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Fifty Shades of Mail


The headline of this post is what we in the marketeering business call "borrowed interest." It's also not quite accurate. We're going to talk about five (not fifty) direct mail formats, when to use what and why.

At B Direct, we're big believers in direct mail for one big reason. It works. And for anyone who thinks you can't be creative with direct mail, think again.

Here are five (well, five and a half, really) formats to consider. Each can be smart, effective and efficient — depending on what you're selling and to whom.

1. Postcards
We like to think of postcards as mini billboards in the mail. They're a great option when you have a simple promotional proposition. They're great for building brand, and they stand out from a mailbox full of standard envelopes, credit card bills or bank statements. Postcards are high-impact and low-cost. They let you get your message across quickly. They offer unique (and fun!) opportunities for personalization. In many cases, the postcard itself can be the redemption device (e.g.: "Bring this card to your local Chucky Cheese for five free tokens."). And, in terms of production specs, the sky's. the limit. Postcards that are oversized, die-cut or textural create a 3D experience at an economical 2D price.

2. Simple Letter Packages
There are times when less is more. A simple letter package can work well when you're selling something serious. A personalized (and signed) letter provides real 1-to-1 communication. Letter packages give you the opportunity to take advantage of stealth marketing. A longer letter provides real estate to tell a persuasive story. Certain parts of the letter are promotional "hot spots," like the Johnson Box (the area above the salutation) and the P.S. And, letters provide you with a cost-effective way to customize content.

2A. Multi-component Letter Packages
A more elaborate letter package provides all the benefits we've outlined above, plus more. Adding a brochure, a lift note, reply card or any other insert lets you sell more of the sizzle as well as the steak. (We often refer to the duality of promotion and emotion — your brochure may promote a special offer, while your letter may tell a personal story.) A multi-component letter package accommodates different browsing styles. Some people go right to the letter; others look at the most colorful insert; still others read the reply device first because they just want to know what you're offering. In many cases, a multi-component package lets you allocate your production dollars efficiently. For example, there may be only one version of a costly brochure, but several different versions of the less expensive letter. Finally, working with multiple enclosures allows you to build excitement.

3. Self-Mailers
Self-mailers can be a "best of both worlds" solution. They can be high-impact and promotional like a postcard, but offer the room to tell a longer story like a letter package. Self-mailers are a great way to simultaneously build brand and generate demand. Like any printed communication these days, you can use digital variable data printing to personalize and customize the content. You can also include digital interactivities with a QR code, video-enhanced print, AR (augmented reality), or a simple PURL (personalized URL). The package itself can be highly interactive when you integrate unique folds, die cuts, or both.

4. Magalogs
Here's where direct mail marketing and publishing meet. Longer-format pieces are a solid choice when you have a lot of information to impart. They can work well for considered purchases or if your product or service has a long sell cycle. The piece, if thoughtful, well-designed and with quality production values, may have a higher perceived value than a traditional brochure. That means your audience may hold onto it longer. Magalogs can be expensive and time-consuming, so you'll want to do an ROI analysis before you invest in one. That said, we've created successful campaigns for everything from a health insurance provider to a walking shoe company and many more.

5. 3-Dimensionals
These are often referred to as "clutter busters," because that's precisely what they do: break through the clutter and get attention. If you send someone a "freemium" item in a box or padded envelope, you're essentially bribing them to listen to your marketing message. (That's okay. In fact, that can work really well.) Consider a 3-D package that delivers a 1+2 punch. For example, send a remote-control car but give them the remote control if they sit through a demo. Or, for less budget, send two juggling balls and give them the third if they respond. 3-D packages are memorable, which makes your future marketing efforts easier and more effective. They can be expensive and time-consuming highly customized projects, or less costly shelf items. Best of all, 3-D packages always get to the recipient, making them a strategic choice if your audience has gatekeepers.

No matter what format you choose (or, better yet, no matter what formats you choose to test against each other), the best practices of direct mail still apply: be sure to know your audience, appeal to their heads and hearts, and make them an absolutely irresistible offer.

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