their artwork, they want to stand out.

[E]mbellishments across the board are really strong right now. And it makes it really pretty incredible, because it allows us to produce some just amazing products that I would say five years ago, it wasn’t happening in direct mail, it wasn’t at this level. Now, there are just better products, but you have the opportunity to stand out when a product like this comes to someone’s home. So that’s really exciting. And I think that’s what really helps one of our clients really drive that response is to be different in the mailbox and stand out.

  • Well, one of the things you guys have done recently is add digital presses to your lineup. What are clients asking for now or expecting? What kind of capabilities do they bring to the table?

Yeah, so we recently added some digital equipment. I think the strategy there is we know that the future, there’s going to be a future big play with digital, obviously, still believe in our lithographic equipment. But we feel like we have some clients that want some envelopes next day – like tomorrow. And they want 4-color, and they want to place the order today.

So we’re trying to fill a void, where if it’s a standard item, like a [#]10, or a 6×9, and they’re like, “hey, I want to get you art today. It’s four colors.” And as long as we can have the artwork accommodate the digital press – which, for the most part, it can – you know, the quality level is still a little bit below our lithographic quality. But for some 4-color envelopes, the next day is our strategy with that. We’re also exploring some one-to-one direct mail with that as well…we’re gonna walk before we run. I don’t think the market is quite ready for one-to-one direct mail on envelopes. I think it’s starting to happen.

But I don’t think our clients are quite there yet where they’re like, “Hey, yeah, I want these 10,000 names, you know, one-to-one”, but they’re gonna be there. So we’re trying to get ahead of the curve. And we’re also going to probably look at building maybe a website around it, where clients can go online and order. That’s never been a big piece of our business. So that’s something new for us to explore. And if anything, it’s education for our team. It’s growth for our team to create something new, but we’ll see where that goes. But yeah, for us, it’s speed. It’s servicing the client and getting products to them as quickly as possible.

We’ve had a few clients come to us, they’re doing it currently with postcards. And it’s a lot easier to do with a postcard. So we’ve had a few clients come and say, “Scott, if you could do this for me with a letter pack, this would change the game”. Because a lot of these clients are using that digital one, the one where if you fill up a cart, and you don’t check out, and the next day, they send you 20% off in the mail, while some of our clients want to share more personal information with the actual items you put in the cart, which is a little broader, but you know, they know what’s in that cart.

And they want to do it in an envelope pack because they don’t want to have that exposed, going through the mail stream. I think they’re worried that they’ll kind of scare their customers a little bit. So we’re practicing doing it with envelopes right now. So then we can bring that to the market when we’re ready. But it’s exciting times. I mean, it’s all about the data and an opportunity to utilize data and embellishments to drive response.

  • What do you ultimately see as the value today of direct mail?

I think some people sometimes forget is we have the opportunity to get into someone’s home every day. And if you can deliver a nice package into someone’s home where they can touch it, feel it, engage with it, respond to it when they want to respond to it, have a shelf life. So whether it’s embellished, I think it helps keep that around, whether you have a Flowcode on it or something like that, that scan to action, or it could be sitting on your desk, and someone else could scan to action it when they come to visit your home.

I think that getting in someone’s home today is probably one of the most important pieces for a brand. And I think direct mail does that. And I think that’s why our clients today have a higher response rate, higher ROI, on direct mail than any other medium. Your every day is like less than 1% on email, right? Inboxes right now are flooded. OK, my kids have 1000 emails, they don’t want to look at email anymore. I struggle deleting my Gmail box every day. But what happens is the mailbox isn’t over-flooded right now. So the right package gets you in someone’s home and has a great offer, you’re gonna drive response, and it’s gonna really help that brand. So that’s my overall vision of how I feel how important direct mail is and envelopes are. I think the future’s bright was embellishments and a lot of the money and moving from digital back to the print. We’re seeing that with a lot of our clients right now.

  • And the biggest trend you see in the next couple of years is more embellishments?

I think that embellishments will at some point, I don’t want to say cap off, but there’s gonna have to be something new. And, like every day, we’re coming up with something new, something different to stand out. My entire career – whether it was year 5,10 or 15, or 20 – with agencies and end users, it’s always been, “Scott, what’s new, what’s different? How can we stand out? How can you help us drive response? How heavy with this stock can you go? What can you do to this envelope and make it stand out?” So, you know, every five years? I’m like, “I don’t know what “new” is going to be in the future.” But there seems to be always something new.

I think we have an opportunity, not just for Kenmore, but for other envelope companies and mailers. We have an opportunity to do really well for our clients by being creative using data, using embellishments, and helping them drive response to keep them in the mail. So, I think it’s an overall responsibility by the whole industry to continue to help our customers and educate them on what’s available to continue to keep them in the mail and drive mail volume.

Here is our conversation (with all questions and answers). We’ve added timecodes for your convenience.

Thank you very much, Scott, for sharing your perspective and your expertise! To learn more about Kenmore Envelope, visit their website at

Your comments and ideas are very important to us in making your Who’s Mailing What! experience even better for you. Through these engaging talks, we hope you’ll take away practical tips, insights, and personal stories to inspire and build your own success.

If you have any feedback — or are interested in sharing your expertise and viewpoint with our wide and diverse audience on “Meet the Mailers” — please reach out to me. I’d love to hear from you!

Direct Mail Evangelist

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