How to Choose a Direct Mail Format for Maximum Impact
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One of the biggest decisions you’ll make when creating a direct mail piece is the format. But with such a wide range of options out there, how do you know which will work best for your campaign? Here are the key things to keep in mind.
Key Considerations When Choosing a Direct Mail Format
When it comes to choosing a format, cost is almost always a factor. While your campaign budget won’t necessarily dictate a specific format, it generally provides a starting place to help narrow down your options. Does the budget only allow for a postcard? Or can you afford a dimensional mailer with a promotional item inside? Or maybe something in between?
Everything about your marketing communicates something about your brand. It’s not just the words and images you use. The format of your piece makes a statement, too. If you’re selling luxury cars, for example, a basic postcard format may not do enough to support the high-end personality of your brand. Certain brands promise a certain experience for their customers, and this extends to direct mail formats as well as everything else.
The amount of content you need to communicate also helps determine the best direct mail format to use. When you’ve got a lot of information or complex details to convey, a letter will give you a lot more real estate to work with. If your content is less text-heavy and more visual, a postcard or self-mailer makes a better choice. And besides the amount of content, the type of content matters as well. Is it more formal or business-like? Or is it more emotional or promotional? For professional or formal communications, a letter does the trick, but to capture emotion, a self-mailer would likely work better.
Finally (and perhaps most importantly), it all comes down to your goals. What do you want the direct mail communication to do—generate leads? Share important account information? Show off a new product? Create a sense of urgency for a new service? Knowing what your ultimate goal is will help determine all the steps along the way—including the best format for delivering the results you hope to achieve.
With all that in mind, here’s a look at the various formats and what they’re best used for.
Direct Mail Formats
Letter packages are the best choice for privacy when communicating sensitive information (medical, financial, etc.). The contents cannot be seen from the outside and the envelope seal is unlikely to come open in the mail.
Letter packages also work the best for communicating a lot of information or complex details. They offer the flexibility to include inserts for added interest or to call out specific information. They’re also the best option when a lot of legal disclosure is required, which can be included on the back of the letter to leave more space for your message on the front.
Letters can have a formal tone and be mailed in a plain white envelope with only your logo on the front. If your audience already knows you, this may entice them to open it without question. If you’re looking for something splashier, there are many ways to be creative with outer envelopes to encourage open rates. However, customizing outer envelopes can be the biggest cost of a letter package. If your mail quantity is small and you want to keep costs down, consider using a standard, pre-converted envelope.
Self-mailers provide the potential for high creativity and tactile interaction (folds, seals, die-cuts, etc.). They work best when there is more design and less copy. Retailers often use this format since the focus is on the product image or promotion. The space (exterior and interior) can be used for bold, eye-catching visuals, graphics, and/or coupons with minimal text. There’s a huge range of self-mailer options out there—from simple bifold pieces to complex, multi-fold pieces. This is one area where budget can heavily influence your choice of format.
Basic postcards are typically the least expensive option. Since they don’t have as much design real estate, they’re best for communicating a simple message. There’s no security or privacy since a postcard can be read by anyone. Postcards work well for retailers (who actually want anyone and everyone to see their message), service providers (appointment reminders, etc.), and as a follow-up reminder to a previous communication. The smaller the size, the less expensive the postcard, however, like all formats, fancy papers, unique coatings, and oversized pieces can quickly add cost.
Boxes, Bags, Containers, Unusual Shapes, and Promotional Items:
These types of direct mail packages make a big impact and really stand out. They’re also the most expensive. Not only because of the materials, but also the increased postage cost.
Often, these kinds of mailers are used for audiences of very high-end products or services who expect something unique or special. The ROI is very important in these situations to justify the cost. As far as format goes, the only limit is your imagination.
To explore the possibilities, direct mail printing companies are a great resource. Many specialize in designing unique formats. Plus, they are experts in postal regulations and how best to get pieces delivered effectively.
Other Tips for Choosing a Direct Mail Format:
- When response rates dip or marketing fatigue has set in, it may be a good time to try a different format.
- Based on industry stats, letter packages consistently beat other formats for open rates.
- Any format can be inexpensive or expensive depending on how it is executed. Package weight, paper stock, color/ink coverage, special coatings, die-cuts, stickers, tip-ins, and other tactile elements all add cost. A fancy postcard could cost more than a very basic letter package.
- ROI versus budget. ROI should be a bigger factor when considering format if other factors are equal (both formats are appropriate for the message and audience). However, to maximize ROI, you should test different formats and creative elements to establish baselines. Other key factors in maximizing ROI are the mailing list, the offer, and the creative execution. In terms of ROI, the direct mail format can only do so much without a good list and a good offer.
- To save on printing costs, consider designing the size of your piece to be more efficient on press.
- You can make your direct mail stand out more by leveraging the cool new print formats and technologies. To learn what’s available, talk to your agency or your printer. They may have creative ideas and ways of stretching your budget that you hadn’t considered.
With so many options (and often many thousands of dollars at stake), deciding on a direct mail format can be a little intimidating. But by thinking through some key factors as well as the strengths of the different formats, you can feel confident that you’re choosing the best one for your particular goals.