Creative, Direct Mail, Marketing

The Mail Piece: A Message in a Bottle

Before we discuss the integral components of a mail piece, we must get one relevant best practice out of the way: the mailing list.  Use a quality mailing list!  Before you ever start creating a mail piece have a specific audience in mind. Target this audience. This could involve renting a mailing list from another company or using your own customer file.   As you are designing, remember your audience.

When you haven’t targeted your list & offer properly, you’re not sending direct mail… YOU ARE SENDING JUNK MAIL & NO ONE LIKES THAT. -Summer Gould Tweet This

Now, let’s talk about the actual mail piece.

“50% of work involved is in reading, research, and preparation” –Don Hauptman

Mail Piece Content

Content is the message you present through your mail piece once all your research and preparation is complete.

Put as much care into each aspect of your mail piece as possible, and it will work for you. – Craig Simpson Tweet This


More information is better. Provide all information needed to educate the mail piece recipient about your offer, product, and company.  Be authentic in the way you present the information, it should represent your brand while being personable and real.

As you write, personalize the content to both your mailing list audience as well as the individual. Write as if you are speaking to an actual person; customers prefer and expect this. Provide deeper insights into the solution you’re offering – set yourself apart as an expert in your industry.  These deeper insights might be expounded upon through benefits or features.  Tell the customer how your product or offer benefits them.  Features are best to use when selling a product or service to a business, companies want to know the features and specs of a product.

Where to Focus

Keywords: free or no obligation, see/details inside, limited time only, announcing/at last
Hot Spots: first paragraph/line, header, post script, last paragraph/line, photo captions, response/order card
Types of Response: URL, phone number, business reply envelope), coupons, order card

Make it Fool Proof

Help your customer reach you by giving them multiple ways to respond to your offer. Determine which response medium your customer is more likely to prefer.  As some research reports, “a printed response device has 20% to 25% response because it’s both a physical and subliminal reminder.” (Sheera Eby)

Secondarily, have a clear and compelling call to action, repeat it, and place it in various strategic locations.  Don’t make the reader search for what you want them to do with your mail piece and offer.

Lastly, remember the power of the PS (post script), people read it. The PS should include your primary message, a clear call to action and a deadline. Your post script, whether at the end of a letter or strategically placed elsewhere on a mail piece, should encapsulate the essence of the entire direct mail campaign in a succinct but captivating sentence.

Mail Piece Design

Design is the form you have chosen to display your content through, how you’ve chosen to express your message; it’s the bottle.

I see the outer of the mail piece the same as a store window… -Patrick Fultz Tweet This

Layout & Typography

Leverage the full power of layout and typography. Make it both attractive and readable. You want your mail piece to be aesthetically pleasing with composition, colors, and lines that flow. While focusing on aesthetics, remember to keep it simple and clean. Your customer shouldn’t be spending extra time understanding the content because of complex design.

With this, use the layout to allow your customer to skim your mail piece for the part of the message they need to know.  When designing, hold to the basics of design. It’s tempting to let trending or innovative design techniques overshadow or destroy your content. Let your concept guide your design process. On the same note, remember to adhere to the United States Postal Service guidelines.

Appeal to the Senses

Grab attention immediately with any of 5 senses: touch, taste, sight, smell, and sound.  The strongest is the sense of touch. When the recipient pulls the mail piece from the mail box and holds it in their hands, does it feel different from the other mail?

The next easy connector is the sense of sight.  Spatially, within the mail box, does your mail piece stand out? It might be the size (is it the big one or the small one), the color, or the packaging material. Graphically, are there bold images and strong headlines that would visually catch the recipients’ eye?

Taste, smell, and sound may be a little more difficult to implement within reason or without taking away from your message. However, do not underestimate the power or possibilities of these senses. Just recently the USPS awarded the first Irresistible Mail winner, the Black Hills & Badlands pine-forest scratch-and-sniff.

When designing for the senses, remember the effects of the senses on emotion. Use sensory (color, images, scents, etc.) and feeling (memories) as well as social identification to engage recipients emotionally.

Materials & Printing

Consider the format, windows (strategically shaped and placed holes), paper materials, print technique, and interactivity (pop-ups, flip-outs, scratch-offs, digital scanning).

The format you choose could greatly determine the printing time and costs.  This could include things like windows, interactivity features, and including the envelope in your design.

The printing materials and printing technique can greatly increase the sensory responses mentioned above, as well as add to printing time and costs.

As you begin planning your design and consider elements that could increase printing and production time and costs, you might also want to think about how and why you could print a larger quantity at once to cut the cost.  One example of this would be to design for multiple purposes.  Design a mail piece that is used not only as a mailer but also as a takeaway at an event and a rack card on display at a receptionist desk.

As you consider material and printing options, keep in mind the USPS guidelines & pricing.


There’s a lot that goes into a mail piece from concept to product. Remember to start at the beginning with a concept and an offer. Let these guide your development process as you integrate content and design. Keep it simple. It’s better to have a basic mail piece that has been successfully delivered and read, than an over-the-top one that never arrives or recipients find confusing. Let your concept direct your content and design, and your customers direct how you gradually innovate.

Written by Emily White

Updated by Lindsey Lefevor, 9/5/2017

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