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How to Use Color in Direct Mail to Drive Results

Mike Dietz

You might have heard through the grapevine that Pantone’s 2020 color of the year is Classic Blue. I see a lot of blue in my job; there are several studies showing blue is America’s favorite color, and approximately one-third of brands use blue in their logos. There are some interesting articles out there about why blue is so popular and what sort of emotions specific colors evoke, but I’d like to take a step back and talk about some general rules about using color in direct mail packages. Specifically, how color can build your brand, and how color can help inform readers and guide them through your package.

A Few Notes on Color in Direct Mail

Before we begin, I want to note a few things about what I’m talking about when I say “color in a direct mailpiece.”

  • I’m not counting black and white as colors. Technically, they’re shades anyway, and practically, they are the building blocks of the mailpiece; you have to have them, so we won’t count them.
  • If you’re including photography, those colors do not count toward what I’m talking about below. However, with that said, the more photography you use, the more you should limit your color usage when it comes to the body of the mailpiece.
  • You can think of one color as one Pantone. There’s nothing in the rule books that says you can’t use tints of one color to add more dimension to your mailpiece. To put it into an example, Pantone’s Classic Blue at 100% and that same Classic Blue at 50% would be considered one.

Brand Colors Drive Direct Mail Results

It won’t surprise anyone that blue is one of the most commonly used color choices in direct mail marketing campaigns because it is so widely used in brand logos. The primary and most used color in any direct mail package should be the brand color. A study from the University of Loyola, Maryland, says that brand color increases brand recognition by up to 80%. Think: Coca-Cola red, Starbucks green, or Facebook blue.

One way to maximize the impact of your brand color is to make it a flood coat on your envelope. (Our Creative Services team can help our clients understand paper and production requirements in doing this). Solid color envelopes stand out in the mailbox, regardless of their size, and tend to see higher open rates. You can also use your brand color for headlines and subheads, or use it on the promotional card, if your package includes one (and it probably should).

Interrupter Colors’ Impact

Outside of your primary brand color, a secondary color should be included to act as an interrupter color. The color you select should be on the opposite end of the color spectrum for maximum contrast. This contrasting color should be used sparingly to draw the reader’s attention to important details and guide a scanner’s eye through a piece. Elements that could benefit from the use of an interrupter color include calls to action, key benefits, important personal information (think account numbers, amount due, etc.), and deadlines or expiration dates. Really, anything else that should be highlighted in the mailpiece as key information can benefit from using the interrupter color.

For the sake of example, we’ll go with a hypothetical brand that uses Pantone’s Classic Blue. Their interrupter color should be warm to contrast the coolness of the blue; something like a yellow or red would work just fine. Other common interrupter colors are orange, lime green, and anything fluorescent.

Adding (if you must) Complementary Colors

It’s tempting to add more colors to a piece, but don’t. There are a lot of negatives in overloading your direct mail package with colors: it becomes distracting, the reader doesn’t know where to look, and your piece quickly becomes a six-year-old’s coloring book. Remember, you can use tints of your primary color to add dimension and keep your color palette cohesive without overloading the piece.

Really, you should stick to two: your brand color and an interruptive color. If you insist on using three, limit your color palette to three colors max, and make sure the additional color is complementary to your primary color, so the interruptive color remains eye-catching.

If using color in your direct mailpiece has you feeling blue—dare I say, Pantone’s Classic Blue—feel free to reach out to me and I’d be happy to offer you some more colorful insights.

link https://www.iwco.com/blog/2020/02/26/color-in-direct-mail-drive-results/
Mike Dietz


Mike Dietz

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