If you visit Little Italy in New York City and stroll down Mulberry Street at dinner time, a dozen maitre d’s accost you, each one hawking their specials, wines and cannoli. Ultimately, the restaurant that enticed me had a quaint sign and a gentleman in a bow tie and apron, flanked by an easy-to-read menu. With no distracting gimmicks or hassles, I walked right in.
In direct mail design, a similar “what you see is what you get” principle induces reader response. These three tips from direct mail design experts offer insight into how to appeal to your readers and create response-driven designs.
1. Be honest about the product.
Establish a sense of the product and what the reader can expect from it. Heide Follin, a Connecticut-based freelance designer, finds the design has to be evocative or convey the feeling of the product. She suggests that creative for a natural foods retailer mailing should use natural imagery, while a medical research institution’s mailing should evoke the authority of that institution.
The product itself should influence design decisions. Direct mail that is true to the product will engross readers and minimize returns. “If you are selling a two-color newsletter with no graphics, I would not put a four-color brochure with four color pictures in the mailing,” says Follin.
2. Design, don’t advertise.
Most gourmets will choose the inconspicuous restaurant. The same is true for a direct mail offer. “The less it looks like advertising, the better,” says Ted Kikoler, president of Ontario-based Ted Kikoler Design Inc. Think of the design simply as a vehicle for the offer to jump off the page. A good direct mail piece, says Kikoler, “should look like a designer never touched it.”
Karen Weinstein, director of New York-based Karen Weinstein Design, agrees, “In general advertising, you’re interested in gorgeous. In direct response advertising, you’re interested in effective.” Weinstein recommends only using visuals that highlight the offer. “Everything [recipients] look at should somehow support their sending the card back,” she says. Follin adds, “It is important to direct the reader’s eye where you want them to look and to keep things as simple as possible.”
3. It’s all about the copy.
You wouldn’t order dinner without reading a menu first. “It’s the words that drive direct mail. [As a designer,] my only job is to get people to read the copy,” Kikoler stresses. To emphasize the copy, Kikoler suggests avoiding images and brochures that can distract the reader from the offer and response form. “A good writer and a good designer together can awaken much more emotion than a picture. Leaving out the easy show-and-tell forces people to read,” Kikoler says. A simple format also emphasizes copy, which is why Kikoler’s favorite is still a #10 standard business envelope with a sales letter, separate order form and reply envelope. “That’s the basics, and it’s still by far the best,” he says.