Get More Power From the Postcard
They may be small, but postcards can offer big opportunities for marketers these days. Multichannel campaigns, tightening budgets, increased postage costs and a rise in print-on-demand, have led many in the direct mail business to see the potential for these light-as-a-feather mailings. However, the postcard is only as powerful as the strategy behind it. Here, a few direct mail professionals reveal how to make the most of a few inches of space.
When Simple Is Better
For starters, Fred Hernandez, marketing manager for Modern Postcard, Carlsbad, Calif., says marketers should consider that postcards shine best when they consist of a clear, specific offer and a strong call to action. Such elements, he says, easily come about when inspiring readers to visit Web sites, call toll-free numbers or place orders for products and services.
"On the other hand, if direct mailers try to use postcards as just an awareness tool or brand builder without giving the recipient something to do, the postcard becomes forgettable. Not only that, but it's difficult to quantify response from a card without any means of measurement," says Hernandez.
Pat Friesen, copywriter and proprietor of consultancy Pat Friesen & Co., agrees. She's also seen postcards achieve success in the simple tasks of driving traffic to retail stores, restaurants and events, and when used as preannouncement devices.
"The postcard is a great tool for retailers announcing a soon-to-arrive catalog, and for companies wanting recipients to reserve dates for upcoming conferences," she says.
Tasks like that can be achieved on a small card, adds Friesen. If created correctly, readers should glance at postcards and immediately believe they should read them.
"In that way, a card's limited space is an advantage rather than a drawback," says Hernandez. "Designers are forced to use fewer words and high-quality images, which can actually give the mailing more pop."
Positioning the Postcard
So who is creating high-impact pieces and how are they pulling it off? According to Hernandez, one industry experiencing very high success rates with cards is visual communications.
"We have people in art, graphic design and photography who use postcards because they easily work with high-quality printing. Artists will use much of the space to portray their talents," he says.
Good imaging is also a tactic for retailers. Says Friesen, "Two well-known companies that often visualize their postcards with great impact are the clothing store Limited Too and the household store Bed Bath and Beyond, both of which include effective product images and coupons."
In terms of more business-oriented marketers, Hernandez reports financial, hospitality and insurance industries are among the more prominent. He says any small business that is service-based can benefit from standard postcards because they can promote via coupons or special service offers.
However, modern technology has allowed marketers across the board to position the postcard in a whole new way with great success.
According to Hernandez, postcards have found their place in multichannel campaigns. "We'll see a company use a card to reinforce the message in an e-mail, as a reminder or even as an alternative to the e-mail. In some cases, the postcard becomes the secondary way to reach people who didn't open the e-mails," he says. "We've also seen e-mail campaigns that drive people to Web sites for information. Once that information is captured, a postcard follows with a targeted offer."
Keeping It Short
Whenever a postcard comes into play, one characteristic must be consistent: brevity. Despite the standard postcard's limited 4" x 6" space, many marketers attempt to fill it with as much information as possible. That's a huge mistake, say Hernandez and Friesen. The more concise the message, the more effective the card. "With too many points, readers then become lost," says Friesen. "It's as if they have so many choices to make that the postcard becomes a nuisance and is quickly discarded."
To avoid this, Friesen recommends sitting down with the writer and designer armed with a three-point hitlist: audience, offer and objective.
"That's it. Just remain focused on who is receiving the piece; write a simple, focused offer and a clear statement of what you want the reader to do," says Friesen. "This can be accomplished in [a] few words that are easy to digest. In the end, marketers want readers to think, 'Oh, this is something I can read in less than a minute.'"
Hernandez concurs. He says brief, targeted messages are best, while peripheral ideas should be avoided. "If the goal is to drive recipients to a Web site, just say that," he says. "Remember, extra messages, offers or benefits can be examined via the site."
However, Hernandez concedes there are instances when marketers want extra room to include added visuals or listings. "For instance, we see travel companies or realtors who want to include additional data and imagery for various locales," he says. "In those cases, multiple images can be very effective."
"But don't forget there are two sides to the card," adds Friesen. "Most people assume the addressed side is boring, but that side is usually the one facing up in a mailbox. Marketers might as well use it to their advantage with a sentence or image."
One trap to avoid is the thinking that the postcard is a cheap method for getting across a lot of information. "Marketers can't go into a postcard project with this idea," says Friesen. "Before they know it, the message on the card goes in too many directions, the impact is completely lost, and an inexpensive piece becomes a waste of money."
One sure way cards immediately attract attention is through innovative design, and these days companies are happily embracing new twists on the old 4" x 6".
Michael Dambra, vice president of marketing for Structural Graphics, Essex, Conn., works with out-of-the-box designs every day by incorporating pop-ups, light and sound, lenticular printing, unique die-cuts, and a wide-array of unique features into direct mail pieces.
Not all of these tactics can be used within the limitations of a standard postcard, but one that can is the four-window pull piece. "Marketers can use this on a 4" x 6" format," says Dambra. "Basically the card has four individual panels to pull out, revealing different images or messages. However, the card does not mail at a standard postcard rate due to its weight."
Another of the company's popular postcard styles is the Flapper. "We made [one] for a Chevy. The first image is of the Chevy in the woods, then you flip to see the Chevy on a dock, and when you flip again you see some of the vehicle's accessories," he says. "The final flip reveals another set of accessories. Basically, this type of postcard offers a way for marketers to build their message in a small, but interactive piece."
While Dambra is not always informed about the response rate on such pieces, he says he knows creative formats like this work since he keeps getting repeat business.
"It is comparable in terms of overall costs, though," says Dambra. "If marketers produce 100,000 lower-rate cards and get a 1 percent response rate, they're spending a lot more money than if they produced 70,000 high-rate cards with a 3, 4 or 5 percent response rate."
Modern Postcard offers a 3-D hologram piece, complete with glasses to add flair. "Research has shown the read rate for this piece is 90 percent and its pass-along rate is almost 100 percent," Hernandez says. "One market with a lot of interest in the piece is electronics. We did a card with an actual-size Panasonic digital camera that went over really well."
Other innovative pieces Hernandez has seen include odd-shaped cards with interesting folds and flaps that reveal various messages.
Foamin the form of a piece of flat foam that could be used as a can cozy but mailed as a flat postcardwas the highlight of one dynamic piece that came across Friesen's path. "Strategically, it made sense. A real estate agent printed her photo on the foam, which included snaps on each edge," she says. "She sent it to prospective buyers who could then use it on their canned beverages to keep them cool"
Postcards provide a quick, immediate impact for little cost when executed correctly and creatively.
"Just keep in mind the basic rules," concludes Hernandez. "High-quality images, a concise message and a strong call-to-action. With these three elements, marketers can drive more traffic to their Web sites, call centers or store locations than they could through an oversized direct mail package."
Sharon R. Cole is a Philadelphia-based writer contributing to print-industry publications.