8 Ways to Design Successful Postcards: Learn how to effectively deploy postcards in your direct mail arsenal

4 Mar

Originally published in Inside Direct Mail
by Britt Brouse
Nov 1, 2008

In the world of direct mail, sometimes it feels as though the postcard format is on trial, defending its basic two sides against the prosecution’s long letter, freemium, brochure, buckslip and reply.

The letter package promises a whole entourage of elements buffering an offer, while the bare-bones approach of a postcard arguably loses the touchy-feely, hold-your-hand sell of a letter package.

“I was against postcard use except for very retail- oriented transactions like notifying somebody of a dollars-off or percentage-off sale, or trying to drive traffic to a retail location like a coffee shop, but that really kind of changed last year when the postal costs hit us really hard and the costs went up,” commented Steve Penn, CEO and executive creative director of Minneapolis-based Penn Garritano Direct Response Marketing. Penn and many other marketers are now considering using the postcard in their arsenals to fight against rising production and postage costs—and help bottom lines hit hard by tough economic times. While testing a postcard format, marketers may be surprised by its many benefits.

The Case for Postcards

Aside from the obvious cost benefits, postcards offer several marketing advantages. Postcard formats can be effective touches at any point in a campaign, as stand-alone efforts or part of a series of touches, according to Brent Foreman, president of Group 3 Marketing, a Wayzata, Minnesota–based relationship marketing company. Keith Goodman, vice president of corporate solutions with Modern Postcard, a Carlsbad, California–based printing and mailing company, agreed that there are no rules limiting the use of postcards to specific touchpoints. “There [are] always going to be multiple touches in any type of marketing campaign. If [done] the right way, a postcard can be used for any of the steps. We have customers [who] use postcards for three or four steps of a marketing campaign very successfully and close a lot of business because of it,” he said.

Another advantage of the postcard is its 100 percent open rate. “It’s very easy to get somebody to open and read it because it’s already opened,” Goodman explained. He referenced the fast pace of baby boomers and generation-Xers’ media consumption and said the postcard is a concise way of delivering information to overloaded prospects.

The postcard also is effective in driving prospects online or to a telephone number. “You’re not so much trying to necessarily sell your product or service on a direct mail piece; you are trying to capture enough information [so] somebody will call, visit a store, go to a website and make that next step [so] a transaction will take place. You can get a very clear, concise message that’s there on the desktop or the kitchen table—and that next step is made,” Goodman described.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for using postcards is the steady changes in how prospects and marketers view direct mail. “If I am prospecting and I want to drive people to a website, why not do a postcard? [Why not] do it in the way that’s the most cost-effective? We now live in an electronic age, and all I want to try to do today is get somebody new to visit my website where you can really learn things,” Foreman argued.

“When is the last time you got a personal letter?” asked Goodman. “You know what really comes in the mail now? Bills and advertising mail, so it’s OK to have advertising mail. People know it’s an advertisement. You don’t have to feel like you need to hide it in the shape of a letter to get people to open it. It can be advertising mail, just make it good advertising mail—make it relevant.”

If you are considering adding a postcard format to your marketing lineup, here are the best ways to benefit from postcard copy, design and strategy:

1. Start With Clean, Measurable Data

“Start with a good database that you can measure; you can’t measure ROI without a clean database that not only tracks the demographics, but tracks purchasing activity as well,” Foreman said. In addition, he urged companies to eliminate silos between multiple products and channels.

Penn agreed to get the most ROI from a postcard mailing, metrics should be employed across the board. “You have to have pretty tight metrics in place to be able to attribute traffic and lead generation to a single postcard. It depends on what’s happening in other channels, and it’s difficult to sometimes attribute a spike in sales specifically to a postcard if you’re also doing television, for example, or if you’re doing radio,” he said.

Penn encouraged marketers to go into a postcard mailing with realistic expectations of what the format can accomplish for them, asking questions such as, “What is the ROI potential?” and, “How measurable can what you’re doing with the postcard be?”

2. Remember, Bigger Formats Work Better

Instead of a standard 4¼x6”, test a bigger 6×9” format, which traditionally pulls higher response. The extra postage can be absorbed by sending the larger card at a bulk rate and not a First Class rate. “I usually like to do the oversized [6×9”] postcard because they just work better. It’s particularly hard to make a 4¼x6” postcard do what you need it to do,” asserted Goodman, who added that this is a personal bias developed over years of testing.

The offer and size of the card also need to work together. “Half off on a little card will probably do a lot better than 10 percent off on a big card,” he said. “But if you are looking at the same offer across two card sizes, the bigger one will [win] and mostly because it stands out on the desktop.”

3. Personalize Whenever Possible

“I believe that every postcard should be personalized regardless of who it’s going to,” opined Foreman. When using VDP technology, he pointed out that the costs aren’t that much higher and the improved ROI versus a regular postcard more than pays for the process. “There is a little bit of a cost, but the response rates that we’ve seen when we personalize versus not personalize are extremely positive,” he said.

“With postcards, it’s very easy to create two or three different versions of the postcard that would be more attractive to a different age range, income range, gender, family status, etc. One design might not fit all,” illustrated Goodman.

4. Keep the Copy Simple

“With postcards, it’s much more specific: capture their attention, tell them the benefits of doing business with you and then tell them how to do business with you,” Goodman instructed. He offered the example of selling a winter coat, and instead of making claims about the coat’s 900 zippers and Kevlar-reinforced shell, he joked, keep it simple. “Try: ‘It’s going to keep you really warm this winter when you ski,’ or ‘You should come in and try this coat on, and we’ll give you 50 percent off,’” suggested Goodman, who urged marketers to start from scratch—and to not try and squeeze a traditional letter onto a postcard.

However, Penn has found a way to incorporate the elements of a letter on a postcard, using a short note from an executive with a signature, or a headline and two brief paragraphs to make copy look more narrative and less promotional.

5. Get the Front and Back Working Together

Penn defined the front of a postcard as the billboard side and the back as the mailing address and postage side. It seems that the call to action can work on the front, back or both sides of the card. “I’ll use the billboard side like a billboard. It’s a large graphic with a very simple, but powerful, message. That’s where the savings message can be, or that’s where the call to action can be in very strong terms,” he suggested.

“You want to have the right amount of text to capture somebody’s attention, get them moving in the right direction and turn over the card, and then you’ve got your basic call to action and benefits,” indicated Goodman, who added that one or two lines of text are usually sufficient on the billboard side. Foreman said that, excluding the address block, 70 percent graphics and 30 percent copy is a good approximation to design by.

6. Emulate a Shining Example

Bed Bath & Beyond’s 20 percent off offer is perhaps one of the most recognizable postcards in the mail and a great example of a successful postcard. Goodman highlighted the postcard’s crystal clear offer, concise call to action and guarantee as its strengths. “It’s an in-store only offer, so it drives people into the store which will get them to hopefully buy more than the one product they get the discount on,” he said. The retailer also guarantees that it will not be undersold, even vowing to accept competitors’ pricing and coupons (which may be related to the recent Chapter 11 filing of competitor Linens ’n Things).

7. Attack Under-Performing Segments

For one retail client, Foreman used postcards to reduce the number of monthly flyer mailings sent out and aggressively market to under-performing customers. He said the client was mailing a million 16-page flyers every month full of general offers and products. Foreman reviewed the sales data, built a customer profile and found that 50 percent of the customers on the mailing list generated only 10 percent of the sales. He reduced the flyer mailings down by 400,000 recipients per month and put the money saved toward postcard mailings—targeting segments such as those who hadn’t shopped in 60 days—with offers to come and see what was new using a dollars-off coupon and variable data to drop in the prospects’ favorite products.

8. Don’t Overwork Your Postcard

“What’s critical in using postcards is getting people to understand how to use them,” Goodman informed. “You can’t cram your life story into a postcard. They have a time and place where they can be effective, but it has to be very direct,” Penn said.

While they may work gangbusters for promoting specific offers and channels, Penn joked that the ability to sell a John Deere tractor using a postcard could prove to be difficult. “I would say the pitfall is be careful that you don’t try to make it do too much beyond what it’s capable of doing,” he warned.

“There’s a lot of things you can do in an envelope package that you can’t do in a postcard, and I am not saying a postcard is the only way to go, but we have found success at every step of the sales process with most products or services,” Goodman concluded.

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3 Responses to “8 Ways to Design Successful Postcards: Learn how to effectively deploy postcards in your direct mail arsenal”

  1. brittbrouse 01.14.10 at 11:08 am #

    Thanks for stopping by!

  2. purplemonkeyprinting 01.14.10 at 11:02 am #

    Really great article.

    Definitely captured a lot of things that are wrong with many mailers today…well even design as a whole.

    Cheers.

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