Self-Mailers Make Great Direct Mail

Why do I love self-mailers? They are really versatile and allow you plenty of room for creativity to grab attention quickly. You can fold them in fun ways, too. Best of all, they are cost-effective. Color images are really important for self-mailers. Colors make your piece unique and help convey your message.

Why do I love self-mailers? They are really versatile and allow you plenty of room for creativity to grab attention quickly. You can fold them in fun ways, too. Best of all, they are cost-effective. Color images are really important for self-mailers. Colors make your piece unique and help convey your message.

When do self-mailers work best?

  1. Sending to Consumers — Consumers like to get mailers. On the other hand, businesses tend to sift through mail before it gets to the designated person so many times, mailers are tossed before they are ever seen.
  2. You Have Great Images — Images drive attention and response, so if you don’t have good ones to use, skip doing a self-mailer.
  3. Tear-offs — When you have a tear-off section, like coupons, for your prospects or customers to keep or use, self-mailers make it easy.
  4. Sharing — A creative self-mailer will get shared with family and friends; this allows your message to spread farther.

There is no one best format. As a matter of fact, the more unique the format, the more engaged your prospects and customers will be. Think beyond the standard layouts. As with any type of direct mail, there are some pitfalls you need to keep an eye out for such as:

  • Size — The maximum letter size is 6 x 10.5. This still gives you tons of room; especially when you have three panels to use.
  • Paper Stock — You will need to use at least 80# text weight stock to meet mailing requirements. But in many cases, you want to use something thicker in order to prevent tearing during processing.
  • Aspect Ratio — When selecting your final size, you need the length divided by the height to be between 1.3 and 2.5. Anything less or more will be a problem.
  • Folds — Make sure that you design the folds in the correct places. Your final fold needs to be either below the mail panel or to the right of the mail panel.
  • Tabs — You will need to make sure that you are placing the correct size tabs and placement. If you don’t like tabs, you can also use fugitive glue.

There are so many creative things to do with self-mailers that just don’t work for envelopes and postcards. Test out some new ideas and see what your prospects and customers think. Consider folding in a different way. Don’t just take an 8.5 x 11 sheet and tri-fold it. Be unique. You could try a four-panel fold in from an 18 x 27 sheet; this would cut out so that the top panel folding down would be 6 x 9 then the left panel would be the same size, so would the right and bottom. Once folded, the final fold would be below the mail panel. This makes for a memorable experience for your prospects and customers. They do not get a self-mailer like that every day. Of course, there are tons more folds you can create that are different. Check out some ideas at:

Consider ideas beyond folds, too. You can have die cuts on the inside panels, you can use foil stamping or embossing to have areas really stand out. There are fun ways to grab attention on a self-mailer that people do not see every day. Not all of them will fall in your budget. But if you take time to research options, you will find something that you can afford and helps increase your ROI. Are you ready to get creative?

Visually Appealing Direct Mail

With all of the election mail this year, we have been overexposed to many mailers with too much going on. Yes, images are necessary, as is text, but when you oversaturate a large mailer, it turns into only noise — and noise goes in the trash. So I would like us all to consider: How can we get our message across while using blank space to our advantage?

beach and tropical seaWhy are we afraid of blank space in our direct mail? More and more of the mail I receive is crowded with text and images. I am overwhelmed visually, and I am willing to bet that most people are. With all of the election mail this year, we have really been overexposed to many mailers with too much going on. Yes, images are necessary, as is text, but when you oversaturate a large mailer, it turns into only noise — and noise goes in the trash. So I would like us all to consider: How can we get our message across while using blank space to our advantage?

Rather than call it blank space, I prefer to think of it as the space in-between, because really that’s what it is. It’s between images, between copy and between your call-to-action. It opens up our mind as a peaceful place between thoughts. It’s calming and refreshing to have that in-between space for a breath, as preparation for what is to come next. Our brains need that little downtime to organize and digest what we see.

Here’s how to create the space in-between:


Select one or two images for the mailer. When sizing them, make them large enough for comprehension while allowing for space between the image and the copy.


Do not put copy over the images. Use bullet points and bolding to draw attention to your concise copy. Mailers are not letters — do not get too wordy. Allow for space between lines and use an open font instead of a compressed one.


This needs to be in its own area with plenty of space around it to stand out. Get right to the point: What do your customers/prospects need to do? Make sure to tell them.


The color(s) you choose for your mail piece is very important. You need them to work together with your copy and images to convey your message. Don’t go crazy with a ton of colors — pick a theme and have that guide your choices. When trying to create blank space you can use color, but keep it mild so when it is combined with open-spaced copy you are not overwhelming the visual senses.

The whole point of your mailer is to get people to respond. When you turn people off with too many images, too much copy or over-the-top colors, your mailer is ineffective.

With digital marketing always in our faces flashing images and endless pop-ups, it is refreshing to get mail pieces that are not scattered all over the place, but focused on one clear message. These mail pieces get acted upon. Create these pieces for your next campaign.

In no way am I saying that your mail piece needs to be boring — in fact I believe the opposite. You need to grab attention in a good way. By adding space between your attention-grabbing images and focused copy, you are able to draw attention to the right areas of your mailer. No one is getting lost or confused by what they see.

Still not swayed? Sample a test piece with added space against your current piece to see what works better for you.

You want people to remember your message and act on it. Have you had really successful direct mail? What has worked really well for you?

3 Ways to Make Your Postcards Stand Out

Back in the day (yes, I was a creative back then), prior to cheap 4-Color process printing, you had to find creative, inexpensive ways to get your postcards noticed in the mail. I was the king of using two PMS colors in combination to look as if you had full color, and an expert in paper stocks. Most importantly I learned all I could about printing. Why? Because printing techniques were and are one of the best tools in my creative toolbox.

Back in the day (yes, I was a creative back then), prior to cheap 4-Color process printing, you had to find clever, inexpensive ways to get your postcards noticed in the mail. I was the king of using combinations of two PMS colors to portray full color, and an expert in paper stocks. Most importantly, I learned all I could about printing. Why? Because printing techniques have always been one of the best tools in my creative toolbox.

Today I will discuss three of my favorite printing techniques — when applied to your concept, they can help your postcards stand out.

1. Paper

This is the easiest and one of the most effective ways to make your mail stand out. There are so many paper stocks that will make recipients stop and take a second look at your mail. But in today’s 4-Color world, creatives are not considering paper as much as they should.

Consider an ultra-heavy stock, or even sandwiching two sheets together. Most mail is floppy. If your postcard is the most rigid in a stack of mail, it will receive attention. That few extra seconds your consumers spend investigating will increase your response rate.

Moo doubled up stock with edge color

You should choose stocks heavier than 16pt — double it up and make it 32pt. Print one side of the sheet, sandwich two sheets together and then trim to size. Printing companies like Moo Cards offer this as a standard option.

Your stock could be particle board on which you can use production techniques like embossing, silk screening or letterpress.

Companies like Ward/Kraft are sandwiching your postcard in plastic. I know, I know: Plastic will increase your postage costs. But not with this product — they’re getting standard postage rates. This card is extremely rigid and has options for punch-out cards and tags.

Ward/Kraft plastic pop-out card
Ward/Kraft plastic covered postcard with pop-out cards

2. Texture

Texture is a wonderful way to make materials stand out. Our fingers are amazingly aware and notice anything that is abnormal. Bumpy, sticky, rubbery surfaces — anything that is not the regular feel of paper.

Use a gloss or matte varnish as a texture for sections of your postcard. Varnishes across the entire piece, like matte or glossy, will not create the unique texture you want. You want gaps for your fingers to distinguish the differences. This will also work for spot UV as well, which can create an even more dramatic effect.

Spot Gloss Varnish
Spot Gloss Varnish from

Change Colors, Change Behavior

For years, psychologists have studied the impact of color on how we behave. Does it make us eat more? Does it make us more productive? And most importantly for businesses, does it make us buy more?

Research conducted by the Institute for Color Research, a division of Color Communications Inc, (CCI), and the University of Winnipeg shows that within 90 seconds, most consumers make an unconscious judgment about something’s worth to us, its trustworthiness, and so on. And that 62 to 90 percent of that judgment is based upon color. (opens as a PDF)

But just exactly what that judgment is is up for discussion. There seems to be some inconsistency in what psychologists say is the business effect of certain colors. One expert, M. Farouk Radwan, MSc., author for claims that blue colors in a restaurant can result in a loss of appetite because subconsciously, many people associate blues with toxins. Another report on which references studies form the Color Association of the U.S. says that blue is a good color to calm people and make them stay longer and hopefully buy more when dining out. So what is a marketer to believe?

Various studies from various groups also show conflicting ideas about the use of red in restaurants. Some color theorists and psychologists say red triggers appetites and others saying that it creates too much energy, and increases your heart rate to the point that people lose their appetite, leave sooner due to increased energy levels, and thus eat less. Regardless, many fast food restaurants, rightfully so or wrongfully so, use accents of red to stimulate energy and trigger appetites in the hope of getting people in to eat, then out soon to make room for others.

The importance of color and its impact on brands and business goes far beyond the physiological effect on appetite and food consumptions. The big question is how does color impact attitudes toward brands and shopping behavior? And in the case of red and blue as dominant brand colors – logo, retail environment and online shopping presence – does it really matter

Rajesh Bagchi, an associate professor of marketing in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech conducted a study to compare the sales influence of blue vs. red. Bagchi and associate, Amar Cheema from the University of Virginia, studied sales on red websites vs. those on predominantly blue websites, as well as sales within predominantly blue and red retail environments. Very interestingly, their research found that the likelihood of a purchase is lower with red backgrounds than blue ones. When you compare sales of Walmart, a blue brand, with Target, a very red brand, you have to wonder:

  • Walmart revenue in 2014: $467.30 billion
  • Target revenue in 2014: $71.28 billion

Could it be that too much red in a retail setting makes us energetic and thus anxious to leave — like it supposedly does in restaurants, while blue, as suggested by one restaurant study, makes us relax and linger longer? I know which of these two big box powerhouses I linger in longer and purchase more from. And what’s most interesting is that consciously I prefer the one I linger in the least!

Beyond influencing food consumption and shopping behavior, colors play other important roles in other business settings. To start, colors are thought to influence how we perceive a brand’s attributes and values; which, in turn influence our interest in learning more about a brand or a product, and considering trial or purchase. For example, blue is solid in banking, as it’s the color of trust and intelligence. Green also does well in the financial services industry as, in our country, it represents wealth, money, stability and balance. However, in other countries and cultures, color meanings and influences can change.

Needless to say, choosing which colors are most likely to attract your core consumers, inspire them to engage with your message and hopefully impact shopping behavior among your customers can be nothing short of confusing.

Faber Birren, a pioneer in color research and author of “Color Psychology and Color Therapy,” helps minimize the chaos with a survey that reveals what people themselves say of the values and attributes they associate with various colors. Following is a summary of the colors respondents most associated with particular words:

  • Trust: Blue
  • Security: Blue
  • Speed: Red
  • Cheapness: Orange, with yellow as a close second
  • High Quality: Black
  • High Tech: Black with a small margin over blue and gray tied for second
  • Reliability: Blue
  • Courage: Purple and red
  • Fear/Terror: Red
  • Fun: Orange, with yellow as a close second

In some cases, these responses duplicate what color psychology experts tell us and in others not. For example, most charts showing moods associated with colors show orange as creativity, playful, innovative and fun; and yellow as logic, personal power and humor. Yet in our culture, it also represents caution, or represents the scene of a crime or dangerous event.

While it is fun to study the impact and influence of colors on how we eat, how we sleep (supposedly we sleep better in blue rooms), and our productivity levels, all that really matters is if and how color impacts how people perceive our brand and if that perception translates into sales.

Regardless of what color theory and research you go by when defining colors to present your brand’s attributes and values, the key is to acknowledge that color does indeed influence attitudes and behavior. And instead of choosing colors you like or that are trendy at the moment, take some time to study what colors really mean to consumers’ conscious and unconscious minds and choose those that reflect the personality you want to project to today’s consumers, and one that will last the test of trends and time to continue to appeal to like customers in the future.

Spend some time with your marketing team to identify the values, attributes and even personality traits with which you want your brand to be associated.

Choose traits that reflect the lifestyle, values and interests of your core consumer.

Google color wheel meanings. Study the many color mood charts and psychology reports on color and behavior to guide the choices you make for all things associated with your brand.

The right colors not only help influence attitudes, interest and shopping, but they can also influence engagement with your content on your website, social media and other branding materials. Even the best branding content can fall short of readership and conversion goals if it’s embraced by colors that create a different story than the content.