5 Best Practices in Direct Mail Design

As a creative who understands production, direct mail designer Patrick Fultz is always trying to tweak existing formats in order to get them to work better or simply inventing new ones. He seeks to reinvent the way companies go about customer acquisition, retention and win-back campaigns by combining the power of direct mail and digital marketing output.

Who better to ask about how direct mail can get a design overhaul to help it survive the digital future, if not prosper for certain campaigns?

1. Get Recipients to Stop … and See

“You first need to stop them long enough so they can see if there’s a ‘what’s in it for me’ connection,” describes Fultz. “I see the outer of the mail piece the same as a store window … if I can’t get them to look long enough to walk in the store, they walk on by — or trash my mail piece.”

To create such a successful mail piece, Fultz uses all things available to a designer: format, windows, paper or plastic substrates, printing technique, color, illustration, photography, interactivity, headline, pURLs and gURLs, and, most importantly, offer.

The goal is to stand out, visually and conceptually. “You can’t have one without the other. You’ll stop them, but you’ll lose them if the concept doesn’t hold up and is not relevant to them,” he says.

2. Invent the Next Concept

Fultz believes too many designers get bogged down in design tricks. He reports that many Caples entries have “really cool” production techniques, but then the concepts behind the mail pieces were weak.

“I’m always looking for what I can design to make my package reach out to the person and grab their attention. I’m always looking for ‘new,’ or try to reinvent,” explains Fultz, who mentions the time he introduced Columbia House to a new envelope called a Bevelope. Made of a board material with a 3-D effect, the material allowed him to emboss the piece to look like buttons on the face of a CD player — an approach that leveraged the target audience’s affinity for music. It beat the control by more than 25 percent.

3. Get Them Involved

If getting prospects to stop is job one, job two is getting them involved with the mailing. “It could be an engaging headline that challenges their knowledge, a sticker or stamp to move to an order card, or an interesting pull-tab … almost anything that gets them involved,” illustrates Fultz, who then reminds that for such an interactive concept to work for prospects, it must be relevant to the marketer’s business, value proposition and audience.

4. Easy to Read, Easy to Find Equals Easier Response

The basics of type and layout remain very important, as Fultz admits that too many designers, copywriters and marketers pay too little attention to leveraging the full power of layout and typography. “You can lead the person around the page … If done right, you can pull a person through your offer who may not have done so had the type and layout not done its job,” he explains.

As Fultz says, “No one will work hard for your package.” You’ve got to make it look good, sure, but it also must be readable and searchable.

5. Swing for the Fences

“Marketers must be careful that their packages don’t all start to look the same. They can have different type, colors and pictures, but when all are put next to each other, they are really the same design and look,” posits Fultz, who says such an approach can prevent a marketer from finding the next big winner.

Solution? Swing for those fences, and prepare to strike out once in a while. “You learn so much from every piece you do … ‘strike-outs’ can almost teach you more,” he concludes.

by Ethan Boldt, editor-in-chief, Inside Direct Mail Weekly

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