Whenever you read advice for decluttering your home, one of the first suggestions is usually something along the lines of “Open the mail over the recycling bin, and immediately toss junk mail in rather than bring it inside.”

For anyone trying to keep their counters clean, that’s solid advice. For anyone using direct mail for marketing purposes, it’s a cringeworthy suggestion. When you invest time and money developing a direct mail campaign, the last thing you want is for your mailers to be tossed out without a second glance. It’s enough to make you rethink your entire strategy. 

Although digital marketing has surged to the forefront for many marketers, direct mail still has a place, and can still be effective. The trick is to capture your audience’s attention, and do it quickly.  This means you can’t send the same old letters and postcards. You have to think outside the envelope, so to speak, and be creative to attract attention. 

How do you do that? Try one of these clever ideas. 

Use What You Know

You’ve spent years learning about your target market. You’ve done demographic research, developed buyer’s journeys, paid close attention to your website analytics. Put all of that hard work and information to use to develop personalized, targeted mailpieces that get attention. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say “I’m going to contact a mailing service near me for a list of prospects,” as reaching out to potential customers is always valuable. But to get the most bang for your buck, tap into your existing customer and knowledge bases for a more targeted, and effective, approach.

Make People Want to Open the Mail

A simple postcard or flyer isn’t always going to spur a second look. However, something unusual or unexpected can make people want to open the mailpiece. One oft-cited rule of direct mail is to send a “lumpy” mail piece. What you put inside to make the piece thicker and oddly shaped is up to you (product samples are always a good idea), but marketers who have used this approach say they have much higher than average open rates. If lumpy isn’t your style, try sending a mailpiece with a stamp, and use a font that looks like handwriting, to make the piece appear more personal than something preprinted with metered postage. These pieces may cost more to mail, but when they are well- targeted, you’ll get a better return on your investment. 

Be Creative with Visuals 

All too often, direct mail pieces fail to grab attention because they use what’s known as “see and say” visuals. A plumber sends a postcard with a picture of someone fixing a toilet, for instance, or a lawn care service uses a photo of someone mowing the lawn. Even when they are high-quality, these photos are too literal to be interesting, and don’t really tell your customer anything. 

Instead, be creative, and involve the audience in figuring out the connection between your visual and the caption. It might be something funny, thought-provoking, or even a “you could be here,” type of message. The point is to use engaging photos and graphics, and tell a story with them. Otherwise, you risk the recipient looking at it and thinking “Another lawn service,” and just tossing it. 

Use Design Best Practices

Cramming as much information into your mailpiece as possible isn’t going to get attention and results. In fact, a busy, chaotic mailer with multiple fonts, a busy background, words over images, and a layout that forces people to search for information is almost undoubtedly a one-way ticket to the recycling bin. 

When designing your mailpiece, know exactly what information you want to convey, and keep it focused. Have a purpose for the mailer. Want people to make an appointment for a consultation? Order food from your restaurant? Get their oil changed at your garage? That’s the focus of the piece. Don’t worry about catering and brake service and telling them every service you have right now. Focus on the compelling offer, and make it easy to find.

In more specific terms, this means:

  • Using high quality images.
  • Using a simple background that doesn’t compete with text.
  • Using two fonts, maximum (preferably one serif, one sans serif).
  • Incorporating white space.
  • Not placing text over images.

Include a Call to Action

Finally, the most important part of any marketing piece — direct mail or otherwise — is the call to action. What do you want people to do because they received this mailer? How should they respond. Make it clear, whether you want them to buy, donate, schedule an appointment, visit a website, whatever. You need to tell people what to do. 

Direct mail doesn’t have to be a waste of time and money, and can be a vital part of your marketing efforts — but only if you do it right. Follow these tips, and it won’t be your mailpieces filling up the recycling bins

By Eddy

Eddy is the editorial columnist in Business Fundas, and oversees partner relationships. He posts articles of partners on various topics related to strategy, marketing, supply chain, technology management, social media, e-business, finance, economics and operations management. The articles posted are copyrighted under a Creative Commons unported license 4.0. To contact him, please direct your emails to [email protected].