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.
Always ask basic questions, such as: How much do I know about my recipients? Are they prospects or customers? How good is the list? How large is the list? What action do I want them to take? What is my price point? How much do my recipients already know about what I’m selling? How badly do they want it?
In general, the more you know about your ideal buyers, the better your list, and the more expensive the product, the more justification you have for using a larger more expensive mailing.
Other key design elements to keep in mind:
- Design for efficient mail processing, clean address placement, and all possible tabs and folds.
- Keep it as simple as possible. Don’t over design for the purpose of the mailing.
- Make it readable. Direct mail is all about reading. If it’s an older audience, for example, increase the font size.
- Make it scannable. Use the correct graphic treatment for main points, such as headlines, phone numbers, and benefits, so people will quickly get the point.
- Use images that reinforce copy points. Don’t use photos just for eye candy.
- DON’T DESIGN FOR AWARD SHOWS! What wins in the mail isn’t necessarily what wins in award shows.
In a way, direct mail design is simple if you approach it with the right mindset. But like any other specialty, there are few who do it well.
Those who DO do it well are as prized as good copywriters by smart direct marketers.