6 Direct Mail Messaging Strategies That Work

Direct mail messaging strategies work when they’re simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, and filled with emotion and stories. Here’s how to create them.

Direct mail messaging strategies work when they’re simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, and filled with emotion and stories. Here’s how to create them.

The best direct mail marketing is able to communicate your message in a way that is understood, remembered and acted upon. Are your direct mail results as good as you expect them to be? In many cases they are not; and your direct mail messaging strategy could be the problem. So, how can you improve your message to increase your results?

6 Direct Mail Message Strategy Ideas

  1. Simple: This is not to say use the “Keep It Simple, Stupid” method, but to refine your headline message even more. To create a sentence that is both simple and profound. You want your headline to grab people and require them to read more.
  2. Unexpected: Do the unexpected in your messaging. The message needs to generate interest and curiosity in order to resonate and drive response.
  3. Concrete: Many times, direct mail messaging is ambiguous; this leads to poor response rates. You need clear concrete language to ensure that your message means the same thing to everyone.
  4. Credible: Your brand can help with your credibility, but so can enlisting customers to create testimonials that you can use in your marketing messaging. In order for people to respond to your mail pieces, they need to trust you and the product or service they are buying. Money-back guarantees or free trials work well, too.
  5. Emotion: In order to get people to respond you need to draw on their emotions. Nonprofits are great at this, but most other businesses could use some help. Humans are wired to feel for other people; when you can harness this effectively, you increase responses. There are many emotions you can tap into: anger, empathy and happiness are the most common emotions businesses try to elicit.
  6. Stories: People are drawn to stories. The best messaging is captured within stories. Are you currently formulating your messaging around stories, or are you just listing the facts and statistics on why people should buy from you? No one buys facts. They buy benefits that are communicated well through stories.

These six ideas in combination can help you create a strategy for better direct mail messaging to increase your response rates. One common messaging problem that organizations run into is that they have much more knowledge about their product or service than the people they are trying to sell to. This perspective can make it difficult to communicate effectively with prospects. You do not know what they know.

To combat this problem, you can use people outside of your organization to see what they think of your messaging. This can come in the form of an advisory group, an organization or a few select customers and prospects that you use as a focus group. There is a ton of knowledge that can be gained by doing this. In many cases, you will find that what you thought was a great message did not resonate or confused people. It’s better to learn that before you mail, than after the fact.

Your messaging strategy is extremely important; it can make or break your direct mail campaigns. Spend at least as much time on constructing your messaging as you spend on design. In many cases, effective message creation takes longer than design. Are you ready to create direct mail messaging that is understood, remembered and acted upon?

How to Create Influential Variable Data Direct Mail

The real power in direct mail is sending the right offer to the right person. In order to do this effectively, you need to be using variable data direct mail for offers and images, not just names.

The real power in direct mail is sending the right offer to the right person. In order to do this effectively, you need to be using variable data direct mail for offers and images, not just names.

“Dear Summer” does not grab me. What draws me in are offers that I want. So if you send me direct mail, send me offers for fishing, camping, reading and, of course, the normal household requirements. Yet, every day I get mail that is not appropriate for me, such as offers for baby gear (my kids are adults now).

When direct mail is sent to someone who is not interested in it, it’s basically junk mail and is thrown in the trash. So how can you prevent that from happening with your mail? Use your list wisely.

  • Step 1: Your Data — You need to make sure that your data files are correct. This means not only checking to see if addresses are correct, but that you have all of the purchase history and any other relevant information up to date. You can’t use bad data.
  • Step 2: Your Offers — Now you will need to decide what your offers are going to be. You can have as many offers as you want, just be sure you send one offer per person.
  • Step 3: Your Copy/Messaging — You will need to create your copy/messaging to highlight your offer and raise interest. Compelling and relevant copy drives response. Take the time to write yours. Remember to stay away from acronyms and keep your word choice simple and concise.
  • Step 4: Your List — Now you are ready to target people in your list based on your offers. Select people into groups for which offer best matches them. You can code them and use that offer code for them to respond. This will with analyzing your results later.
  • Step 5: Your Images — Now that you have your offers and your data segmented you are ready to select the variable images to match each offer. The image should help convey your message without words. It should also grab attention. You will want at least one image per offer and depending on your design you may need more than one.
  • Step 6: Your Design — You will need to decide what your design will be no matter whether it is a postcard, self-mailer or booklet you will want to create a layout that has static elements across all versions and areas where your variable copy, offers and images will drop in.
  • Step 7: Your QC — Variable data requires extensive quality control. You should sample each version with multiple people to make sure that everything is working correctly. We have also found that once everything is good then create batch pdf merged files rather than printing direct to the printer. This helps maintain your quality through the run and prevents any hiccups in large file transmission across a network.
  • Step 8: Your Results — Since you coded your offers you will know who responded and what they responded to. This allows you to plan future mail campaigns based on what worked and what did not.

Obviously variable data is not the be all and end all of direct mail marketing, but it can really help you to save money by only sending pieces to people who are interested in it. You will also see a response increase when you send the right offer to the right person. Another benefit is that people look forward to getting mail that they like. So when you have a track record of sending offers they want, they will take the time to read your next mailer to see what great offer they can get now. Are you ready to get started?

How to Improve Your Direct Mail

We are in challenging marketing times. Every dollar spent matters, and in direct mail there are a lot of dollars spent. They are worth it when you are getting good results, but many times that is not the case. The problem is not with the direct mail channel, but rather with your mail campaign.

sales emailWe are in challenging marketing times. Every dollar spent matters, and in direct mail there are a lot of dollars spent. They are worth it when you are getting good results, but many times that is not the case. The problem is not with the direct mail channel, but rather with your mail campaign. So what really matters in 2018 to make your direct mail campaigns a success? Let’s take a look.

What matters? These seven elements:

  1. Time — The time you spend to create your mail pieces; audience and message make all the difference. Many times timelines are cut short so steps are rushed through and not carefully thought out. This can cause a bunch of problems that can either cost you more money or responses, either way you lose out. Purposely block out time dedicated to making the best mail campaigns possible.
  2. Myopia — Many times the problem with a mail campaign is the wrong focus. Your messaging list and design all need to work together to drive response. When your team cannot see the forest through the trees they are creating messaging that is not going to appeal to your audience. This will cost you responses. Focus on the benefits to your audience, this means you need to know them well, not just assume that you do.
  3. Innovation — Today’s direct mail needs to stand out. What worked yesterday will not work tomorrow. Have you tried to innovate your mail pieces to stand out? There are many tools you can use from technology to folds or special coatings. You want to integrate with your messaging, so you need to carefully consider what will enhance your message and drive response.
  4. Inspiration — Many times inspiration is lacking in mail campaigns. From lackluster design to poorly worded copy. You cannot inspire response without a great mail piece. Sending the mail piece to all the right contacts does not matter if your message does not resonate and your design does not generate interest. Your piece just became trash. Consider testing your design and copy with a couple of key customers who are willing to give you feedback. What they say may surprise you.
  5. Adaptability — As your customers change you change your products and services, but are you changing your mail campaigns? You need to adapt to what your prospects and customers want and need. Very targeted messaging can help you generate a better response rate. Beyond messaging though, you need to adapt your design, too. Change is a good thing and can lead to more responses.
  6. Brand — Many times a mail piece does not perform well because of a conflict between your messaging and your brand. Who your company is and what it stands for needs to mesh with your design and messaging on your direct mail pieces. When there is a conflict in the mind of your prospect or customer, they are not going to buy from you.
  7. Degeneration — Overtime a direct mail campaign can degenerate if it’s continually done the same way. Constant vigilance to changes in your audience, your product and the culture in general need to drive changes in your direct mail. The world is changing at a faster and faster pace, you need to change, too. Declining response is a big indicator that your campaign is degenerating. Start your process all over again to refresh creative design, copy and your list segmentation.

Your direct mail results can and should be better. Each of these seven elements can directly affect your results. Take a good look at what you have been doing along with your team to see if there are changes you can make to improve your results. Sometimes the smallest change can make all the difference in how your audience perceives your offer. Remember to track your results as you make changes to see what is working and where you can improve. In 2018, you can have the best direct mail results you have ever had if you make a real effort to do so. Are you ready to get started?

4 Tips for Better Content Engagement

There’s more to content engagement than just words on a page. Here are the details you must focus on to grab your audience’s attention and keep them focused on your message.

There’s more to content engagement than just words on a page. Here are the details you must focus on to grab your audience’s attention and keep them focused on your message.

1. Design Does Matter

Beauty may be only skin deep, but it gets our attention. And in the online content game, the importance of getting someone’s attention shouldn’t be underestimated. So invest the time and resources you need to create solid, professional designs that fit your industry, your topic, and your audience’s expectations.

Keep in mind that the quality you seek is a professional presentation. This isn’t about winning design awards. (Unless you’re a design firm …) Consistency matters more for content engagemen than achieving highest level of polish.

2. Graphics Get Results

An adjunct to “design does matter” is the use of photos, illustrations and other graphics. These serve to break up written content to make it more digestible and can also reinforce the points you are making in your copy. (For more conceptual content, don’t worry about that kind of literal reinforcement. In fact, being literal in a forced or cliched manner is likely to hurt your efforts more than help them.

And don’t forget the value of video. Here again, you don’t need super high-production values to have an impact. Video shot with a high-quality smartphone camera will do the trick. Add simple voice over and charts or graphics to illustrate your topic and you’re way beyond boring talking head videos. Talking heads can add a nice personal touch if the talking head is a key executive in your organization.

3. But Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

As important as design is, a great looking page isn’t going to keep your audience engaged if there’s no there there, as Gertrude Stein said. (Though not about content marketing …) Your content has to be engaging in its own right, which means:

  • Professional
  • Entertaining
  • Relevant

Professional is as simple as avoiding typos, spelling errors and other basic mistakes.

Creating entertaining content doesn’t mean trying to be a stand-up comic. It means having a voice that is unique and interesting.

Relevance is, pretty obviously, the most important of these goals. Your content must matter to your audience. And it needs to help them understand or solve a business problem they are facing.

4. Grab ‘Em and Go

Don’t bury the lede! A nicely paced build up is a wonderful thing for novels and bad jokes. But in content marketing, as in news reporting, grabbing your audience’s attention immediately is the key to getting them to come along for the ride. That’s our goal with all our content marketing.

How to Generate Response With Your Direct Mail

A lot of marketers go for flashy design with their direct mail. This can grab attention, but what if you could do something more? Can your direct mail make people think and react without even realizing it? Of course it can. So how can you design your mailings with that in mind?

Seebe Hydroelectric Dam near Exshaw at NightA lot of marketers go for flashy design with their direct mail. This can grab attention, but what if you could do something more? Can your direct mail make people think and react without even realizing it? Of course it can. So how can you design your mailings with that in mind?

Before we get into the how, we need to know more about this phenomenon. This is commonly referred to as neuromarketing — marketing that focuses on the brain and how it responds. People are not aware of where their first impressions come from, nor do we always understand what they mean; they just are. This means we can use that to our advantage as marketers and incorporate messaging and design to illicit a snap response once pulled from the mail box. This is thought to happen in the lower, old parts of our brain. Now, let’s see how we can do this:

  1. “Either or Scenario”: Create only two options to choose from in your direct mail. The good choice is your product or service and the bad choice is the other option. This is a great space for snap judgments, so make sure your distinction is very clear.
  2. Story: Use a real world story that shows your product or service and how it has helped other real people. This should be a short story that is clear and to the point. Testimonials are great!
  3. Messaging: Keep it short and simple. There is no need to get technical or to list a bunch of features — no one cares. Benefits sell for you so find the biggest one and use that in your message.
  4. Solve Problems: Your product or service solves problems for people show them how in your direct mail. Short and right to the point, you have this problem, our widget will solve it. One big benefit is your focus.
  5. Images: Invoke emotions and convey your message through powerful images and without a lot of copy.

On average, you have about 5 to 6 seconds for your message to be understood before the prospect or customer moves on. So in order to be most effective, you need to be using all five suggestions above while keeping your focus on your one overarching theme. Remember that the most important thing is to only be selling one thing at a time with your direct mail. The KISS method is your friend.

Your mail should never focus on reason or logic; that’s not what gets people to buy right away. It makes them think harder and slows down the whole buying process. Additionally, it is an instant turn-off for mail pieces. Do not end up in the trash! You highlight a big benefit when you solve their problem, just focus on that.

Take a look at your current mail pieces based on the five suggestions above: What could you change before you send out your next piece? Are you already doing some of them? Great, now just add the ones that are missing. Another thing to consider is to look at mail pieces you have received, which ones worked well on you? What did they have in common? This can help you build a better response with your direct mail campaigns. Do you have a great mail piece that worked really well for you? I would love to hear about it!

Direct Mail: It’s All in the Letter

Recently, direct mail letters have gotten a bad reputation, but a good letter can really generate sales. How do you know if you have a good letter or not? We will break it down for you here.

direct mail letter

Recently, direct mail letters have gotten a bad reputation, but a good letter can really generate sales. How do you know if you have a good letter or not? We will break it down for you here.

First of all, your letters need to be personalized. Gone are the generic letter days. You not only personalize with a name, but also personalize your offer to the needs of each person. You want your letter to look and feel personal, but let’s dig deeper into the letter structure.

7 Things to Make a Great Direct Mail Letter

1. First Sentence: Your first sentence can make or break your direct mail letter. This is where you generate interest or lose it. You need to hook them and pull them into reading more.

2. Offer: The offer for your product or service needs to be attractive. Any time you can offer something for free, you will get attention. If that is not an option, discounts work well, too.

3. Story: The best letters tell a story. People relate to and enjoy reading stories. How can you create a story for your product or service? You create a moment with your story so that it has a beginning, middle and end. You include emotions — not just facts. Create characters your customers and prospects will care about.

4. Flattery: Flattery will get you everything! Tell the reader how special they are. Include the use of the word “you” a lot to describe how smart and truly wonderful they are.

5. Questions: Use these with caution. You want to make sure that you are correct in your assumption of the answers before you decide to use the questions. The question should always qualify your prospect or customer.

6. Problem: Solve a problem with your product or service. This goes back to the story portion, too. When you are able to solve a problem, you will get the sale.

7. Benefits: Benefits are extremely important. What are your readers going to get? Why does it matter to them? Make sure these get incorporated into your story.

Make your next direct mail letter powerful to increase your results. Now, even the best written letter only works if your envelope gets opened. If you are going to use teaser copy on the envelope, make sure that it is VERY compelling. It should promise a reward of some kind for opening the envelope or make them so curious they have to open the envelope. If you are trying for the personal approach, use only your return address, no logo and a stamp. You can use the barcode clear zone to make it look as though the post office sprayed it and still get the automation discounts.

What really matters is what works for you. So test your copy, your offer and even your envelopes one at a time. What works best for you may be very different from what has worked for others. Tracking your results is the key to creating better direct mail results in the future. If you don’t test, you will not know how much better your results could have been. Don’t get complacent always reach for better results. Have you had a really successful letter? What did you do?

7 Email Design Must-Dos for Today

The bottom line is email can run our lives. Because this is the case for many people, we need to design marketing emails to make life easy for our recipients. Here’s my list of must-dos to make it easier to review emails, and more importantly, to get positive results.

Patrick's email blogEvery morning, I try to be at my desk by 8 a.m. The first thing I do is log in to my computer, pop open my email application and see how many emails I’ve got to review.

Some mornings, it’s not too bad. Some days I’ve been bad. I reviewed emails in the evening. I try not to do that. Otherwise, I tend to work all night. On the other hand, if I don’t review emails the evening before, I have many more to review in the morning.

The bottom line is email can run our lives. Because this is the case for many people, we need to design marketing emails to make life easy for our recipients. Here’s my list of must-dos to make it easier to review emails, and more importantly, to get positive results.

Your Layout Must Be Responsive

I’m not talking emails that get response, although that’s obviously the goal. I’m talking about email layouts that change size based on the device the email is reviewed on. Today, large numbers of people are using their smartphones to review their emails. The stats don’t lie:

Patrick's email post graphic

Responsive design results in a nearly 15 percent increase in unique clicks for mobile users from a 2.7 percent average to 3.3 percent, according to Litmus and MailChimp. 

Email designs for desktops are usually 600px wide, because 600px avoids some of the limitations of email applications and takes into account “browser chrome,” the space around email not allowing the email to take the full width of the screen.

The optimum width for mobile is 320px (640px for retina screen).

To help your design on mobile devices, stick to single-column layouts. Multi-column layouts usually appear squashed. A single-column design simplifies your layout and helps to focus your message for the recipients, makes it easier to read and makes you email cross-device compatible.

Don’t Forget the Preheader

This has to be one of my biggest pet peeves. Too many emails today still do not use a preheader or snippet and I don’t understand why.

The preheader is the first thing you see in an email application’s preview pane. You know when someone has ignored it when you see this line in the preview pane: “If You’re Having Trouble Viewing this Email …” This is also the title of a blog I wrote on preheaders and will give you more detail than I’ll do here.

Patrick's email preheader example

This example shows a preview pane with the top email not using a preheader and the second that does.

Highly Visible Call to Action

This almost doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it, anyway.

Call to actions or CTAs should be above the fold. Content above the fold gets 84 percent more attention. CTAs should have a lot of attention given to them and be written plainly and clearly. Also, make sure to use active language. Tell people what to do and they tend to do it.

You can learn even more about CTAs at my Design DR blog post “5 CTA Button Design Best Practices.”

Don’t Bury Your Branding

You’ve got a couple of seconds when a person opens your email to understand who the email is from. How best to do this … think about how we read. We start at the top-left corner and read left-to-right. The obvious conclusion is the top-left corner is the obvious place to place you logo or branding. It’s not a set rule, but it works. You can also consider placement in the top couple of inches (also prime email real estate) for brand placement as it works with your design.

Patrick's Converse email

This Converse email takes advantage of branding in two ways. The upper-left logo placement and logo placement on the video play artwork.

Size Matters … Font Size, That Is

Make sure you use a font size that is easily read. I usually recommend 14px as body text and 20-24px for headlines and subheads.

Remember: A large percentage of email will be read on a smartphone. I will also say the font you choose will affect the size equation. Some fonts read smaller or larger than others. Keep that in mind when you set the font size, as well.

A Picture’s Worth A 1,000 Words … Unless It’s Not Seen

Images are wonderful in an email. They ad great visual impact and deliver 1,000 words, right away. But we need to keep in mind that many email clients have images blocked. There’s nothing we can do about the blocking, but there is something that can be done to minimize the damage: Use alt tags.

“Alt tags” or “alt text” (short for alternative text) is the text that will show when an image is blocked. This is not automatic. If your designer does not program alt tags, you’ll see text where images would be displayed.

You can simply apply alt text to your images and call it a day and the text you apply will show. You can also specify the color behind the text and the text itself. This gives you some minor control of how it looks. You should always take advantage of this technique. To lean more, Litmus has a wonderful blog about the options: “The Ultimate Guide to Styled ALT Text in Email.”

You just need to keep one thing in mind: We are talking about email. Not all email applications support styled alt text. The Litmus post spells this out quite well.

Patrick's alt email Litmus

Personalization

I always make sure to personalize emails designs with name, text and images.

The easy part is using the recipient’s name. You have this info and it’s easy to implement in the subject line, in the preheader and the email body. According to Campaign Monitor, personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened.

Also, depending on your data, you can also personalize based on:

  • Products they’ve ordered in the past,
  • Life events, like birthdays and anniversaries
  • Connections, like clubs they belong to, if the are veterans, Moms, men, women, etc.

Personalization can also be imagery. Using the list above, you can change the images used. For instance, if you know the person’s name, sex, car purchased from you and where it was purchased, you can create an email with the following things personalized:

  • Name: Place their name in the subject line, headline of the email and in the body text.
  • Sex: You can change the products offered and colors of the artwork to be more male- or female-oriented.
  • Car Purchased: You can use a picture of the car they purchased and if you have the info, the model and color of their car.

You can see the power of personalization and how it can make your email more relevant to the recipient. By segmenting a campaign, according to the DMA, marketers have found a 760 percent increase in revenue. Add a highly personalized element to the segments and who knows what the potential might be.

Don’t Forget the Footer

Lastly, do not forget the footer. They can increase your creditability. Yes, this is important. The fastest way to look like spam is to not include a solid footer. You must include:

  • Your organization’s name and your complete contact details
  • A clear, easy-to-find “unsubscribe” link
  • Include links to your main website or key service/product pages
  • Make it easy to share the email with a forward-to-a-friend link, and social media links
  • Add a line about why they are receiving the email, i.e. membership in a loyalty program or other such reasons

Patrick's forward-to-a-friend email

We’ve all gotten emails with poor footer information. My biggest pet peeve is no unsubscribe link. Right behind that is an unsubscribe link that takes me to a page that I need to log into to “manage” my email preferences. This is a bad user experience.

This is my basic list for email design. Can this change? My answer is “yes,” but I encourage you to test, test, test. There is not such thing as a hard-and-fast rule. Everything changes. Email applications, they way people respond, what’s in favor this season or addition of new technologies. Always look forward and always challenge designers and your own assumptions.

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.

Website Design, Readability and Usability

Mention the concept of readability and most of us think of things like Flesch-Kincaid scores and grade levels. But there’s another side to readability that is too often overlooked: design. Here are a few points to consider when you are guiding your design team or evaluating their content-related work.

Mention the concept of readability and most of us think of things like Flesch-Kincaid scores and grade levels. But there’s another side to readability that is too often overlooked: design.

As a new website is being designed, layouts are typically created for all page types. Even if dummy or “greeked” content is used, that content is styled to match the overall design and with the intention that content on the site will match.

That’s a good first step toward ensuring solid usability, but placeholder text rarely has the same range of elements as real text — the headlines and subheadlines, bullet points and pull quotes, and most critically, the links that are an important part of any website.

To combat the problem — and to keep coders from making design and usability decisions as they build out the site — here are a few points to consider when you are guiding your design team or evaluating their content-related work.

Readability: Content vs. Control

If a website does not create a distinction between editorial content and navigational controls, you will sense a problem. You may not notice it in the way a design or UX expert would, but you will notice it because the site will make you stop and think, perhaps just momentarily, about whether what you’re looking at is information to be processed or a way to move around the site.

This is rarely an issue for the main menu on a site, which are set apart from page content quite plainly and is usually consistent on nearly every page of a site. You’re more likely to run into issues with submenus and, especially, with content that doesn’t quite fit the site’s overall structure.

The latter occurs when a site wasn’t built with, say, a third level of pages in mind, and there is one small area of the site that needs that extra depth. Hardly ever will a content manager want to be bothered with calling in the designers for so small an issue, so the extra level is created as an afterthought.

Without a designer and with the inevitable focus on speed, it’s no wonder you can wind up with content that looks like navigation and navigation that looks like content.

Linking Properly

Menus always make links obvious, but there are times when it is necessary — and more appropriate — for links to appear as text within the page content. How you set these links apart is an important part of usability and a key design consideration. That said, this is a place where a designer can sometimes get in the way.

While nobody wants to see text links that look like they came straight out of 1996 — except maybe Craigslist — but from a usability standpoint, that’s a far better alternative than links that are designed to “match” the page design to the point that they are nearly undetectable. Yes, a dark gray link will match black text better than bright blue, but nobody is going to know it’s a link — especially if it’s not bold, underlined, or a different typeface.

Craig's List Screen Shot - High Readability?

There’s a lot of ground in the middle between these two options. Be sure to maximize usability first and design second.

Does It Scan?

There are hundreds of resources that will offer opinions about how long each line of text should be on your website, how large your type should be, and even whether serif or sans serif fonts are more readable. You can drive yourself mad trying to find rules to follow. Your best bet is to keep it simple.

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:

Images

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.

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.

CalltoAction

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.

Color

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?