April 19, 2019 ABCOtoGO staff

Effective Direct Mail Graphics

Designing postcards that get attention

Mail — yes, real physical mail — is something nearly everyone gets, but not all mail is created equal. We’ve all received mail that looks like it was designed in Microsoft Paint sometime during the 90’s. If you’re sending mail today, you can’t afford to be that kind of company. Consumer expectations around design are far greater today, and how you market is a reflection of that. While some mail may be personal in nature, many companies use mail as a marketing channel to either acquire new customers or reengage customers they already have in hopes of driving more revenue. When executed properly, mail can result in ROI that far exceeds email. This is especially true for companies that have customers with high lifetime value (LTV).

Postcard marketing refers to direct mail that uses postcards as the mailer format. Postcards have a front and back design, and unlike stuffed mail you have to open, the mailer’s message is immediately present. In this guide we’ll cover strategy and design principles behind simple, yet effective, postcard marketing designs that convert.

Postcard usecases

There’s really an endless number of ways you can use postcards, but here are some of our favorites:

  • Promoting a sale to existing customers.
  • Acquiring customers in new markets when launching a local product/service.
  • Sending thank you notes or holiday cards to customers.
  • Advocating a cause.
  • Realtors promoting properties sold nearby.
  • Inviting prior attendees to a new upcoming event.

Design strategy

Creating an effective mailer that drives results is more than just creating something that looks nice. It needs to be relevant to the recipient, have easy to understand copy, and show a clear call to action. These are some general strategy questions you should start with each time:

What size should we use?
The postcard size will matter when it comes to making your mailer stand out from other mail in a mailbox. Odd sizes and typically ones that are bigger will stand out more than others. This can be helpful for recipients who might not know about your brand. However, the larger the postcard, the more expensive it is. For the right campaign, this can make the difference as you have more space to work with.

Should we personalize the content?
If you have relevant data to personalize a mailer, you should. For new potential customers, the ability to personalize depends on whether it’s a targeted campaign (specific recipients are known) or an area mail (covers a whole region with no specific recipients) campaign. For existing customers, consider data from your CRM.

Do we have a relationship with the recipient?
If a recipient knows your brand, you have more flexibility in the messaging. With existing customers, you can do this, but for new potential customers, you should assume they’ve never heard of you. This is why it’s important to say what you do in simple, short, jargon-free phrasing.

What are we offering to drive immediate action?
There needs to be something compelling for the recipient to take immediate action. This could be anything from money off the purchase price of your product to a trial offer for your service. Ideally, the offer is time-boxed so there’s urgency to act sooner rather than later.

What’s my call to action and how will I track the results?
A clear call to action is essential for two reasons: 1) it tells the customer what to do 2) it lets you track the results of a campaign. There should only be a single call to action. Some examples include “Get $10 off when you use this code” or “Go to this page to signup.”

Designing for conversion

The postcards that convert the most don’t just look great, but also feature a variety of elements to effectively communicate their message and drive action to some measurable goal.

Keep it simple

Less is more when it comes to postcard design. Rather than cram in loads of images and text, keep things simple. This may seem counterintuitive, but the more you include, the more a recipient has to process. The goal is to drive action. Get your recipient’s attention, deliver the most important information, and then make it easy for them to complete your desired action.

Craft a great headline

The headline is the hook. It’s what makes the recipient stop to think or do a double take. Great headlines should be clear, concise, and compelling. It should be the largest text on the postcard’s front side.

Use high-quality imagery

Great imagery supports your message, helps your postcard stand out, and can even elicit a positive emotional response. The images you choose merit careful consideration. Avoid overly stock-looking photos and ensure the photos are high enough resolution for print (300 dpi). The quality you see on your screen may not be reflective of the actual print quality.

Check out resources like Unsplash, Stocksy, and Pixabay to find high quality, print-friendly imagery. Try to make sure your image does one thing well, rather than trying to capture every aspect of your copy.

Personalize with data

Personalization drives results. It makes the experience feel relevant to the recipient and that the postcard was designed for them, rather than the lowest common denominator. You should use available recipient data to personalize their postcard. This could be things like their first name, a recent product they purchased, a custom url or promo code, or their company name.

Tip: You’ll need to find a printer or special software to do this. Mailjoy makes this as easy as using merge tags like {{firstname}} for any of your recipients.

Promote a compelling offer

Compelling offers drive action. While having an offer isn’t always required, it can help drive urgency to your call-to-action. For example, consider infomercials who drive immediate action by showcasing a “great” offer that’s only available for a limited time.

Have a single, clear call to action

You should only include a single call-to-action that’s easy to complete. Sure, you may want the recipient to visit your website, follow you on Facebook, and make a purchase, but the goal of your postcard is to drive some sort of response. Pick the one that aligns most with your desired campaign goals, then make it stand out.

Track and attribute the results

Regardless of your call-to-action, it should be trackable so you can attribute the results to your campaign. Here are some examples of how to track:

Measuring website views
How to track: Send recipients to a landing page with a unique URL that’s created just for the direct mail campaign. In an analytics tool like Google Analytics you’ll be able to see how much traffic came from the campaign.

Measuring signups
How to track: Offer a unique invite or promotional code that needs to be used at signup. You can then attribute all signups to the campaign.

Measuring purchases
How to track: Offer a unique discount code that needs to be used at checkout. You can then attribute all purchases to the campaign.

Measuring phone calls
How to track: Use a call forwarding number system that lets you create unique phone numbers for marketing campaigns. You can then attribute all calls to that number to the campaign.

A picture is worth a thousand words, an effective postcard design is worth a thousand prospects.

The design of your postcard is almost as important in eliciting a response as getting a good list – it runs a very close second. Much as in deciding on a list, there are definite rules you should follow when designing a postcard.

Based on what I said earlier about the quantity of mail determining your income, you could literally slap together a postcard on your own printer, send it out consistently, and still make money. However, there is more to direct mail marketing than the bare minimum, and eventually low quality will start to affect your campaign. Since you are reading this book, I take it that you want to know how you can utilize direct mail to really grow your company. And that requires far from the bare minimum.

Do you want your direct mail postcard to end up in the trash with the rest of the unread mail? Studies show an effective direct mail campaign should generally draw a .5 to 1 percent response – but this depends on the industry. The percentage could be more.

These are the 18 elements your design absolutely must have to maximize your return:

  1. A clear, bold headline.
    On the postcard there should be one central message. The best way to achieve that is with a bold, clear headline that isn’t cluttered up with other text. The headline should allow the recipient to immediately know what you’re selling.
  2. A graphic that supports the message.
    The graphic should be easy to understand and add to the message the headline is conveying. For instance, if you are trying to get people to list their home, you would want to show a home with a SOLD sign clearly visible out front. That graphic reinforces the message more than a plain picture of a home.
  3. Color that pops.
    Make the headline and other text stick out by using a color that stands out from the background color. When you look at the card, ask yourself, “What do I see first?” If it isn’t the headline, you might want to tweak the colors.
  4. Subheads that lead into text.
    If you have a couple paragraphs of text with no lead in on the back of your postcard, there’s nothing to entice people to read the copy. A subhead will give prospects a place to start reading. If you have only a hundred words or so, you may be able to get away with it, but if the text gets any longer the average reader will need some guideposts along the way.
  5. Benefits, benefits, benefits.
    One of the biggest errors people make in advertising is stating features, rather than benefits. For example, never assume recipients know what benefit can be derived from a lower interest rate on their mortgage. Instead, let them know their monthly payments will go down.
  6. The offer.
    An offer is always a good idea and should represent a specific reason to call NOW, such as “Limited supply” or “Interest rates are climbing,” or “Save $50 before the end of the month.”
  7. Your company name and logo.
    Although this needs to be on the mailer, it shouldn’t overshadow the offer. Customers care most about what you can do for them – not who you are or how great you say you are.
  8. Call to action.
    Tell prospects exactly what you want them to do. “Call today for more information” or “See us online” are two of the most common desired actions.
  9. Contact information.
    Provide your name, phone number, and web address directly following the call to action. Whatever you ask prospects to do, give them the means to do it – right away.
  10. Return address.
    A return address ensures you’ll get returned mail from the post office and communicates you’re an established professional. People feel better knowing the company they’re dealing with has an actual location.
  11.  Use personalization
    Personalization is one of the most powerful tools in direct mail. Each of your direct mail pieces can be personalized to appeal to the preferences of the recipient. Examples of personalization include letters that include the recipient’s first name in the salutation; or a not-for-profit referencing how much a donor has given in the past and encourage them to increase their donation amount by a specified percentage. Personalization can be in the form of text and even images. It can be as specific as sending a postcard with the exact make, model or color of a car that was recently test driven by the recipient at a car dealership. The variety of personalization depends upon the amount of relevant data you have. The more data you have on your recipient’s preferences, the more you can customize each direct mail piece and connect on a more emotional level.
  12. Use an eye-catching design
    The quality of the graphic design on your direct mail piece is crucial to the effectiveness of your campaign. When someone is sifting through their mail, you want to make sure that your piece stands out with clear messaging, good branding and intelligent design. If it’s not a postcard, the design and messaging on the outer envelope or box of your direct mail piece is even more important than what’s inside! After all, the recipient needs to open the envelope before they can learn more about your message.
  13. Include a call to action
    A call to action, or CTA, is a line of text that prompts your reader to take an action. It’s crucial to include a call to action in your direct mail piece to guide your readers to the next part of your sales process. Examples of calls to action that you can include are, “Hurry, Call Now!”, “Mail Your Donation Today”, “Schedule an Appointment”, “Scan this QR Code” or “Visit Our Website to…”. Make your call to action short, easy to understand and one of the most prominent pieces of text on your direct mail piece. There should also be a level of urgency to respond. Deadlines, limited time, limited quantities or gifts help facilitate response.
  14. Plan with postage regulations in mind
    Postage can be the largest expense in a direct mail campaign. By keeping postage regulations and specifications in mind while you are designing and planning your direct mail piece, you can likely save a considerable amount of money in postage fees.
  15. Here are some money saving tips:
    • If you are sending flat, single sheet pieces, 6”x4.25” postcards or smaller can take advantage of postcard postage rates which are less than a standard first class stamp. There are minimum size and aspect ratio parameters to follow or you will incur an additional surcharge or risk your postcard being rejected or returned.
    • If you are looking to send mail near your business, you can take advantage of the USPS’s Every Door Direct Mail program. This allows you to choose a geographic area within 5 miles of your business and send a piece of mail to every household, or every household and business, in the area at a highly discounted rate.
    • Consider the speed of your mailing. If you allow ample time for mailing your campaign, you can use bulk-rate (also called standard class) postage, which is cheaper but slower to arrive to your recipients. Standard class is another way to save money on postage if your mailing is not time sensitive since the range in delivery time can be extreme.
  16. Test and refine
    Every direct mail campaign should include some level of testing to help improve your results. Testing with a minimum of 1,000 pieces makes the most sense. This testing allows you to find out what is working best and what is not so you can continually work to improve your direct mail results. Variables that can be tested include outer envelope design or messaging, your promotion, your call to action, or items as small as color or small design changes. Testing two slightly different campaigns at the same time, to different but similar audiences will reveal which campaign is better. The “winning” campaign will now become your “control” for larger mailings as you continue to test new direct mail campaigns that can “beat” your control.
  17. Amplify your direct mail campaign with other marketing channels
    Direct mail is only one marketing channel that you can use to deliver your promotion and message. Use your direct mail creative and apply it to other related marketing initiatives such as in-store promotions, email marketing, social media marketing or traditional advertising. Different consumers respond to different channels and it’s always better to communicate your message and promotion through as many channels as possible.
  18. Get started with your direct mail campaign
    Are you interested in learning more about how a direct mail campaign can be integrated into your marketing? We’d love to help. Contact Trillion at 727.376.7200 or fill out our contact form.

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