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5 Best Practices in Direct Mail Design

May 12, 2010 By Ethan Boldt
As a creative who understands production, Patrick Fultz is always trying to tweak existing formats in order to get them to work better or simply inventing new ones. As president/CCO of DM Creative Group in Port Chester, N.Y., he seeks to reinvent the way companies go about customer acquisition, retention and win-back campaigns by combining the power of direct mail and digital marketing output.

One such successful invention is his e-TriggerPro, a platform that automatically triggers coordinated e-mail and SMS messages to mail recipients the day their direct mail piece is delivered.

With 25 years of creative and direct marketing experience, a degree from plus 15 years teaching at Parsons School of Design, and more than 50 industry creative awards, Fultz is currently president/COO of the John Caples International Awards, an international professional direct/interactive creative design competition, now in its 33rd year. His current clients include Musical Heritage Society, Disney, Meredith Publishing and Maximum Exposure Advertising.

Who better to ask about how direct mail can get a design overhaul to help it survive the digital future, if not prosper for certain campaigns?
1. Get Recipients to Stop ... and See
"You first need to stop them long enough so they can see if there's a 'what's in it for me' connection," describes Fultz. "I see the outer of the mail piece the same as a store window ... if I can't get them to look long enough to walk in the store, they walk on by—or trash my mail piece."

To create such a successful mail piece, Fultz uses all things available to a designer: format, windows, paper or plastic substrates, printing technique, color, illustration, photography, interactivity, headline, pURLs and gURLs, and, most importantly, offer.

The goal is to stand out, visually and conceptually. "You can't have one without the other. You'll stop them, but you'll lose them if the concept doesn't hold up and is not relevant to them," he says.

2. Invent the Next Concept
Fultz believes too many designers get bogged down in design tricks. He reports that many Caples entries have "really cool" production techniques, but then the concepts behind the mail pieces were weak.

"I'm always looking for what I can design to make my package reach out to the person and grab their attention. I'm always looking for 'new,' or try to reinvent," explains Fultz, who mentions the time he introduced Columbia House to a new envelope called a Bevelope. Made of a board material with a 3-D effect, the material allowed him to emboss the piece to look like buttons on the face of a CD player—an approach that leveraged the target audience's affinity for music. It beat the control by more than 25 percent.


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