Postcard, postcard, everywhere a postcard

I don’t have any statistics on this, but judging by my own mail, it seems postcard usage is at an all-time high.

In today’s mail I received five postcards. Actually, it was 3 postcards and 2 postcard-sized self-mailers, but let’s not split hairs. The point is that many more businesses are turning to cheap mail formats.

Great Indoors postcard

Here’s one from the Great Indoors, a home decorating store. Others I received include a card from a health center reminding my wife to get a checkup, another from the same health center offering a health seminar, an offer from a carpet cleaning service, and an upgrade offer for a business contact program.

A few observations about these postcards. Except for the carpet cleaning offer, they’re all from businesses we have purchased from in the past. Three use discount offers, either low-price deals or a percentage off. Four ask for a call, one drives retail. Four are from businesses that have previously sent larger mailers. The carpet cleaner, however, always uses postcards.

My mail is not necessarily representative, but it seems half of my mail now is postcards, with few envelope packages (except from charities).

My contacts in the printing industry confirm that mailings are getting more frugal: smaller formats, fewer bells and whistles, more one and two-color jobs, and lots and lots of postcards.

For copywriters and designers who are used to long-format mailings, this means you’re going to have to learn how to communicate faster for some of your work. Copy must be crisp and offer-focused. Design must be simple and direct.

This isn’t a bad thing. While I like long-form and do quite a bit of it, I’ve always been a shortest-distance-between-two-points kind of guy. I like to keep things simple. And I like to put the offer front and center whenever possible. Simple messages tend to give you better odds for success.

Long form isn’t dead, though. I still have many long form controls. But I think the economy is forcing people to cut the fat from their promotions and this will probably be good for the industry long-term.

What are you getting in your mail? Are you seeing the same trend?

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6 Responses to “Postcard, postcard, everywhere a postcard”

  1. FrugalWorld on February 24th, 2009 10:14 pm

    I hadn’t really paid much attention to it, but now that you mention it, the postcard count has been up of late. I have noticed that our overall junk mail volume seems to have gone sharply down (although post-holidays, perhaps some of that is just seasonal). By this time last year, my gardening catalog collection alone was probably twice what it is now.

  2. Dean Rieck on February 25th, 2009 11:07 am

    Same here. I’m getting flower catalogs from just 3 companies. Overall volume IS down, no doubt about that. Also, I’ve been getting many duplicate mailings … the same mailer sent to me, my wife, and variations on our names. One day I received 4 of the very same catalog. Terrible waste. You’d think people would be cleaning their lists better.

  3. Ted Grigg on February 25th, 2009 1:33 pm

    To FrugalWorld’s point, mailers still do not apply the basics and focus on the wrong things.

    They focus on mailing price instead of cost per sale and mail cheap instead of smart by not applying decent list hygiene.

    My clients are demanding postcards instead of envelope packages mainly because they still can’t track sales by source.

    Better tracking systems were never put in place during the good times. So clients cut costs because that’s all they know how to do in the absence of reliable sales data.

    With the lack of decent tracking, I hate to get pushed into cheap formats without controls established by disciplined testing. Why? Because many tests later, classic envelope packages and snap pacs continue to outperform postcards as a general rule. They even outperform self mailers with a few exceptions determined by industry.

    So we work with what we have and take one step forward and three steps back.

  4. Dean Rieck on February 25th, 2009 1:47 pm

    You’re right. The idea that direct marketers are all careful and analytical is a myth. Far too many decisions are made for all the wrong reasons.

    One thing many mailers don’t understand is that each format has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s not just a matter of expensive, less expensive, and cheap. Some products don’t need a lot of selling, so smaller formats can work well. Other products need more selling, so bigger more expensive formats are required. Formats are like tools. You have to know when to use the hammer and when to use the wrench.

  5. Patty Coldwater on February 25th, 2009 6:19 pm

    We’ve had some tremendous success with cards – the doormat size (10 x 13) is one of the best. We have a construction client we created two different “doormat” mailers for. We’ve mailed a total of 2500 in 2008 (one went to 925, one to 999 and the 3rd to 526 people). To date those cards have been directly responsible for over $450,000 in sales.

    Which just goes to show ya’ that list is supremely important. The “doormat” sized card is large enough we can include a personalized “letter” on the address side of the card – so it does have more of a “package” appeal. If anyone’s interested the case study of the first two cards is posted at

  6. Cynthia Maniglia on February 28th, 2009 9:08 pm

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