You know when you’re riffling through your mail and you find a direct mail piece that is down-right painful? Where you see it and think to yourself, “Who on Earth thought this was a good idea?” and then toss it into a pile, never to be seen again? I come across a lot of direct mail design mistakes, both in my own mailbox and as a creative professional in direct marketing. My advantage is that I actually get to ask these brands why they created the piece they did and what they’re hoping to achieve by it. More often than not, their decisions come from not fully understanding direct mail best practices.
Here are four common direct mail design mistakes to avoid and how being aware of them can help you stay away from the “toss” pile.
1. Using the Wrong Tone for the Message
Let’s start off with a general statement about campaigns as a whole: one of the surest ways to get people to ignore your message is to try to sell your product or service with an inappropriate tone. For example, sending a self-mailer in bright colors and geometric shapes might put a local summer camp in a good light, but shouldn’t be used when trying to convey the importance of life insurance. Same goes for financial services that take an overly jolly tone on a topic that, for most people, is deadly serious: their money. If the tone doesn’t match the offer, you’ll lose all credibility with the recipient and will never get them to act. Instead, find the tone that best fits your business and lean into it for maximum branding and response.
2. Adding Graphics for Graphics’ Sake
I’m one of the first people to suggest adding graphic elements. Icons and sidebars break up copy. Bullet points and graphs are great ways to find another entry-point for readers who tend to gravitate toward visual learning. Lifestyle imagery does a fantastic job of connecting the reader to the offer (this is especially true when data is put to good use and images can be specifically tailored to each audience member). However, there is such a thing as too many graphics, and just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.
Like everything else in direct mail design, graphic elements should be chosen thoughtfully with a specific purpose in mind. If it doesn’t benefit readers (by making the piece quicker to understand, easier to remember, or more relevant), it’s not worth the cost of ink. Which leads me to my next point…
3. Overdesigning and Overcrowding
As the old adage goes, more is not always better. Crowding a piece is a common direct mail design mistake that buries critical benefits, features, and calls-to-action that spur response. Using too many colors, text, and graphics, or even just not allowing enough white space for those elements to be effective, will distract the recipient’s eye and show a lack of refinement that translates to a sub-par performance. Just as important as having relevant graphics and text is allowing them the space (and lack of competing elements) to take the spotlight and be as hard-hitting as possible.
I should also note that readability is key—fonts that are too small, oversized graphics, and color combinations can make reading a headache, and when it becomes a hassle, people will just stop reading. Make sure your text is easy to read, your colors complement instead of detract, and graphics are clear and understandable.
4. Forgetting to Proof
Okay, this isn’t exactly a design tip, but it’s too crucial not to mention. Missing spaces, misspelled words, blurry graphics, brand colors that aren’t quite right, and cut off images can ruin a piece, even if everything else is perfect. Make sure you’re getting proofs and looking over the piece to ensure everything is as it should be. Things look different on your computer than they do on paper, so evaluating the design from a printout is important. Make sure you have multiple eyes on it, too, to ensure thorough proofing.
Remember: creative is only good if it works. That’s something I’ve been known to say a lot, and for good reason. You can have the most innovative, high-cost mail piece in the world that could earn you some industry awards or recognition—but it’s not going to earn you any positive ROMI with the cost of ink, stocks, postage, and the inevitably high cost per acquisition that will follow. To learn more on what it takes to design campaigns that are visually appealing and turn a profit, contact me today.
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