Something Marvelous Is Coming: Variable Fonts

Thin. Bold. Condensed. Extended. The variety of fonts available today are seemingly limitless – unless you want to do something like have a fast-loading website. Then you’re better off using fewer choices.

Patrick's post on variable fontsThin. Bold. Condensed. Extended. The variety of fonts available today are seemingly limitless – UNLESS you want to do something like have a fast-loading website. Then you’re better off using fewer choices.

Why? Because multiple fonts and their variations take up huge amounts of file space. Which requires more information to load into that nifty site you’re so proud of. Which makes it slowwww.

And on some browsers (like Firefox and Chrome) it may display a default font until the page is fully loaded. It might even look different on a Mac vs. a PC. Definitely not what you intended your readers to see.

Variable Fonts to the Rescue!

Like an Avengers team of typography heroes, Adobe, Apple, Microsoft and Google have joined forces to support a new standard called OpenType 1.8.

So what’s the big deal? Now you can basically stick everything into a single, highly optimized file. Instead of downloading a separate file for each font style or width, your site only needs to make ONE network request to access ONE file for ALL weights and styles of a typeface. In other words, it’s a single font that behaves like multiple fonts.

Skia Variations
For Example: Look how many variations are possible in this animation above. Normally this takes take many separate font files. But it’d take just a single variable font. a significant reduction in the number of font files and file size required.

More Superpowers: Responsive Typography

Variable fonts will also help with your responsive Web design, allowing you to adapt for the many screen sizes and devices that people will be viewing. Type will have the power to shrink, grow, gain weight or get thinner seamlessly. Kinda like Antman meets the Hulk. Which means you’ll be able to generate the exact variation you need, and respond to factors that influence readability like viewport size, viewing distance, contrast, ambient light and user preferences.
It works like this: Fonts are built on a number of axes, each one controlling a different aspect. Variable fonts give you greater control by assigning a point value to EACH axis that will affect the font’s final look — as shown below.

More of Patricks' font images from post

width axis in Patrick's font postDunbar Variable FontsAnd it’s good news for type geeks (like me) who still get excited over printed design. Now we can condense or extend glyphs (specific shapes of letters), customizing them for a specific look. We can sharpen or round a typeface, shorten the descenders, or raise a font’s x-height in our never-ending pursuit of truth, justice and the perfect layout. Because, after all, bad typography is villainous.

It’s not a perfect world. Yet.

Right now, there aren’t enough variable fonts to go around. Type designers need to make more and be sure they work on each system. And we’ll need applications called “rendering engines” that work behind the scenes to actually show the font variations. Which means browsers and design software will have to support those applications.

It’ll take time to for font developers to convert and develop their current fonts to the new format. Browsers, design software and third-party software will have to adapt their apps to the new format.

Like past font formats (EPS, TrueType and OpenType) this new format could take as long as a decade to be fully implemented. As a designer, I’m excited to see this new format come to life. The infinite, perfectly drawn font variations are very exciting and can’t come fast enough.

Yet we’re on our way. The biggest companies behind operating systems, design and the Web have all collaborated on the new format. Notable independent contributors are already refining their type standards. It’s a brave new world ahead.

Up, up and away.

Space — The Final Frontier 

Space. It’s extremely valuable — in offices, in homes, on the subway and bus, and sometimes even in relationships. But when it comes to design, space is critical. Or should I say your use of space. All creative and marketing managers should be aware of my top three space rules.

Space. It’s extremely valuable — in offices, in homes, on the subway and bus, and sometimes in relationships. But when it comes to design, space is critical.

Or should I say your use of space. All creative and marketing managers should be aware of my top three space rules:

1. Too Close to Edges

This is my number one space rule. It’s the first thing I look at when reviewing layouts. How close does the type and art come to the edge of the page? If they are too close:

  • The piece will feel crowded.
  • People will feel overwhelmed.
  • The type will feel hard to read.
  • People will move on to the next item they are reviewing.

Based on the size of your marketing piece, I’d have at least a  3/8” or 1/2” minimum border around the page. See the samples below.

2. Not Close Enough to the Edge

No, this is not a contradiction of my first rule. On certain items, especially letters, you need to go closer to the edge. Most copy is set flush left/rag right. Sometimes the rag on the right side gives the appearance of too much space. Or you need to fit more text on the page or letter. Set your right side border less than your left side. For example, on a letter set the left margin at 1” and the right margin at 3/4”. Because of the copy rag on the right, the appearance of the border will better match the left border space. See the samples below.

3. Space Between Lines

Also called leading, space between lines is the most important spacing on any marketing piece. Too little space and your letter, brochure, flyer or email will seem dense and difficult to read. I always try to have at least 1pt leading. But on a letter I might have 3pt or 4pt leading. The extra space helps our eyes follow the lines of text. On the other hand, too much leading can make the copy feel like it’s falling apart. Leading is a very subtle element. I’ve had projects in which adding a 1/2 pt made a huge difference in the readability. The challenge is to get the right balance between the size of the copy, the line length and the leading. See the samples below.

Space examplesThe Bottom Line

These are my three top space elements that I’ll look at no matter what the design style. In future posts I’ll give you my next space considerations.

I’ve found through the years a lack of space is usually way more of a problem then too much space. But space is an element that can be used in many different ways, and no design rules are set in stone.

So now you have permission to be spacey — never be afraid to use space.

Direct Mail Fun for the Holidays 

I always like this time of year — not just because of the fun I have at the holidays, but also because of the really fun direct mail pieces I get. If you are not currently creating some fun direct mail pieces to stand out amongst the influx of mailed advertisements this time of year, you are missing out on a great opportunity.

direct mail holiday mailI always like this time of year — not just because of the fun I have at the holidays, but also because of the really fun direct mail pieces I get. If you are not currently creating some fun direct mail pieces to stand out amongst the influx of mailed advertisements this time of year, you are missing out on a great opportunity.

Here are four ideas for creating fun holiday mail:

1. Make It Interactive

Draw attention to your direct mail messaging by making it interactive. Get creative here. Direct mail is tactile — how can you take advantage of that? Endless folds, scratch-and-sniff or coatings can be a great way for people to have fun with your mail. What else can you think of? The idea here is to maximize the qualities that can only be used with direct mail. There is no other marketing channel like direct mail: Command that power in your own creations.

2. Use Mobile

Everyone has their cell phone with them at all times, so how can you make your direct mail fun by getting recipients to use their phones? Sure you can use QR codes and PURLs, but what about going the extra mile and using augmented reality, like Pokémon Go does? How can you do something that people will really like and respond to?

3. Consider Video Mailers

People love to watch videos! Have you considered how you can add them to a direct mailer? This method is not widely used in direct mail yet, so they really help your mail stand out. How can you make this fun? Dress up in holiday costumes and dance around? While that would be funny, how can that wrangle business? Make sure you are not just entertaining, but also selling.

4. Use Die Cuts

Using special die-cut shapes for your mailers is a great way to grab attention. Incorporating a holiday theme with your shape is fun and easy. I have seen some really good ideas with die cuts, so put on your thinking cap. We have even seen mail take on a whole new shape with each unfolded panel as you open it. This is fun for recipients and draws them into the mailer.

You now have some creative juices flowing — don’t let them fizzle out. Write down a couple of ideas right now. Once you have the creative ideas, it’s time to plan out a strategy. What are you trying to accomplish?

Remember that you still need to execute your normal due diligence. Target your mailing list, formulate your message and plan your call to action. Just because you are going to do something fun, does not mean that you get to skip past the drier tasks. Your goal is a higher return on your investment, but a lack of proper planning is just throwing your money away.

Standing out in the mailbox is the best way to get your message not only read, but responded to. Many studies have found that direct mail is a more trusted by consumers than other methods and that a message in direct mail is better remembered than one in email or digital marketing. And yes, millennials like direct mail too — so do not leave them out of your next campaign. Have some fun!

A Fount of Knowledge About Fonts

Get ready, we’re going to get a little geeky here — about fonts. Specifically, OpenType fonts and how they add so much flexibility and readability to any project. What’s even better is that you don’t need the latest designer tools or applications to add interest and impact to your work.

Get ready, we’re going to get a little geeky here — about fonts. Specifically, OpenType fonts and how they add so much flexibility and readability to any project. What’s even better is that you don’t need the latest designer tools or applications to add interest and impact to your work.

Got Microsoft Word? Get set to make everything more professional and legible, while simultaneously adding that “Wow” factor. But first, a brief history of font types:

PostScript Type 1 Fonts

Introduced by Adobe in 1984, PostScript Type 1 fonts are encoded outline font specifications used for professional digital typesetting. They were not widely recognized until Apple came out with its first LaserWriter in 1985 — which at that time had fonts residing IN the printer, using bitmap outlines on the computer in different sizes.

TrueType Fonts

After the introduction and implementation of PostScript Type 1 Fonts, Apple and Microsoft developed an outline standard in the late 1980s that has become the most common format for fonts on both Macs and PCs. This generation of fonts is referred to as TrueType Fonts. TrueType Fonts improved upon PostScript Type 1 Fonts by giving developers better control of how their fonts are displayed at all font sizes.

OpenType Fonts

And finally, OpenType Fonts were developed in the early 1990s. OpenFonts improved upon TrueType Fonts by increasing readability, facilitating different writing systems more effectively, and even adding typography tricks! (That’s the simple description. The geeky one is you’ll have more powerful typographic formatting and simpler font management, with better cross-platform support and portability.)

Of course, you knew that already, right? So check out this animated GIF below, detailing some of the features of OpenType fonts:

Play with the above Demo at Ricardo Magalhães Blog
Play with the above Demo at Ricardo Magalhães Blog
  • Ligatures: Simply stated, a ligature occurs where two or more letters are joined as a single glyph. Why use them? They help keep letters from overlapping and can really improve legibility.
  • Oldstyle and Lining Numerals: The default in almost all fonts is aligning numbers perfectly with each other, which works very well in charts, spreadsheets or anywhere math is involved. But there are some Oldstyle fonts with a default perfect for if you are just using numbers within normal text. Why care? You can now choose which number format to use in any font. Lining numbers tend to stand out in body text because they all stand tall like capital letters. Oldstyle numbers look more like upper and lower case characters, creating a more blended appearance within the text. This is one of my favorite benefits of OpenType fonts, as they improve readability and aesthetics. In an earlier post — “3 Type Facts You Don’t Know, But Should“ — I explain both ligatures and Oldstyle numbers in much more detail if you would like to learn more.
  • Contextual and Stylistic Alternatives: Think of these as accessorizing your fonts, like adding cool jewelry to your type with extra letters and swooshes.
  • Fractions: Now you can choose to use true fractions actually designed for the font, instead of squishing numbers together separated by a solidus. A definite plus for look and readability.
  • Ordinals: In the same way as fractions, ordinal characters are designed for the font rather than programmatically created, increasing legibility.

Remember, these added features are only found in OpenType fonts. This means when purchasing any new fonts, it is important to pay attention: TrueType fonts are still sold. Make sure you are buying an OpenType font.

Flaunt Your Fonts

Ready to get in touch with your inner type-geek? Study this tutorial by Magpie Paperworks first on how to turn on these extras in Microsoft Word.

Whatever the project may be, OpenType fonts could make the difference between so-so and so much more impressive.

Look! Up in the Sky! It’s Your Next Big Idea…

It’s peak stargazing week, with the Perseid Meteor Shower set for its best show in 20 years. Which is the perfect time to imagine what’s out there, and brush up on your brainstorming abilities. After all, finding bright ideas that stand out from others can make you a star, too.

Perseids 2012
Perseid Shower Radiant: Image shows several Perseid meteors — eight in all if you look closely for faint ones. Image courtesy of Paul Beskeen Astrophotography

It’s peak stargazing week. The Perseid Meteor Shower set for its best show in 20 years, which is the perfect time to imagine what’s out there, and brush up on your brainstorming abilities. After all, finding bright ideas that stand out from others can make you a star, too.

So where do you look? How can spot them, or spark a few of your own?

Break Out Your Telescopes

By that, I mean look at problems with a different lens. Ideally, one with a long-range view. Too often when faced with a marketing challenge, we only see what’s right in front of us. Many will fixate on small details, forgetting that most customers aren’t so focused on BRCs, Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors or the metrics of SEO. (All of which are important, but first things first! Think bigger.)

Example: A creative director colleague — Jon Harcharek — was developing a campaign for Café Bustelo. Popular among Latino Americans, the brand wanted to attract a broader audience but worried they’d compromise its “authenticity” by advertising on English-speaking stations.

Cafe Bustelo adHarcharek’s solution: Air the same ad on all networks, Hispanic or otherwise. Those watching Telemundo saw promotions in their native tongue. Anglo viewers were surprised to see a Spanish-speaking commercial break during Breaking Bad, but early adopters were curious and sought out the “new” coffee at supermarkets.

See The Possibilities

Our ancestors saw bulls, rams and scorpions in the sky. One of them probably said, “This may sound crazy, but that looks like a lion to me.”

There may have also been a department manager who said “No, they’re just dots. Get back to work.” The point is to make indirect connections, not just straight-line conclusions. Look beyond the first right answer. And during the idea-generation stage, avoid “no-it-alls” — those who say no to every imaginative thought.

Think like Aristotle: As one of the world’s first astronomers, he believed “When you ask a dumb question, you get a smart answer.” Which inspired more great thinkers to ask “Why have we always done it that way?” It’s the elementary questions followed up by a dozen more penetrating ones that often yield results.

Whether you’re asking clients “Is this really the smartest way to spend your marketing budget” or “Why can’t this mailing look like it came from the government?” it’s okay to be dumb sometimes. Like a fox.

Kansas Tree SurveySeek other intelligent life: Give your initial idea to someone else and see where it goes. At my agency, we call that “brain-chaining” where another creative person takes ownership of a concept and builds on it. Then another “trained brain” might twist it, rearranging headlines or graphic design.

Try This Exercise

At the beginning of a brainstorm meeting, have everyone write down their first thoughts on a 3”x 5” index card. Just a sentence or simple sketch. Then collect the cards, shuffle and hand them out again. Whatever you get, your job is to make them better. Improvise. Suggest a different way to execute it.  There are NO bad ideas. Yet you’ll be surprised how many good ones happen.

The heavens are limitless, but your timeframe shouldn’t be: Like this week’s meteor showers, you only have a small moment when the stars and moons align. Brainstorms are the same way. They’re actually more productive when you give yourself a deadline.

So look up. Keep your eyes wide open, and explore while you can. Your wishes just might come true!

3 Type Facts You Don’t Know, But Should

Back in 1979, we were taught the old-fashioned way, and everything was done by hand. You had to understand all aspects of typeface design and letterforms. You learned how each letter was created and how they fit together perfectly. So here are three facts about type that you don’t know.

Margie Jones. That name had many a Parsons’ student, me included, cursing under our breaths and panicked at the same time. She was our Typography I & II professor. To say she was tough would be an understatement. But she was good, really good. She held us to a high standard and never let us off the hook.

And you could spot Margie Jones’ students a mile away. All you needed to do was simply look at their work compared to other students who didn’t have her. It always rose above.

Back in 1979, we were taught the old-fashioned way — with rapidograph pens, Letraset rubdown type, Lucy machines and a strong lupe. Everything was done by hand. You had to understand all aspects of typeface design and letterforms. You learned how each letter was created and how they fit together perfectly.

There were no computers. No InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop. You had to not only have great creative skills; you needed excellent hand skills too. It was hard, but you learned how and why you did things.

Thank you Margie Jones!

Here are three facts about type that you don’t know and, sadly, many young designers also might not know.

1. Round Letters Go Above and Below the Line

This is one of my favorite tests of young designers to see their knowledge of type; to let me know if they paid attention in class or how good their professor was.

Round Letter Above Below

Look at the example above. Notice how the round letter will rise above or below the base, ascender and x-height lines. Why?

If the round letters did not go above and below, the round letters would appear to look smaller than the rest of the straight letters. See the example below:

Round Letters Smaller

The reason for this: When the round part of the letters just touch the base, ascender and x-height lines, there’s less surface area as compared to the straight letters. To make the letter optically correct, you must have the round letter actually go above and below the base, ascender and x-height lines. This is just one of the many optical fixes that typography uses.

5 Ways Churches Can Show Their Faith With Mail

How well does direct mail work for churches? It’s a question I’ve been asked quite a few times over the years. I never really had a great answer. Who’s Mailing What! doesn’t collect this kind of mail … but I do.

How well does direct mail work for churches? It’s a question I’ve been asked quite a few times over the years. I never really had a great answer. Who’s Mailing What! doesn’t collect this kind of mail … but I do.

I started keeping a file folder of mailers from churches that were mixed in with the mail I get. Eventually, it grew into a whole drawer’s worth, then two, then three.

So, I finally sorted through it all a couple of weeks ago. I tried to get some insight how churches use mail to create and build awareness in their communities. Here are a few thoughts on what I discovered.

1. Postcards Are Big
ChurchStep_0001The vast majority of the mail pieces I set aside are larger postcards, up to 6”x11”. There are a few folded self-mailers and envelopes, but none worth really talking about. These get noticed in the mailbox. And, all of the messaging they need fits on two sides. Big, colorful images and provocative statements really help them stand out also.

2. Be Casual
ChurchCasual_0001
Rules and expectations, even if they’re aren’t grounded in reality, are what separate some people from going to church. This mailer tries to make it clear that this church provides a different atmosphere, not “stuffy buildings with stuffy people.” Another church proclaims that it is for “people just like you.”

3. Use Testimonials
ChurchTestim_0001As with any other institution, churches benefit from authenticity when real people offer their point-of-view.” From the second we walked in to River Pointe, we felt right at home,” this family says.

4. Talk About Life
ChurchFix_0001People go to church for a lot of reasons. One possible benefit is to find answers or help for all that they encounter in life. Some churches offer programs or counseling to deal with specific challenges, like relationships, work-life balance, or their children. The ministry work here is usually practical, but with some assistance from a spiritual perspective.

5. Get Spiritual
ChurchSpirit_0001Let’s be honest here. Churches are a place of worship. So, I was a bit surprised that there wasn’t more of an emphasis on God in many of the mail pieces I looked at. In this case, it was directly tied to the Christmas season.

There are a few caveats to keep in mind with all of this.

Direct mail can require a fair amount of time and money to achieve effectiveness. Churches should mail regularly and be consistent in their branding. Not everyone is ready to make a commitment the first time they receive a postcard in the mail. Ultimately, it’s still about the basics, making the right offer, to the right person, at the right time.

Also, churches can communicate their vision in so many ways in addition to mail. Social media is a given. Other traditional ways of engaging a community, like charitable work, are also practical.

The bottom line – the only one that matters really – is that churches are more than buildings. They’re about building and strengthening connections between people with a common purpose.

3 Reasons GIFs Have a Place in Your Marketing

We’ve all seen the GIFs of yesteryear: Flashing letters. Hokey cartoons. The dancing baby. Today, these are distractions and lack a certain classiness. Kind of like using WordArt. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t use an animated GIF, it just means you need to use them in a more sophisticated way and with an appropriate animation.

Okay, before we start, is it tomato or tomahto? Potato or potahto. Is it GIF or JIF? The creator of the format called Graphics Interchange Format, Steve Wilhite, says “jif” like the peanut butter. I’ve always said GIF with a hard “g.” The battle over how it’s pronounced is documented very well in a NY Times article “Battle Over ‘GIF’ Pronunciation Erupts” … but I’ll still say GIF.

The GIF format created in 1987 was popular due to its wide support across browsers and email clients. And in the early days, the animated GIF was one of the primary ways to add movement to a Web page.

We’ve all seen them. Flashing letters. Hokey cartoons. The dancing baby. Today, these are distractions and lack a certain classiness. Kind of like using WordArt.

7 Up SpotDrudge Siren Dancing Baby gifEmail me mailbox openUnder construction gifMy advice: Don’t do this today. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t use an animated GIF, it just means you need to use them in a more sophisticated way and with an appropriate animation. An animation that will enhance your message, not distract from it. Here are three reasons to consider the use of an animated GIF in your marketing messages:

1. Instructions/Training

Macaw demonstration gifIn this example, software company Macaw uses this GIF to demonstrate one of the features in its software. This is an excellent way to show a feature without forcing someone to watch a video or have to scroll through three to four static pictures. It quickly shows functionality.

You can use this type of animated GIF in an e-newsletter, too. Imagine showing a feature for a new version of software as Sprout Social has done below. It’s a case where the animation enhances the message.

Sprout Social gif2. Subtle Sense of Reality

Headscape homepage gifHeadscape, a digital media company in the UK, has a very subtle animation on its home page featuring an office scene (I highly suggest checking the site out via the link, since the image above is static and not animated … we weren’t able to capture the GIF). Notice the subtle movements of the pen and the person sipping coffee. I find these wonderful surprises.

Taking this one step further, you can create a cinemagraph, an animated GIF usually made from high-end photographs. The next two examples show how you can enhance a photo with either dramatic movement in the case of the Tokyo GIF or the more subtle Taxi Reflection. In both cases the animation enhances the viewing experience in an elegant way.

Tokyo cinemagraph
Cinemagraph courtesy of reddit user eatrob
Taxi cab window cinemagraph
Cinemagraph courtesy of Ann Street Studio. This studio produces wonderfully subtle cinemagraphs.

3. Enhance an Offer

You can use animated GIFs in fun ways to enhance an offer. The GIF can physically highlight the offer or simply bring attention to it.

3 Color Truths You Want to Know

We’ve all seen them: color charts with a description of color and how we’re supposed to feel about it. Broad sweeping statements are made and graphics are created titled “The Psychology of Colors.” But the reality is much more complicated. Let’s bring this back to marketing and design.

We’ve all seen them … color charts with a description of color and how we’re supposed to feel about it. Broad sweeping statements are made and graphics are created titled “The Psychology of Colors.”

pyschology of colorsThe reality is much more complicated. We select color based more on our personal experiences. Research done by Karen Schloss and Stephen Palmer tackles this, focusing on evolution. The main theory — we like colors tied to things that are healthy and promote survival.

Also mixed in this “personal experience” are cultural norms. We are culturally conditioned on how to perceive color. For instance, Eskimos have 17 words for “white” as it applies to snow conditions.

Let’s bring this back to marketing and design. There are several studies available with many of the same conclusions. Here’s my take on three aspects we can all start with:

1. Does the Color Fit What’s Being Sold?

Is the color appropriate for the brand or product? Does the color fit the “personality” of the brand? Example: We can assume a pink glittery model of a Harley probably wouldn’t sell well given the brand’s rugged, cool image.

When it comes to picking the right color, predicting consumer reaction is critical. Although there are stereotypical associations (brown = ruggedness, purple = sophistication and red = excitement), it’s more important for your brand or product color to support the personality you want to portray instead of simply fitting within a stereotype.

Color works best when it matches a brand’s personality. There’s no clear-cut guideline here but the feeling, mood and image plays a large role in perception and purchase persuasion. Think of Apple, which uses white as its dominant color to effectively communicate their clean, simple design. Yet remember, they didn’t start out with white.

2. Stand Out From the Competition

We prefer recognizable brands. This makes color important when creating a brand identity. Consumers quickly recognize brands not only by the logo but also by its color. New products or companies should select color(s) that separate them from their competitors. If the competition is using blue you’ll want to choose a color to contrast them. Think of Apple again, vs. IBM. White is most definitely not “big blue.”

I know this may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often I hear “we want to be similar to our competition.” Be YOU. Not a “me-too.”

3. Gender Makes a Difference

Yes, it’s true men’s and women’s color preferences are different. One of the best studies on this topic is Color Assignments by Joe Hallock. I encourage you to read it.

Here are the highlights. Take notice that blue was the favorite color of both genders and how consistently it’s liked across age groups.

Female favorite color Male favorite colorMen and women also differ when it come to shades, tints and hues, with men liking brighter bolder colors and women preferring softer colors. Men tend to pick shades of colors (black added) and women leaned toward tints (white added).

Favorite Color by AgeThe small piece of an infographic below from KISSmetrics demonstrates this difference very clearly.

KISSmetrics Shades and TintsConclusion: It’s Not all Black and White …

… And, not as simple as many infographics will have you think. The more research you can do, the better you’ll understand the subtlety color brings from a psychological perspective. Stay tuned for future posts as we fill in the missing colors on practical applications.

4 Ways to Push the Envelope

Remember that when creating your next campaign: Outer envelopes are your storefront. If no one enters, even the best salespeople inside — your well-written letter and brochure — can’t do their job. So how do you push the proverbial envelope creatively?

So you’re walking down the street, window shopping, but not looking for anything in particular.

One store is bland and uninviting. Another appears completely irrelevant to your personal lifestyle. Then you’re stopped in your tracks outside another place. Wowed. A colorful sign catches your eye. There are balloons too, and one of them has your name on it! A handwritten chalkboard out front invites YOUR family to come play a fun game inside. So you all do. Eagerly.

That store is OPEN for business. And if it was a direct mail envelope, it’d probably get opened too.

Remember that when creating your next campaign: Outer envelopes are your storefront. If no one enters, even the best salespeople inside — your well-written letter and brochure — can’t do their job.

So how do you push the proverbial envelope creatively?

1. Get Noticed

Kansas Postcard

Color. Unusual shapes. Stand out from the crowd, and overcrowded mailbox, with a little something extra. This postcard targeting Kansas college-age students isn’t just bright and sunny (literally COVERED in sunflowers). Any resident would also recognize it as the actual die-cut shape of their home state. Which connects instantly with the offer to attend nearby University of Missouri at in-state rates.

2. Get Personal

Get PersonalWith today’s variable data and imaging, one-to-one marketing should be your No. 1 tool. Far from simply inserting YOUR NAME HERE, you now have the ability to tailor every aspect of a mailing. How about offering a personal Web address, or PURL, to make ordering easier? Or creating artwork with their name on it that they just might keep awhile?

Good example: Thule Cargo Carriers sent out mailings to car owners. But not just any drivers; those who ski. Their data research not only identified recipients’ hobbies, but also what KIND of vehicles they had — which were then depicted on personalized outer-envelopes fully-loaded for a trip to the slopes. Smart.

3. Get Sticky

Get StickyNo, don’t try to catch more customers with flypaper. Involve them. With stickers, decals, stamps, Post-it notes or removable appointment cards. It might seem silly, but people like to peel, punch out, lick and stick, and have a little fun sometimes. Yet a lot of times, they work remarkably well for a wide range of marketers, from publishing and fundraising to high-end financial services.

4. Get Real. Or Not

CardsYep, that sounds like a contradiction. Many effective mailings get opened because they appear substantial. The real deal. They might have an actual membership card included, so your prospect just HAS to look because there’s something valuable inside. Or it’s printed on laminated card stock, not something flimsy. That must be important too, right?

FauxThe “Not-So-Real” approach that still gets real results? Faux Mailings, designed to look like official, time-sensitive documents — perhaps from a government office or express mail service. For B-to-B mailings, they can work particularly well for getting past office gatekeepers.

In closing, be open. There’s nothing wrong with a plain white professional-looking envelope. Until it gets ignored. Open yourself to all the options available, and you’re more likely to open wallets too.

Want to learn more and see more examples? Download the DMDays @ Your Desk 2011 slide deck that copywriter Pat Friesen and I presented together, chock-full of visual examples to get your creative juices running!