Making Direct Mail Stand Out


Reprinted from Ricoh Business Booster.

With the millions of emails sent every day, it’s almost impossible to stand out in a consumer’s inbox. Marketers that want to draw attention to a product or service, are taking a step back from the digital noise and investing time and energy into developing effective direct mail marketing campaigns.

According to the latest stats from the Data & Marketing Association, up to 90% of direct mail gets opened compared to only 20-30% of emails. The key for marketers is developing design and messaging strategies that catch the recipient’s eye and garner results from calls to action.

Here are seven ways that marketers can create direct mail that delivers results:

1. Make it Personal

A number of direct mail campaigns use pre-printed postage mailers, which some recipients will immediately regard as unwanted mail. Mailers that have unique personalized messages grab attention. Recipients are more likely to engage with advertisements that they think are customized just for them. Savvy marketers are creating individualized postcards, envelopes, and brochures. They are also using stamps or a font that appears to be handwritten to add a personal touch to letters.

Research indicates that personalization delivers direct mail results. A recent NAPCO Research study “Hitting the (re)Target Directly” finds that 96% of the 192 survey respondents that use personalized direct mail as part of their marketing strategy rate it is very/moderately effective. In addition, respondents report experiencing the following benefits from personalized direct mail compared to direct mail that is not personalized:

2. Make it Interactive

Interactivity draws recipients in. It gets them involved in a marketing campaign and increases the likelihood of getting a response. It is also a mechanism for combining offline and online advertising to monitor and track results from campaigns. Options for integrating interactive elements with printed direct mail abound.

For instance, the use of QR Codes continues to increase. Scanning these printed 2-D codes with a smartphone’s camera can open a webpage or allow direct mail recipients to perform other actions such as making a phone call, saving contact information or adding an event. Some organizations add a QR code coupon – for a limited period or a one-time redeemable offer that can be downloaded to a phone and used at checkout. QR codes can be used to allow recipients to access an online game, download a new fun app or even have them participate in a scavenger hunt.

Some organizations integrate PURLS or personalized URLs with direct mailers to generate more responses and leads. By adding personalized URLs to direct mail pieces, marketers can capture a growing number of people who prefer to respond online (rather than pick up the phone or mail in a business reply card).

In addition, the use of Augmented Reality (AR) is growing. The technology is being used to transform static direct mail and print pieces into interactive worlds complete with graphics, animation, video, audio and 3D content. With a user-friendly interface, instant gratification, and an unsurpassed ‘wow!’ factor, AR is taking consumer engagement to new heights.

3. Paper and Finishes Make a Difference

All too often, paper becomes a secondary thought to the design and copy of a direct mail message. The paper, ink and special finishes that are available to enrich a message are expanding all the time. Choosing a heavier stock gives a direct mail piece a more substantial feel that can stand out in a mailbox full of print produced on lighter weights. Textured paper can give a mailer a more luxurious feel to showcase a higher-end brand or important communication such as an invitation to an event or sale.

4. Print Enhancement Makes Direct Mail Stand Out

Embellishments can make a printed direct mail piece fun, engaging and exciting. A direct mail piece with spot colors, varnish, foil, white ink, and other effects stands out in the mailbox, captures attention and creates a connection with recipients. Print enhancements also deliver results. In a NAPCO Research study titled Adding Value to Digital Printing, 657 marketers and brand owners revealed, the following key benefits in using print enhancements/special effects:

Here are some options for embellishing direct mail:

  • Spot colors: Using eye-catching colors like neon pink or neon yellow can capture attention and create memorable impressions.
  • Metallics: Advances in digital printing presses are making foiling and embossing more cost effective. Gold, silver, bronze and many more tints and hues are more accessible than ever with metallic toners and white toner on metallic substrates.
  • White ink: Combining white ink on colored papers opens creative design opportunities. Imagine a dramatic white ink on black paper design to liven up the mail.
  • Texture: Applying layers of variable thickness can create dimensional effects that simulate embossing.
  • Spot or flood coating: Using a clear ink coating enriches the experience of print with a sensory appeal and a lustrous gleam.

5. Postcards Get Attention

Postcard direct mail marketing has been a staple for many successful brands. In fact, postcards have an almost 4% year-over-year increase in getting consumers to read a message. In terms of effectiveness, the Association of National Advertiser places postcards second only to large envelopes in generating outstanding response rates (5.7%) and ROI. Marketers want messages to get noticed and there are many postcard size options to attract attention.

6. What About the Envelope

Apart from ensuring that the direct mail piece arrives safely, the envelope also serves a very important purpose: Making a good first impression. A color envelope is inviting and will be opened because it is unique. Solid color envelopes are proven to stand out, regardless of their size, and observe higher open rates. In a direct mail campaign, where the open rate is one of the primary success metrics, a special gift or a freebie reveal on the envelope can be a great incentive for people to see what’s inside. Using action-oriented terms or phrases on the envelope like “Hurry!” or “You only have 10 days to respond!” may seem overdone, but consumers continue to fall for them. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is real, and by capitalizing on this mindset, direct mail campaigns can invoke a sense of urgency and convince people to “act now”. The envelope can be the hero for a direct mail campaign. It is the mechanism for getting the recipient to look at what’s inside.

7. Make it Bulky

Thick envelopes intrigue the recipient and encourage them to open the mail to find out what the lump is. It makes the mail piece stand out and be one of the first pieces of mail opened. Items that are included should have some type of benefit or purpose. Branded promotional products, such as a pen or magnet, aren’t expensive and can be effective. Including product samples is always a good idea.

Oversized postcards (or anything larger than a 4.25” x 6” and no more than a 6” x 11” postcard to be exact) also capture attention. For example, an organization promoting a grand opening, a huge sale, or tapping into a new audience, a larger postcard like a 6” x 9” or 6” x 11” will make a bigger impact and help a brand become more recognizable.


Despite the move to more digital marketing, direct mail remains an affordable worthwhile marketing solution for all types of businesses. The best direct mail ideas need to consider the audience, the campaign objectives and budget. However, through interactive and unique mailers, organizations that use direct mail can grab the attention of potential customers to increase responses and sales.

Reprinted from Ricoh Business Booster.

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