How to design direct mail?

How to Design Direct Mail that Leaves a Lasting Impact?

With the rise of digital marketing, direct mail postcards and flyers should be ancient history, right? You couldn’t be any more wrong.

Direct mail marketing has weathered the changing tides of time and has actually flourished. According to an article published in 2017 on Forbes, direct mail marketing received a considerably higher response rate (4.2%) than email marketing (.12%). Another subsequent study reinforced these findings by concluding that 57% of customers actually felt more valued upon receiving mail on their front doors.

If you want your business to gather traction, direct mail marketing should be a cornerstone of your advertising campaign.

Still not convinced? Read on…

Benefits of Direct Mail Pieces

Direct mail pieces, due to their tangible and intimate natures, provide many benefits that digital advertisements can’t possibly.

  • They help in establishing a cordial and emotional client-business relationship.
  • They don’t break the bank. One piece costs no more than 20$.
  • Due to their tangibility, they convey a feeling of authenticity and reliability.
  • They come in different varieties, and provide a host of options, from postcards to flyers.
  • Gauging the success of a direct mail campaign is a lot easier than a digital campaign.

And what better reason to invest your time and effort in direct mail pieces than the fact that they have a history of giving profitable returns; the numbers don’t lie.

How to Design Direct Mail That Sells

Designing direct mail requires a lot of forethought, a lot of groundwork. Hastily hopping on to your seat and splattering a couple of images on your digital editor will not help your cause.

Here’s how you should approach a direct mail piece, step-by-step.

Study Your Target Audience

If you’re a dentist, hoping to increase your client base by 20%, you can’t do that by randomly mailing postcards. You need to have a clear view of the demographics of your intended audience.

In which neighborhood do they live? What kinds of offers thrill them to take action? What’s their age, their product and service histories?

This information will drive major design decisions.

Before faring any further, find a means to collect this data. You could visit your target market directly or conduct a survey.  However, I believe the best way to shed light on your target audience is by creating a mailing list.

Manually making your own list is a tedious affair and one that’s not advisable. And it’s certainly not recommended to fall prey to the fraudulent and misleading lists sold by online companies.

Putting your bets on a reliable organization, such as PsPrint, which will help you narrow down your audience according to your niche, is the best option.

Calculate the Costs

Before hopping on the high horse, make sure you have the money to support your highly implausible flight. What I mean is, finalize on a budget before treading any further.

Here is the complete set of things you need to account for.

  • Printing
  • Postage and return postage
  • Design
  • Copywriting
  • Layout

You could get in touch with your printer and inquire about his pricing quote or ask for production suggestions. Printers know a lot about direct mail associated costs.

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with your audience and production costs, you can move on to the design.

Top Tips to Tackle Direct Mail Marketing Design

Whether you’re announcing a mega-feast or spreading the word about a new franchise opening, the end game is to compel the audience to take action, not to inform.

And nothing stokes people like originality. An ingenious message, a catchy headline, a witty call-to-action, anything that isn’t boring or trite, will go a long way in making your mailings stand out.

If you’re stuck in the “designer’s block” and want some inspiration to reassert your creative fluidity, we have some proven tips and techniques to help you out.

1.     Compel Readers with Your Headline

The headline is your main attraction. Most people don’t even bother looking at the rest of the copy if the headline is unfocused and confusing.

A powerful headline introduces an offer, product or service in a bold manner. It is short but speaks volumes.

“Go further” This is Ford’s headline. From the looks of it, it seems nothing special. But delve deeper, and you will realize that it’s concise, offers what the target audience is interested in and stirs them to take immediate action. There’s no fussing about, no beating around the push.

One thing you can do is plaster the headline on the envelope so that it’s there for the taking.


How to Design Direct Mail - use compelling headlines


Design By: Miller Graphics

2.     Use Subheadings to aid in Navigation

You have to lure in the reader to the rest of the text. Subheadings are a great way to help him navigate your piece.


How to Design Direct Mail - use subheadings


3.     Use Simple Language

Speaking a language your audience isn’t fluent in is something I will not advise. Nor will any design guru.

Using Jargon doesn’t mean you’re being honest and straight-forward…you know saying “how it is”. If the reader doesn’t understand your candor, what’s the point?

Remember, there’s always an informal way of saying things. Use language that’s “in”. That’s in vogue. It will make you seem friendly, and increase your chances of bonding with your potential customers.

4.     Add an Effective Call to Action

Writing a call-to-action is like mining for gold. It requires coursing your way through a murky surface of crude questions.

  • What am I offering my subscribers?
  • Which kind of response do I want my subscribers to elicit?
  • What good will come of their swift action?
  • How will they reach out to you?

Finding a refined answer to these questions will help you write a clear and effective call-to-action for your direct mail.

One mistake designers often make in the CTA is the use of weak language.

“Visit today” is a CTA that is the bread and butter of many businesses. Yet, I believe it’s lacking, terribly lacking. Though it clearly incentivizes the reader to take action, it doesn’t tell him whether this prompt action will bring him any boons.


RELATED: How to Design a Direct Mail Postcard


“Visit today to avail a 50% discount” is a much-improved version of the same CTA. It gives the reader a good reason to act, an extra incentive.

Also, make sure that your phone number, website address, email or other contact information is included in the CTA, so the customer knows how to get in touch with you. Like this “Need an affordable home science tutor? Call us now (Phone number).


How to Design Direct Mail - use effective call to action

Design By: Clyde B.


5.     Use “Color Psychology’ to your Advantage

Everyone has a wealth of emotional reserve within them. Colors are great at tapping into that reserve and evoking feelings of joy, resentment, nostalgia, and the likes. Many scientific studies have corroborated that colors do in fact dictate moods. No wonder Van Gogh was obsessed with the blues.

Represent Your Business with the Right Colors.

Depending upon the message of your brand, the choice of color will vary.

For example, if you’re the owner of a real estate company, and want to portray a ‘family image”, warmer colors like red, orange and yellow will have a greater impact. Grey, black, and silver colors, on the other hand, will symbolize professionalism and a no messing about attitude.

Remember, Colors will only give you the power over someone’s emotions if you break bread with them. You have to get to know your target audience. It’s highly likely that grumpy old men won’t be receptive to a flashy pink on your direct mail. But you won’t know this until you know that there is indeed a grumpy old man.

Also, I would advise you to sit down and narrow down your intentions. Do you want your audience to feel anxious about a problem? Do you want to pique their interest? Once you have your intentions figured out, the choice of color will become crystal clear.


How to Design Direct Mail - use color psychology

Design By: Jeff Ahlgren


6.     Plaster your Brand Identity

Every brand has a characteristic personality, idiosyncrasies that set it apart from others ― the look and feel of its workplace, the design of its products, its logo etc. etc.

Direct mail is all about maintaining this personality. This is exactly why most major brands heavily use their logo in brochures and postcards. It makes them easily recognizable. They also use their signature fonts, images and other things that make them distinctly “them”.

Make sure your mail screams your brand identity at the top of its voice.


How to Design Direct Mail - maintain brand identity

Design By: Scott Vaux


7.     Don’t vary the tone

Keep your tone the same throughout the piece. A consistent tone contributes to a cohesive image.

The choice of tone is a sensitive matter. You can’t choose words that are weak and passive and don’t excite or interest the reader; neither can you choose rude or abrasive ones. Something in between, something appropriate, nothing over-the-top, is what you should aim for.

If you’re the owner of a cowboy ranch, use casual cowboy lingo, like “howdy partner’. It will keep you in the safe zone. The audience won’t say that you’re coming off as pretentious or rude.

8.     Stick to a few fonts

Get rid of that whim to use a truckload of fonts. It’s not a good idea. The more the fonts, the more likely they are bound to get on the nerves of the reader.

Choose not more than three different fonts, and use them in different variations ―italicized, bold, small-sized etc.

The most popular fonts out there are those are legible, like Georgia, Sans-serif and Times. Choose something for direct mail design in the same vein. Some brands also have their own signature fonts that they’ve been using for decades. If that’s the case, stick with them.


How to Design Direct Mail - stick to a few fonts

Design By: Design by Diamond


9.     Keep it Simple

Never ever overcrowd your direct mail piece. A stuffed design only serves to overwhelm and complicate things for the reader. Your mission is to make him feel relaxed and comfortable, not the other way around.

Only use images and copy that is consistent with your brand image and discard everything else.

Use empty space to your advantage. It will make your mail look spacious and inviting, rather than a messy old room of a teenager.  Remember, this space is as important as space occupied by design elements. It serves to strike a much-needed equilibrium.


How to Design Direct Mail - keep it simple

Design By: Beth Elzer


10. Don’t Compromise on Image Quality

I will advise you to invest in your own photography. Downloading low-resolution and unoriginal pictures off the internet destroys the aesthetics of your mail.

However, if you don’t have the time or financial outlays to manage a photography campaign, make sure the images you are downloading are of exceptional quality. Their resolution should be staggering. They might seem good and all on your computer screen, but might disappoint you when the final print comes out. Consult your printer before giving them the go-ahead.


How to Design Direct Mail - image quality should be good

Design By: Frank Dina Photography


11. Invest in the Right Printer

A printer that has a longstanding reputation of excellent service is highly recommended. Tell your printer to send you a sample kit, if you’re skeptical about his services. Some companies send you free samples so you can gauge the quality of their work.

Remember, an expensive printer isn’t necessarily a good printer. It’s his work that defines his excellence.

12. Choose the Right Format

The format of the direct mail piece is also a big looming question. What will your target audience be more receptive to? A flyer, a corporate brochure or a greeting postcard? Which format suits the length of your copy the most?

And no matter what format you decide on, make sure its shape and sizing are unique. You don’t want it to be lost with the rest of the mail. Make it geometrically odd or typographically unique. We will leave that up to you.

You can also pepper it with a pinch of gloss to make it seem more credible.


13. Add an air of Trust and reliance with Testimonials

The readers need a reason to trust your brand. And the best way to give them this reason is by adding testimonials to your direct mail piece. The first thing people do after receiving an email or a postcard from a business is checking its online reviews.

In order to accommodate them, you can add the testimonials in the copy, so they don’t have to look elsewhere.


How to Design Direct Mail - add testimonials

Design By: 99 Designs


14. Test the market

Before you give the green light for a full-on direct mail marketing campaign, test your piece in a smaller market.

If the initial response is lacking, pull the plug. If your campaign doesn’t make a mark in a small fraction of your audience, there’s a reason. Find it, work on it rigorously and make amends.

Companies with colossal budgets can even afford to compare different campaigns, but if you’re not one of them, that’s ok, you can just use the former strategy.

15. Place Tabs

Make sure your mail complies with the regulations of the USPS. The USPS has strict rules when it comes to sealing the envelope with tabs. And tabs can change the entire look of the direct mail, once opened.

Just try not to disfigure your message with a slew of mailer tabs. Try to find an accommodating way to integrate them into the design.


How to Design Direct Mail - place tabs

Design By: Design Shack


16. Factor in the postage fees

Your aim should be to save as much money as you can. Weight, shape and other specifications will affect the cost of postage fees. For example, a sturdier, weightier paper will require more postage.

However, I wouldn’t advise you to compromise on quality. Again, settle for something that is well within your budget to make every buck count.

17. Don’t shy away from Experimenting

I’m not forcing you to renounce your imagination for a set of rules.

You can always experiment with different designs, think outside the box, unchain your creativity, and see what masterpiece you can conjure. These pointers are only to give you a nudge in the right direction.

Most direct mail pieces have a good CTA, a great headline, a good-looking design, but they look like clones, one of the same. And therefore, don’t meet expectations.

One of the reasons why I believe taking some risks is highly important to take things to the next level. So don’t dare to dream big.


How to Design Direct Mail - experiment

Design By: Card Masters



In the end, the success of a direct mail piece depends on many factors. From accounting costs to actually designing and sending it to your target audience, the journey is tedious and full of struggle.

However, Print peppermint can automate the entire process for you, without you needing to lift a finger. We have the resources, the creative touch, and the experience. Get in touch with us today to make your mailings shine.

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