The Newest Trends for Your Direct Mail Aren’t That New

By Mike Dietz / Executive Creative Director / IWCO Direct
From MAIL Magazine’s 2018 CEO Perspectives Issue

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is “What more can I do to get my mail noticed?” A lot of times, my answers are the same: add a card to create more weight, change the paper stock for a more luxurious feel, use windows to tease a message or card, and play with color to grab the eye. You could even kick-up the look of an outer envelope by adding labels, unusual die-cuts or window shapes, or using textured paper. These will undoubtedly get your mail noticed, but for a heftier price tag. However, you don’t always need to be producing costly mailpieces to get noticed in the mailbox.

What’s New Is Not Always What’s Effective

It’s like when my kid wants something brand name. Sure, you know that it’ll be a quality product, but if a generic brand works just as well, why spend the extra money? The truth is, direct mail does not need to be flashy to be effective. For the most part, the success of direct mail depends more on fundamentals and best practices than it does on trends.

In fact, one of its strengths is how long it’s been around and how precisely the tone of a message can be communicated with just an envelope.

Think of the last bank statement or financial document you received; you knew what it was just by looking at it, didn’t you? The same goes for coupons or deals from your favorite store, promotional items, and bills. Our brains have become accustomed to associate certain design elements with specific messages.

Drawing from these established preconceptions can be a major advantage for savvy marketers who are able to match the message tone and offer to a certain style of envelope.

Always Follow Direct Mail Best Practices

It’s crucial to get your piece noticed in the mailbox, but that doesn’t produce results unless the content inside is as intriguing and eye-catching as the outside. Again, following best practices is essential. There are hundreds of ways you can make your mailpiece stand out, but none of that matters if best practices aren’t followed and the recipient becomes confused or loses interest.

Here are a few “must-do’s” when it comes to your mailpiece:

+ Use color and graphics to draw the eye to the offer, key benefits, and call to action.

+ Don’t crowd the page with images or text; make sure there’s enough white space so the recipient isn’t overwhelmed.

+ Pick two or three colors—any more than that becomes a Jackson Pollock painting.

+ Use subheads, bullets, or other interrupters to break up the copy into manageable, bite-sized pieces that are easily skimmed.

+ Create multiple points-of-entry and restate important information to ensure that no matter where the recipient’s eye lands or what kind of material they are drawn to (graphics, short bullet points, text, etc.), they will still receive the most important information.

+ Make the offer and call to action large and place them in multiple locations so the message is reinforced and can’t be missed.

+ Consider including takeaway pieces (cards, inserts, etc.) to prolong the life of the offer.

Utilize Data And Technology For More Relevant Mail

As much as I believe in direct mail best practices being first and foremost when designing a mailpiece, there is one trend that I highly recommend all marketers support: personalization.

Many marketers are shifting from conventional to digital production because it offers more highly personalized messaging that allows them to address their prospects in a more focused way. This relevant messaging drives higher response than less targeted mailings.

Digital printing has blown the door wide open on a marketer’s ability to craft more highly targeted, relevant messaging. It has been steadily growing and is sure to continue gaining popularity. The more personalized your mail is, the better your chances of gaining a response.

That’s in part because audiences are becoming accustomed to being addressed on an individual level through online marketing, but also because it helps the recipient see more clearly why they need the offered product or service.

Include a personalized offer, the recipient’s name, location, or a call to action with PURLs or maps with directions to a store closest to them to gain your recipient’s attention and make them feel like the offer was crafted exclusively for them.

While utilizing data to create more targeted messaging through personalization and segmentation is a trend I can get behind, it’s important to find the right balance between personalized and “creepy.”

Too much personalization can turn into a Big Brother situation where the recipient feels like their privacy has been violated. Another pitfall I see in personalization is overuse. Remember, more does not always mean better. I’ve seen mailpieces that practically listed my name every other sentence.

It did not feel like I was special or receiving an exclusive message; it felt forced and gimmicky. In general, be thoughtful in your approach and use your data to paint broad (but relevant) strokes in the messaging instead of listing specific details.

Direct Mail Should Be Effective, Not Trendy

Innovation and analysis will always play a key role in how marketers design and present their offers—it’s the only way to keep finding better ways to gain audience share and improve Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI).

However, it’s crucial to the success of any program that the fundamentals not be ignored and best practices are employed in order to create the most effective mailpiece possible. With all the new technology and big, splashy design trends sported in other media channels, it’s important to remember that direct mail isn’t a vehicle to be reserved for showing something new and trendy, but rather a constant performer for showing things that are important, relevant, and proven.

That’s what will get you noticed in the mailbox.