Mailers: It Pays to Test Paper Stock

Whenever our team meets with a client to review results and current best practices for mailing, we inevitably hear the same question: how can we lower our printing and postage costs? It is a pain point to write that check to the printer, plus, the USPS requires postage payment upfront – there is no getting around that!

Recently, we met with a client who was adamant that his customers expected to receive their catalog on heavy stock, high gloss paper, and anything less would result in a decline in response. The client’s printing and postage costs were significantly higher than other mailers in that vertical.

We proposed testing this long-held theory. We would mail the current paper stock with a heavier cover to the majority of the housefile and prospects for the Spring Season, but also create a random nth selection of the same segments and test using a lighter, less expensive paper stock. The test groups would stay static, and there would be no mixing of offers, using the same creative for each. The ONLY difference between the two catalogs was the paper stock.

Below are the results of the two Spring Mailings:

The client was indeed correct; the heavier paper stock was preferred (ever so slightly) over the test paper when looking at the response rate and $/book. However, when the overall cost of goods sold (COGS) and marketing costs for both were factored in, the net contribution per customer with the test paper had a 7% lift over the standard stock.

Extrapolating the cost difference over the course of the full year, including various other paper stock tests, the total circulation of ~700,000 resulted in savings to the bottom line of ~$112,000!

At first glance, the dollars per book would favor the standard paper, but it pays to dig deeper and include all the costs associated with a mail project. Since this initial test, the client has continued to use the lighter stock paper with no significant impact to overall results (except to the bottom line!)

Changing your paper stock is not a decision to be taken lightly. We advise testing with a control group to validate both the short-term and long-term implications of change. As an industry, we’re beginning to gain new insights into the importance of more human elements, including haptics, on long-term brand development. Dr. David Eagleman, a world-renowned neuroscientist, conducted a highly-touted lab study on the implications of using various coated and uncoated paper stocks as well as online-only options to test recall and brand impression. After the study, brand recall was three times higher for content read on high-quality coated paper than content read online. In addition to recall, brand impressions and likely-to-recommend were also stronger when presented on high-quality paper. Check out the video study summary for yourself: (Eagleman, D. (2015). How the Medium Shapes the Message [].

Balancing cost and brand equity is a valuable exercise for today’s retailers to consider. We recommend that you consult with your paper buyer to look at all basis weight and grade options to maximize cost-effectiveness and potential postage savings. Please feel free to reach out to me directly at

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