Direct Mail Strategy: A Plethora of Postcards
After years of being ignored as an effective direct mail format, the postcard finally is center stage. Marketers send postcards touting everything from pizzas to office equipment. It’s also the format of choice for generating retail, Web and trade show traffic.
While postcards once were thought too small to tell the whole story—not compelling enough to grab the reader’s attention and loaded with creative limitations—today, on any given day, my mailbox holds two, three or more.
In fact, recently I found a stack of seven postcards nestled in my usual stack of catalogs, solo mailings and self-mailers.
Here’s my concern: All seven were the same size. They all were four-color on at least one side. And they all were ineffective at using the format to communicate a compelling message and generate response. So, why had these marketers chosen to mail postcards?
Undoubtedly, they thought they were being smart. After all, they had saved money on printing, paper and postage when compared to the costs associated with a self-mailer, solo mail piece or catalog. They also had probably jumped on the postcard bandwagon thinking, “Everyone else is using them, why shouldn’t we?” But when I looked at that stack of postcards, they all looked very similar, and I was concerned.
Before I go on, a little background: I’ve long been a major fan of the postcard format—when it’s used appropriately. Here’s why:
• It’s an immediate read. There’s no envelope to open; it’s like a mini billboard in the mail.
• It’s a fast read. You can read a typical postcard in less than a minute.
• It’s faster, easier and more affordable to produce than other formats, so you can be in the mail quickly and within most budgets.
• You can get First-Class delivery for just 23 cents—or as little as 17 cents per postcard when postal-automation discounts apply.
It’s no wonder we’re being bombarded with a plethora of postcards. However, as a direct mail creative strategist and copywriter, I have reservations.
Any time a mail recipient receives more than one piece of mail in the same format, the individual pieces have to work extra-hard to stand out. This means that before you get involved in copy and creative, you need to make strategic decisions about how to maximize the effectiveness of this format. It was clear the stack of postcards I received was the result of minimal strategic thinking. Some tip-offs:
1. All of the postcards used four-coloring printing; in most cases, it was not necessary. If color was used to capture my attention, it failed because all of them were four-color.
When was the last time you did a formal or informal review of the mail your targeted audiences receive? Never assume that your mailing, no matter what the format, is the only one of its kind in the mail or inbox. If you don’t need four-color printing to grab attention or promote your offer, why use it?
2. All of the postcards were 6˝ x 9˝. This may be a cost-efficient size for printers, but the message on it may or may not have required the space. Again, the cards all looked the same when stacked together. A 6˝ x 9˝ postcard is too large to mail at First-Class postcard rates. These mailed as flats. To qualify for U.S. Postal Service postcard rates and First-Class delivery, a postcard must be: 3˝ x 5˝ to 4-1⁄4˝ x 6˝ and have a thickness of .007˝ to .016˝.
3. All of the postcards I received were printed on white card stock. Instead of using four-color printing, consider printing in black but investing in colored and/or textured paper for a visual and tactile edge in the mailbox.
4. None of the postcards used copy and design to create and maximize hot spots. And none used copy and design to control eye flow. All were designed as horizontal formats.
The larger a postcard, the more challenging it is to design horizontally. Why? The line length for copy is too long for the reader to negotiate comfortably. When the space is democratically broken into two columns, the reader’s eye doesn’t know where to go first. No matter what size your postcard, consider designing it vertically on one or both sides. This allows you to lead your reader’s eye from top to bottom.
Case in Point: Pizza Hut
Having reviewed some common postcard problems, let’s look at a postcard that earns its keep.
I received a Pizza Hut postcard that doesn’t qualify for First-Class rates because it is 5˝ x 11˝. What it lost in fast delivery, it makes up for in design, strategy and, likely, response.
The non-address side is designed vertically with the Pizza Hut logo, credit card logos and the local phone number at the top in a natural hot spot. Below are eight coupons: On the left in red are three “one-pizza deals,” on the right in green are three “two-pizza deals,” and at the bottom in gold are two “meal deals” coupons. All coupons are perforated for easy use. The red, green and gold define and organize what otherwise could be a confusing offer.
Here’s the clincher: No one is going to use all eight coupons within 24 hours of receiving them. This is the challenge of direct mail that generates traffic or delayed response. So, what can a direct marketer do to help customers retain these coupons for later use in a spot where they won’t get forgotten? This mailer came up with an answer.
On the mailing side of this postcard is a glue-tipped magnet. While this 1˝ x 5˝ brown rectangle may not delight designers, it’s a guaranteed retention device if you’re a pizza eater. Instead of being tossed in the trash or relegated to a stack of “keeper” mail that never resurfaces, these coupons go directly from the mail to the refrigerator door.
Is it awkward that the postcard’s mailing panel is horizontal and the offer side is vertical? No. The combination of the product photo and Pizza Hut logo tell the reader the mailing is about pizza. The magnet literally forces the reader to turn the piece over to see what it’s all about. Once that’s accomplished, if you eat pizza, the rest is history. The horizontal/vertical shift goes unnoticed.
I wish I knew the response this piece generated when tested against a freestanding newspaper insert (FSI). No doubt, it costs more. But the direct marketers at Pizza Hut should know exactly how it performs compared to an FSI dropped in the same ZIP codes. My bet: Because of the sound strategic thinking that went into all elements of this postcard’s creative development, it more than paid for itself and outperformed the FSI.