The power of color in direct marketing

Color is one of the most powerful elements of design for direct mail, ads, and other marketing materials.

color in direct mail and adsWhy? Because color is a form of nonverbal communication. Research has shown that color increases brand identity, assists in memory, increases a reader’s participation in ads, and improves readership, learning, and comprehension.

This is a complicated subject and is worthy of a dozen posts, but I’d like to cover just three important points about why color choice is so important.

Color carries meaning through association.

This meaning can be divided into two parts: natural associations and psychological or cultural associations.

By “natural association” I mean that colors bring to mind certain ideas that everyone understands. For example, green is associated with nature because that’s the primary color of plants everywhere in the world. Blue is associated with the sky. Yellow is associated with the sun. These associations are simple and universal.

Psychological or cultural associations are more tricky. In the U.S., orange is associated with Halloween because pumpkins are a big part of that holiday. But since many other cultures don’t celebrate this particular holiday, that association doesn’t exist. Likewise, while black is associated with death in the West, white is often the death color in other cultures. Read more

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Is it junk mail if you say it ain’t so?

What should you do if you’re worried about people thinking your mailer is junk mail? How about just telling them it’s not junk mail?

The copywriter for one hearing aid company simply used a teaser that said “THIS IS NOT JUNK MAIL!!!”

not junk mail

Is this an effective way to get people to read your mailer? I think not.

First, what objection is this intended to address? Surveys show people actually like direct mail and respond to it. Assuming you’re mailing to a targeted list of likely customers and that you have a compelling message and strong offer, recipients should be open to learning more about your product.

Second, telling people your mailing is not junk mail doesn’t convince them it’s not junk mail. It simply introduces a negative idea that probably wasn’t there to begin with. If you walk up to someone you don’t know and say, “I’m not a liar.” What idea will that person remember about you? The idea of “liar.” People don’t think in negatives.

Third, assuming that your target audience is thinking “junk mail” when they open their mailbox, will a teaser on a piece of that junk mail convince them otherwise? Imagine a mailer from a politician you consider dishonest. It won’t help the politician’s case to put a teaser on the envelope that reads, “I’m not the sneaky, cheating bastard you think I am.”

Introducing a negative idea in this way is counterproductive.

Effective copy is not only about what you say. It’s also about what you don’t say. Every word should have a purpose and avoid unnecessary or distracting information.

What’s a better way to assure people will read your mailer? I’ve already said it: send your mailer to a targeted list of likely customers and present a compelling message and strong offer.

People search for relevance. If your message is relevent, people will read it.

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Good direct mail design: let form follow function

Good direct mail design is like good design in other fields. The best work results from a designer who understands how design is used to accomplish something.

In other words, form should follow function.

In the case of direct mail, the function is to deliver a sales message to a list of recipients to persuade them to take some kind of action, such as placing an order, requesting information, or going to a Web site.

The wrong way to design direct mail is to come up with a “creative concept,” then force fit the copy into the design.

The right way to design direct mail is to understand the selling message and the goal of the mailing, then allow the design to naturally flow from these ideas.

For example, if the goal is to build traffic for a Web site, it would be silly to create an elaborate envelope package. Since you’re not asking for money and the action you’re asking for is easy, all you need is a small piece, such as a postcard.

On the other hand, if you’re selling a product with a $500 price tag, you shouldn’t try it with a postcard because you’ll need a lot more room to convince your recipient to part with his money, provide a means of response that may include a reply form, and include other information such as instructions or your return policy. Read more

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What happens when you mail stinky cheese?

For years the most popular article on my Web site has been a reprint of Postal Experiments, an article from the Annals of Improbable Research.

stinky cheeseIt seems that researchers, in a fit of scientific hilarity, wanted to see what the United States Postal Service would or would not deliver. So they mailed a carefully selected batch of odd items to see what would happen. This included:

Of course, not all the mailed items were delivered. An unwrapped hammer never arrived. A bottle of unopened spring water dropped into a pickup box was confiscated and consumed by a postal carrier as he worked his route. A can of soup, a lemon, and a bald tire are a few of the other things that didn’t make the journey. Read more

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