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Designing for Direct Mail

Written By Miranda Pellicano

February 10, 2021

With the exponential increase in digital marketing over the last several years, it has become increasingly difficult to stand out and engage your customers. In a recent blog post, we talked about the opportunity for direct mail marketing in this oversaturated environment. Today, we’ll dive into what you need to know to design an effective direct mail piece.

We’re all familiar with the style versus substance argument. But when designing for direct mail, you need both in equal measure. Not only does a direct mail piece need to be beautifully designed, it also has to lift response rates, increase conversions, whatever business goal you’re trying to achieve. 

To ensure you’re making the most of your time and investment in direct mail marketing, follow these tips to achieve the perfect balance of style and substance.

Define your goals and audience

The first step to creating a successful mailing piece is to determine what you’re trying to achieve. Are you trying to build awareness or drive leads? After setting your goal, you can identify who you’re trying to reach with your messaging—your target audience. Make sure there are measurable outcomes for the goals you’ve set and develop a persona for the core audience. These details will inform design decisions, like what visuals are appropriate, what your call-to-action should be, and what kind of messaging to incorporate.

Be aware of mailing restrictions

If you’re using USPS to send direct mail, be sure to follow their printing and mailing guidelines. When designing for direct mail, you need to be aware of things like how much space is required for postage and how much clearance is needed around the address block among other things. Familiarizing yourself with the guidelines will prevent you from having to redesign certain areas of the mail piece later. There’s a lot to learn, and it can get overwhelming quickly, so feel free to reach out to us with any questions.

Highlight the CTA

The call to action (CTA) is arguably the most important part of the mailer, so it needs to stand out and engage the reader. There are several ways to make your CTA standout, including:

  • Increase the font size of the CTA copy.
  • Change to all caps case.
  • Change the font color.
  • Add a colored shape behind the copy.

Use high quality imagery

Be wary of sourcing photos from Google Images. Not only is it not a legitimate source for downloading licensed images, but the images are usually small and low resolution. Instead, try sites like Shutterstock or Getty Images to find thousands of high quality, print-ready images and to protect your company from potential copyright issues. If it’s not in your budget to pay for a subscription photo service, don’t fret. There are plenty of reputable sites like Unsplash or Pexels that have royalty-free, high resolution photos that are free to use. Just make sure you’re downloading the largest size possible to avoid any resolution issues.

Stay on brand

Your company most likely has an established brand identity that includes your company logo(s), brand colors, brand fonts, and maybe even suggested messaging. For any type of marketing collateral, start designing with your company’s brand guidelines in mind. It will contribute to your brand’s overall credibility and set an expectation for any future correspondence.

Understand paper possibilities

Don’t underestimate the importance of choosing the right paper stock. Once printed, the texture and coating of the paper will impact the look and feel of the completed design. For example, if your design features a rich, black background, you’ll want to choose a coated paper. Black ink soaks into uncoated paper and will give you a more muted, toned down finish on that paper stock. If you’re unsure of what stock would be best for your project, just ask—we’re happy to provide recommendations and samples.

Focus your message

Don’t overwhelm readers with long paragraphs of text that aren’t relevant to the action you’re motivating them toward. Be thoughtful in your messaging by being succinct and direct. You’ll also want to present and break up the copy so that it’s more digestible. Your prospect should be able to skim your mail piece and still understand what it is you do and what action you want them to take. A few ways you can break up copy:

  • Have easy-to-read blurbs or bulleted lists.
  • Incorporate icons.
  • Use break-out boxes.
  • Include more “white” or “negative” space.

Limit the number of fonts

Less is more when it comes to implementing fonts in a design. When you have several different fonts being used in a layout, it can create confusion because they’re each fighting for attention. You can create a content hierarchy by choosing the right fonts, sizes, and colors. Having a visual hierarchy influences the reader’s journey through the layout and subconsciously guides them where to look. Tips to keep in mind when choosing fonts:

  • Aim to use two (no more than three) fonts; one for headlines and one for body copy. 
  • Utilize different font weights (thin, bold, italic, extra bold, etc.) and sizes to add variety and establish a content hierarchy.
  • Avoid using decorative script fonts for larger bodies of text. At a smaller size, they aren’t as legible.
  • Try using a font-pairing generator if you’re struggling to find the right font combo.

Choose colors thoughtfully

Designers, marketers, and advertisers use color theory to their advantage with every piece of content they generate. Color plays a huge role in setting the right tone and mood. If your company has an established brand color palette, start there and add appropriate accent colors to enhance the overall design. Some things to keep in mind when choosing colors:

  • Use complimentary colors, not clashing ones. Colors that clash may stand out, but they can be challenging for all people to see and read.
  • Make sure the copy color has enough contrast. You don’t want your copy to disappear because it was too similar to the background color.
  • Use CMYK color settings to view, this will give you a more realistic representation of what to expect when your piece prints.
  • Become familiar with some basic color psychology. For instance: reds are associated with urgency and energy, yellows with optimism, blues with trust and intelligence. Knowing what emotions certain colors evoke can help you choose which ones to implement in the design.

Ready to get started but still need some help with design? No problem—contact us with your project details, and we’ll get to work.