5 Rules for Effective Direct Mail Design


5-Rules-for-Effective-Direct-Mail-Design.jpgOften, less is more, and just because you can include a design element doesn’t necessarily mean you should. What you leave out can be just as important as what you put in, so it’s always a good idea to keep things as simple as possible, however complex the total mailing package.

Don’t be Too Clever

It’s easy to get carried away with all the bells and whistles available at the click of a mouse when using graphic design programs. This can result in over-designing, so you end up with mail pieces that are difficult to read and confusing.

One of the most common mail pieces to suffer from over-designing is the letter. Ideally, they should look like simple letters, not glorified brochures. Things to avoid:

  • Justified margins
  • Dependence on graphics or images
  • Hard to read fonts
  • Squashed typefaces
  • Over-long paragraphs
  • Complicated sentence structure
  • Printing to the edge of the paper (keep margins at least one inch)
  • Being too formal (keep the tone natural and personal)

One neat design trick when designing a letter layout is to carry the last sentence on a page over to a new page. This forces someone to turn the page to continue the thought. It’s not wrong to be clever, just make sure the message stays crystal clear.

Simplify Your CTA

Aim to make it as easy and straightforward as possible for your recipients to carry out the action you’re asking for. This includes leaving enough space between the lines for handwriting if you’re providing a reply form. The best way to make sure people can write comfortably in the spaces on a form is to test it out. Get a few people with different sized handwriting to try it. If any struggle, change the design.

Make your call to action stand out. You can do this through design elements such as a border or action-colored text. The idea is to pinpoint the section in the mailing that recipients need to interact with. The rule is, it shouldn’t involve extra brain work or hunting through the copy to figure out what to do.

Choose Interesting Over Impressive

This is especially important if your direct mail includes a brochure with multiple images, charts or graphs. Providing information is the main purpose of the brochure. Having read through it, recipients should feel informed, not impressed with your design capabilities. Focus on benefits and features that back up everything else in the offer.

Marry Copy to Design

In an ideal world the copywriter will work closely with the designer, but this doesn’t always happen. Often, the two work independently of each other and this can create conflict. For instance, maybe the copywriter visualized a longer sales letter, but the designer was thinking more along the lines of a self-mailer. Before issuing the brief to either, have a clear idea of what the mail package will look like and what its purpose is, as well as any demographic preferences you’ve identified.

Include the Sales Message Across all Elements

Your direct mail package may include more than one element, such as a brochure, a reply slip, an envelope and a letter. Chances are pretty good these elements will get separated when the package is opened, so it’s a good design principle to clearly state the sales message on everything. You won’t have space to recreate the entire message in full, so a distillation or summary of the main points is necessary.

A comprehensive design list for effective direct mail could fill a book, but following these basic tips will get you thinking along the right tracks.

Direct Mail Best Practices