How to Blend Creative and Copy in Direct Mail

Credit: Pixabay by janeb13

The old saying it takes two to tango wasn’t coined during a discussion of best practices for direct mail, but at the same time, it’s a rather accurate turn of phrase when looking at the relationship between creative and copy in direct mail pieces. 

What makes a direct mail piece truly successful both in terms of engaging recipients but also prompting them to take a desired action is the delicate balance and blend of dynamic creative elements and concise, powerful copy. A USPS study revealed that 81% of people scan their mail every day, and with such a ready and captive audience, marketers need to think both creatively and strategically about how creative and copy work in tandem to capture and hold the attention of those scanning eyes. 

Now, this may seem easier said than done, so to help make the relationship between creative and copy a bit easier to understand, let’s look at some common direct mail elements for a better understanding of how to create messaging that resonates with customers. 

Let headlines lead the way

Because eight out of 10 customers scan their mail each day, marketers need something that catches the consumer’s attention and entices them to devote more time to exploring the mailer. However, the difficulty here is marketers sometimes resort to design elements like funky fonts, arresting images, or other gimmicky components as opposed to crafting compelling, effective headlines. 

While images are of course a powerful vehicle for appealing to consumers, headlines and subheads can be just as eye-catching and evocative when they: 

  • Identify or call out a consumer’s challenges, concerns, or problems
  • Are short (around 65 characters or so), to the point, and action-oriented
  • Forge an emotional connection with the customer
  • Hint at the value of the product or service communicated in the mailer 

Plus, compelling headlines that are succinct and demonstrate an understanding of the customer’s need can pull even more weight depending on the shape of your direct mail piece or the style of fold — for example, you can craft a headline that uses active language to pique interest like open here to explore the right solution for your needs to help guide consumers through the mailer. 

When done right, headlines can go a long way toward establishing that you understand who your customer is, what they need, and how you can help solve their problems or challenges. 

Don’t be afraid to incorporate white space

Much the same way that concise and compelling headlines can both help create a connection with the consumer and help them navigate your direct mail piece, the same goes for the use of white space and its ability to effectively communicate the narrative or value proposition of your offer, product, or service. 

White space — also referred to as negative space — can be categorized into two different camps: active negative space and passive negative space. Active negative space is achieved when designers make a conscious choice to incorporate white space as a point of emphasis for thematic or structural reasons; passive negative space is the naturally occurring spaces between logos or lines of copy. 

While it’s tempting to utilize all the available space with your postcard or brochure, strategic use of active white space can be an effective play in: 

  • Supporting the scannability of the piece and calling attention to specific elements or core aspects of the messaging
  • Creating a visual hierarchy to help the consumer navigate your direct mailer, which helps reduce the amount of visual clutter or noise 
  • Building a more natural bond between design elements without having to use directional cues like arrows, which can take up precious real estate in your mailer and muddle up design compositions

Make the most of shape

Make no mistake: the form and shape of your direct mailer can not only help you craft a more compelling messaging, it can also influence the overall design and open up additional avenues for incorporating powerful visual and design components. While traditional postcards offer marketers a number of advantages in terms of ease of design and affordable postage rates, direct mailers utilizing more unique folds or interactive packaging are more likely to engage and delight consumers, and give marketers a larger canvas on which to work. 

Building your direct mailer around a specific shape – whether that’s a pop-up, lumpy, or mailer where the package itself extends the experience through a clever integration of design and copy – can help push the content of your mailer beyond simply relaying information, and increase the odds your mailer resonates more deeply with your audience.

Don’t sleep on microcopy

Because space is such a precious component in direct mail, microcopy can be a powerful tool in your toolbelt for helping consumers understand the right action to take, the value of the products and services you’re promoting, or core elements to a company’s branding. Commonly found in UX writing, microcopy are small clusters of text that provide small bits of information on products, or instruct users on how to accomplish a desired action or what the outcomes will be of that action.   

For example, microcopy can be very effective in helping consumers understand the chain of events when engaging with a call-to-action, or when providing a disclaimer to consumers about privacy policies, gathering of information, or the background about a company or service. 

Applying the principles of microcopy to direct mailers can be effective in helping the consumer understand how the direct mailer is to be used, or what they’re supposed to take from it. Think of microcopy as a close cousin to poetry in that because direct mailers don’t offer a ton of real estate for long sections of text, you need to convey whole ideas or direction/guidance in a very small amount of space. To achieve this, consider these couple core principles when writing microcopy for your direct mailer: 

  • Brevity: Keep it short, simple, and on-point. 
  • Context: What does the consumer absolutely have to know to get the gist of the microcopy? Even though microcopy is short in nature, it still needs to provide value to the consumer within the mailer.  
  • Authenticity: Just because microcopy is brief, you don’t want to sacrifice an established brand voice or identity. If your brand is more casual or folksy, make sure that is reflected in your microcopy as small flourishes like this can be very important in helping your messaging resonate.