5 Key Direct Mail Design Strategies and Elements

After your list, your direct mail design strategy is critical. Your images, layout, fonts and colors all contribute to whether your mail piece will be read or thrown away. Obviously we want our mail pieces read and acted upon, so how do we best design our direct mail pieces to accomplish that?

After your list, your direct mail design strategy is critical. Your images, layout, fonts and colors all contribute to whether your mail piece will be read or thrown away. Obviously we want our mail pieces read and acted upon, so how do we best design our direct mail pieces to accomplish that?

5 Key Design Elements

  1. Images — These are extremely important. Images that are emotionally compelling work really well. Facial images stand out and our eyes are naturally drawn to them, so use faces if possible. You can also use images that are iconic and easily recognizable; our eyes and attentions are drawn to familiar images. You need to make sure that you are using images that are consistent with your brand and your message.
  2. Fonts — These are commonly overlooked in direct mail marketing. Not all fonts are the same. When you use interesting or unique fonts, you draw people in. Be careful about using too many different fonts. Your mail piece can look cluttered with too many fonts. The same goes for font sizes, try not to use more than three sizes throughout your mail piece.
  3. Layout — The layout of your mail piece is crucial to response rates. You need to make sure you include white space so that the layout is not cluttered and overwhelming. Images and concise copy need to flow together in sync with each other. Depending on the type of mail piece you may need more than one image, so make sure they work together and do not clash. Do not place wording over the top of images, it will be ignored.
  4. Copy — Keep in mind that people find it easier to read copy that starts on the outer left edge and reads into the center. They pay less attention to copy that starts in the center and reads to the right edge. Make sure you are concise and use common language without acronyms. You want to make it easy to understand quickly.
  5. Color — Colors evoke emotional responses on a subconscious level. Choosing the right colors on your mail piece can make a difference. If you are not sure what colors are right for you, there are many color guides online you can check out.

All five of these elements must work together to create an irresistible mail piece. Your message and call to action are also important so make sure you plan those out thoroughly, too. Your design is there to stand out in the mail box and compel your prospects and customers to read your message and respond. Once you have a design in place, it is a good idea to show it to a few customers to get feedback before your roll it out. You want to make sure that it is compelling to them. If not, you will need to fix areas that they identify as issues.

Direct mail design can seem daunting, but if you take it a step at a time, you will have a well-designed piece before you know it. Keep in mind when you are choosing your mail piece format that you need to allow enough room for your images and messaging. This may mean that a small postcard is not going to work. The last thing to remember before you print is to make sure you are meeting postal requirements. You do not want to have to pay extra postage because your design did not meet regulations. If you are not sure, send a PDF file to your mail service provider to review. They can let you know of any issues before you print. Are you ready to get started?

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?

Direct Mail for 2017 

How did 2017 come upon us so quickly? Time is flying so we need to get started on planning direct mail campaigns for 2017. I really do mean planning, too. It takes time to plan out an effective direct mail campaign. Before we start though, let’s look at what we will not do in 2017.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-2-35-33-pmHow did 2017 come upon us so quickly? Time is flying, so we need to get started on planning direct mail campaigns for 2017. I really do mean planning, too. It takes time to plan an effective direct mail campaign. Before we start, let’s look at what we will not do in 2017.

Don’t:

  • Overcrowd: Using too many images or too much copy is overwhelming.
  • Be Generic: You need to target your offers — they should never be generic. Specific offers get responses.
  • Rush: Just because you can push to get your mail out fast does not mean you should. Thorough effort in strategic planning is essential for sending quality mail.
  • Send alone: Your direct mail campaign should be tied to other channels, in order to amplify your reach and increase response.
  • Send once: Direct mail works best when you reach out to people several times — particularly if they are prospects and unfamiliar with you.

So now that we know what we won’t do, let’s take a look at what direct mail should entail in 2017. Technology will be the key to improvement. There are now so many ways to integrate direct mail with mobile and online content. Integration increases engagement, and new varieties of integration surface all the time. The pace of change in marketing right now is staggering.

Focus on direct mail’s strengths: it is targeted, tactile, scheduled and trustworthy. Take full advantage of these characteristics by applying tailored lists, textures, smells, inks and tracking. Make your drab direct mail fab. Customers and prospects will notice and appreciate your creativity.

Here are some ideas for fun direct mail:

  1. Textured or coated paper: Make your message pop with textures and coatings that will alert your targets via fingertip. This is relatively inexpensive and will boost response.
  2. Dimensional: Dimensional mail is any mail that is not flat — boxes, tubes or any other 3-D shape pops in the mail. Note that postage on dimensional mail is more expensive.
  3. Endless folds: Create fun and entertaining mail by sending a folded piece. These go beyond visual stimulation by requiring recipients to touch and manipulate the piece.
  4. Video: These mailers have an audiovisual player that is embedded within them. The video content is played after opening the mailer or pushing a button.
  5. Scavenger hunt: Launched with a direct mail piece, you can send your customers on a fun adventure.
  6. 3-D: Create a mailer with 3-D images, send some 3-D glasses along with it and let the fun begin.
  7. Ink: Try using some of the new, reactive inks that change color with temperature, and more.

These are just some of the creative ways direct mail can be used. Get your customers excited about your direct mail. There are so many new and fun options you can be taking advantage of. Not everyone has a big enough budget to take advantage of the more expensive options, but there are plenty of ways to spice up your direct mail while staying within your budget.

Let 2017 be the year you create better direct mail, and have fun doing it!

3 Easy Takeaways From the Worst Direct Mail Ever

You can learn quite a bit by studying the best examples of direct mail. But can you learn something from studying the worst direct mail?

I always advise customers who use Who’s Mailing What! to check out controls, especially the Grand Controls (those in the mail for three years or more). They represent the best techniques, formats, creative and copywriting.

But every once in a while, I think about the worst mail I’ve ever seen.

You can learn quite a bit by studying the best examples of direct mail. But can you learn something from studying the worst direct mail?

This is a question that’s been running through my head lately.

I always advise customers who use Who’s Mailing What! to check out controls, especially the Grand Controls (those in the mail for three years or more). They represent the best techniques, formats, creative and copywriting.

But every once in a while, I think about the worst mail I’ve ever seen. And, I don’t mean mail that just never gets opened.

I’m not talking about bad Photoshop work, or self-mailers that tear because of too much glue, or misdirected mail you get from poor list work. I’m not even talking about charity scams, which never seem to go away.

I am talking about mail that gets something really, really wrong. Here are a few examples, and what can be learned from them.

1. Be More Subtle
Behold, my personal choice as the second worst mailing ever.

NHBC_01This “biz opp” brochure for something called the “Fast Cash CD-ROM System” really made my eyes hurt after about 30 seconds of reading it.

What a mess, right?

Lots and lots of underlining, stacks of money, all caps, full dollar amounts, the magic word “FREE” … it’s 16 pages of everything and the kitchen sink when it comes to direct mail graphic elements.

I’ve never run across anything as extreme as this mailer, but then, what could possibly top it? Designers, take it easy. If everything is important, then nothing is.

2. Hire A Good Copywriter
Or at least someone who can proofread well.

AmApp1This is a letter that was mailed by the defunct retail chain American Appliance, and is a perfect example of bad grammar, among many other sins.

I once wrote that this was the worst letter I ever read, and I stand by that assessment.