Learn How To Design A Better Targeted Mail Piece

Author: Elizabeth Gooding, Insight Forums LLC

Everyone loses when poorly designed pieces make it into the mail, so making direct mail better should be a priority for every print organization that even remotely touches the direct marketing segment. In this article, Elizabeth Gooding offers some best design practices for effective direct mail.

book reading
Designed by yanalya / Freepik

Making direct mail better should be a priority for every print organization that even remotely touches the direct marketing segment. Direct marketing underwrites the postal costs of many other segments in the U.S. with 77.3 mail pieces delivered in 2018. While direct mail volumes have grown, direct mail designers and producers are still vying with many other channels for a piece of the marketing pie. Designers are also competing with the perception of direct mail as “junk mail.”

Let’s face it, everyone loses when poorly designed pieces make it into the mail. Consumers are annoyed and more likely to toss everything in the bin. If response rates are low, especially on mass mailings, it drags down overall industry performance making marketers less likely to put their budget on mail versus non-print channels. Everyone in the supply chain has a vested interest in creating truly effective direct mail. That means everyone in the supply chain needs to work together, and the opportunities to create great work have never been better.

Source: ANA; DMA Response Rate Report, 2018


Designers who specialize in non-print channels can learn about the great response rates that direct mail can deliver. Direct mail is the most effective channel in driving response from consumers as well as business prospects. In fact, in 2018 direct mail response rates were five times higher than either email or social campaigns and nine times higher when using a house mailing list versus a prospect list. Of course those numbers are averages. Some response rates are lower and some are significantly higher. Getting those higher results is what everyone should be striving for. Even designers who have been working in print may not be aware of all of the new possibilities for driving top results with direct mail. Let’s consider a few:


Designers should work with a print supplier who focuses mail optimization and variable data/ personization.  Those suppliers will have the technical ability to deliver high quality production at the optimal price. Additonally they will have the knowledge and expertise to help you leverage your data for the highest engagement. They may also offer additonall services to cleanse the data or add persona l url’s for consumers to go to when they recieve their piece in the mail. There a lot of options many designers may not be aware of.



There have been huge leaps in data management to drive personalization and in what can be personalized in a digital printing environment. Advances in data management, filtering, appending, and even artificial intelligence means that lists can be more targeted, even micro-targeted, and more robust with multiple data points used to personalize a campaign.

Once triggers are identified to drive variations, designs can be tailored with variations in color, imagery, offer, and response methods. In fact, the entire campaign flow might be changed based on the demographics of the list with some receiving print as a follow up to online activity and others getting direct mail first with an enticement to go online. With digital print, sophisticated marketing software and the right data, pretty much anything in a campaign can be personalized—including the envelope.


The literal feel of the piece can have a direct impact on whether mail gets opened, how the message is interpreted, and how memorable it is. A Communicator’s Guide to the Neuroscience of Touch by Lana Rigsby and Dr. David Eagleman, cites research from Eagleman Labs connecting haptics with memory. Specifically, research participants were more likely to recall content printed on high-quality, heavy-weight paper than on low-quality paper. No doubt, the feel of a piece can be a major differentiator when sorting through a pile of mail. Is there a soft-touch, a grainy feel, a raised surface? The feel of the selected media is only one step in the process, since that media can be enhanced with coatings, varnishes, embossing and foils to drive interest. In many cases, the application of textures and embellishment is also one more characteristic that can be personalized for each mail piece.



Some of the haptic opportunities described are finishing technizues done post print. These include clear and textured coatings and foils, however there are other finishing technolgies and techniques that designers should consider and understand. Sometimes even understanding all of the folding options that are compatible with a particular print technology can be confusing—but a unique “reveal” through an unexpected fold can be a differentiator. Designers can. learn how finishing options can work together from haptic enhancements through folding, binding, cutting, and inserting—or building the envelope around the piece in lieu of a typical inserting process.


Personalization, haptic enhancement, and finishing are just a few of the areas that can take direct mail to the next level, and they each are complex topics to master. The selected paper (or other media) must be compatible with each step in the process. A particular print provider may have different combinations of print and finishing solutions including toner or inkjet, sheet-fed or roll-fed, and different levels of sophistication with their software processes. Without guidance from your print supplier, one can easily become frustrated with trying to figure out what is possible. Print providers can help by providing guidelines on:

  • Explaining their production capabilities and how the technologies work together. What paper and print options are available for high, medium, and low coverage designs? What finishing capabilities can be used with each of those options? What are the base sheet sizes or roll widths that can be produced? How can you get each piece in the mail at the lowest cost?
  • File preparation guidelines for submitting data, design, and graphic files for production. What color space and preferred image file formats to use.
  • Inspiration through sample designs. Show sample prints and jobs that push the limits of these print technologies and really show their capabilities to inspire the creative teams.

Thinking big may include designs that include more than one type of print, more than one type of media, variations in finishes, and campaign components that go beyond the page such as augmented reality or other connections to web, social, or mobile experiences. Design optimists assume that what they want to do is possible and go out and work with production partners to try to make it happen. This may be all new for a creative team, and most likelly  involve some fine-tuning on the design, but engagement and response rates will be higher, which can make the creative department shine and achieve their metrics.

Talking with different providers can open up design possibilities that may otherwise have been missed. When designers and their print partners are working together early in the process, the chances of a clean, successful and innovative campaign are greatly increased. When innovative campaigns drive even higher response rates, we all win.


This article originally appeared on WhatTheyThink.com. WhatTheyThink is the global printing industry’s leading source for unbiased market intelligence. Copyright © 2019 WhatTheyThink. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. For more like this, please consider becoming a member by visiting: whattheythink.com/join/

Related Posts