Direct Mail Strategies: Design and Process Guidelines

Despite the tremendous technological trends of the last two decades, sending direct mail is still an effective way to solicit customers. The tangibility of a well-designed direct mail piece can elicit a response no email or banner ad can.

A recent study indicated that 73% of U.S. consumers said they prefer direct mail for brand communications because they can read the information at their convenience (Epsilon’s 2012 Channel Preference Study). What’s more, U.S. advertisers spent $167 per person on direct mail campaigns, and earned back $2,095 in goods sold. That’s a potential 1,300% ROI (Print Drives Commerce 2013). (Of course, we’re getting these numbers from big players in the print industry, so take them with a grain of salt).

Direct Mail Photo

The statistics may be slightly over the top, but they don’t lie: a successful direct mail campaign can be an integral part of a company’s sales and marketing strategy. Succeeding with direct mail can be made much easier by following a few simple design and process guidelines.

Avoiding Pitfalls: Design Problem Areas

When designing direct mail pieces, pay special attention to three potential problem areas:

Layout: A piece’s print-ready PDF may not help a printer understand how to fold/bind it. If your piece has an unusual layout, create a sample PDF that outlines how the piece unfolds, fold-by-fold and page-by-page. You can also make a sample at Kinko’s or a small print shop and send it to the print house.

Color: Remember: the color that appears on a computer screen will not be what shows up on the printed mailer. To avoid coloration errors, ask your print house what color mode you should use (e.g., RGB, CMYK, PMS) before sending them final artwork. Re-confirming the color mode for each piece takes very little effort, and can save precious time and energy.

Image Resolution: Images that are high enough resolution for the Internet are not high enough resolution for print. This applies to everything from purchased stock images to logos. To avoid blurry or pixelated images, use high-resolution file types (e.g., PNG, vector) and confirm that photos are at least 300 dpi.

There and Back Again: The Process of Getting Responses

There are several guidelines you can use to optimize your piece’s impact and soliciting a high number of responses:

Business Reply Card (BRC): Make it simple for recipients to respond to your advertisement by including a postage-paid BRC that can be easily returned to you or your client. The BRC should have a prominent call to action, and include the recipient’s information, like name, location, company name, etc.

Print/Mail House: More than anything else, your print/mail house will make or break your project. An ideal partner will not only get the job done, but can also answer any questions about paper stock, colors, and layout, as well as how to save on postage.

Scheduling: Before finalizing your direct mail piece, find out how long it will take your print/mail house to print and mail it once they have final artwork. This will help you optimize the send date and set realistic deadlines for final artwork, having a mail list, and so on.

Proofing: Carefully check for consistency, correctness, color, copy, and contrast – and ask others to do the same. A pixelated logo, spelling error, or coloration mistake can affect a reader’s split-second decision to read or throw away a piece of mail.

Contact Information: Test all contact information on the piece: visit URLs, contact email addresses, call phone numbers, etc. Even if you’re certain it’s correct, check again; companies can (and have!) updated or altered this information at a moment’s notice without telling their marketing team.

Seed List: Every time you send a direct mail piece, your client and your company should receive multiple “seeds” of the piece. Seeds will let you see how quickly and in what state your pieces arrive in the mail. They should be sent to people at offices and to home addresses. Seeds should be “planted” in the mail list along with the other recipients, and be formatted identically to the others.

What steps do you take to ensure your direct mail piece’s success? Let us know in the comments.

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