Direct Mail Formats For Maximum Impact

Over the years I’ve learned how well a direct mail program performs depends on the chemistry of three elements-format, offer, and list-and whether or not you have designed the program with enough frequency and follow-up triggers built in.

In this article, I am going to focus on format.

Specifically, when it is best to send a postcard or a letter format, and when you should use a more unique delivery method, such as US Priority Mail or FedEx. Below are some key tips for each format to help you create a successful direct mail campaign:

Postcards. This relatively inexpensive direct mail format is best used when your program goals are to a) build brand awareness, b) extend a transactional offer (i.e. discount, free gift), or c) drive prospects to your web site for further qualification (to download an article, etc.). Due to very specific postal guidelines, space is limited so your creative and copy must be compelling and brief. Postage rates can be as low as .23/unit, so it is wisest to choose postcards when targeting a larger, less qualified prospect pool.

Standard postcard dimensions are as follows: 4.25″ x 6″, 6″ x 8.5″, and 6″ x 11″. When planning your mailing, keep in mind that 4.25″ x 6″ is the largest size that still falls within first class postcard postage rates, and all other sizes will be charged at higher postal rates.

#10-sized Letters. Letter mailers are best suited to marketing a) more complicated offers, b) long-term commitments (subscriptions, memberships), c) personal products, and d) upscale products or audiences. In fact they should be mostly used when qualification has already occurred and only carefully used on cold lists (for example, they have already attended a seminar or webinar of yours, downloaded something from your website, etc.). To improve your open rates, write out addresses by hand. While more time-consuming to complete, hand written addresses create a more personal connection with your contact and pull a nearly 100% open rate.

Once opened, your letter has 2 to 4 seconds to grab the recipient’s attention. So tell them why you are contacting them and how you can help them in the first few sentences of your letter-you won’t get another opportunity. Remember, most people are slow readers, so once you have captured their interest break your copy up into small, easy-to-digest paragraphs and use 12 point type or larger. Never end a page with a period, unless you want your reader to stop reading at that point. Finally, always include some value-added content with your letter (i.e. case studies, articles, etc.).

US Priority Mail or FedEx Packages. These campaigns can be very effective, but like the #10-sized letter, only when you have already built awareness with the recipient through prior marketing programs. Remember opting to send direct mail pieces with US Priority Mail or FedEx (or a similar service) ensures a higher open rate, but can cost upwards of 3 to 4 dollars per unit. Make sure it is worth the cost by targeting only your most qualified prospects for these types of mailings. Then create a compelling enclosure-one that clearly matches your offer to your audience and your key marketing objective.

Note that you don’t have to send a free gift or odd-sized enclosure to justify this expense. Many companies will simply send their brochure and a handwritten note via FedEx to ensure their hottest prospects sit up and take notice just one more time.

Direct mail will always be one of the most compelling ways to prospect, and when done strategically, pulls high open rates and generates excellent leads.