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Successful Direct Mail Campaigns - Postcards

John Safin

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If you get away from hi-tech, direct mail is still one of the most efficient forms of advertising. It's a low-cost opportunity to send a message to your targeted audience. Postcards, specifically, have the ability to quickly capture the attention of someone you want as a customer, or provide an inexpensive way to stay in touch with existing clients. Like any marketing campaign, you need to consider several factors before starting.

The Design

The post office has specific guidelines for postcard design and delivery. If you are producing this material in-house, meeting the criteria will allow the use of the less expensive postage rate. Below are the qualifications (as of this writing) by the US Postal Service:

  • Rectangular and have angular (90 degree) corners
  • At least 3-inches high x 5 inches long x .007 inch thick
  • No more than 4-inches high x 6 inches long x .016 inches thick

  • A larger or folded postcard does have advantages. For instance, a real estate company might want to show a panoramic view of available property or a car dealer could highlight a fleet of the newest automobiles. One of the more popular oversized postcards measures 9-by-6-inches. It is certainly bigger than a #10 envelope and will garner more attention when mixed in a stack of mail. Naturally, the mailing cost will increase with the dimensions increase in size, and folded cards are considered first-class mail. If you have any doubts about your piece, the US Post Service has a business division to answer your questions. A printing service or other third-party professional creating the piece should know the post office's rules.

    Now, to answer the question that burns in everyone's head: Horizontal or Vertical positioning? Think over the years to whenever someone handed you his/her business card and it was vertically aligned. Unless it was presented to you so the words could be read immediately, you had to shift the card to look at it. Did it feel a little odd having to switch the direction? The natural habit is for a business card to be horizontal; same applies to a postcard. There is nothing wrong with a vertical postcard, but people are accustomed to reading horizontal ones. A vertical postcard is terrific for putting coupons at the bottom while allowing your message to remain intact at the top, such as for a pizza delivery company.

    Next, you will need to determine your headline and message. Actually, you'll need two headlines: One on the address side and another on the message side. The headline on the address side should elicit some sort of reaction that will be a prompt for the card to be turned over to the message side. The address-side headline would appear on the left side of the postcard and below your return address. Definitely have your return address on the postcard. This will help to filter bad contact data. Your company logo, stylized fonts, or whatever else is used to brand your business can be used, as well. It is suggested to include your phone number and web site, too. There is a 50% chance the address side will face up when on a stack of mail. Might as well use that to your benefit and there isn't any additional printing cost. Be aware of the positioning of any copy or images so as not to interfere with the post office's design requirements.

    On the message side, the headline will communicate 90% of your message, like the tabloids at your local grocery store. This attention-grabber will give the recipient a compelling reason to continue reading. The content of the copy should be to the point and provide a reason to take action or contact you by phone, email, or viewing a specific web page (more about this later). Squinting is not a comfortable thing to do. The postcard will end up in the trash quickly if the font is too small to read. Graphics and images typically have a greater communication function due to the limited space for copy; photo of a car for car sales, house for real estate, giant tooth for a dentist. . . you get the idea. Remember a picture is worth a thousand DOLLARS (that's a paraphrase).

    Here is a critical aspect of the process: PROOF YOUR MATERIAL SEVERAL TIMES! Did you understand that? There are many tales about someone finding grammatical errors, missing or wrong telephone number, incorrect graphic, or using dot-net instead of dot-com AFTER the material was mailed. Some mistakes could cost more than others. What happens if you're advertising a “Buy One, Get One 50%-Off" and nobody noticed the “Buy One" portion was missing? Okay, that example was over the top, but you get the idea. Conditions, restrictions, copyright marks, and other “read the small print" objects will need to be checked for errors and to make sure it's actually on the piece. Try to have several people check the material for accuracy before sending it to the printer, and check it again when the printer sends a sample proof. You might find a previously missed gaffe or the colors didn't turn out the way you intended.

    There are probably several printing services in your immediate area. Take advantage of the Internet and research printers in other areas as well as some of the online print companies.

    Contact Data

    Let's assume your client contact database is up to date and used on a regular basis. Yay for you! If that is not the situation, NOW is the time to get it organized and remind your clients that they are still important to you. Yes, that's right: Your current clients will feel slighted when non-customers (prospects) receive some promotional price on your goods or services. If your business isn't structured that way, then think of mailing a postcard to your clients as providing good customer relations.

    Your company's web site is the next inexpensive and easy method for collecting contact data. Give the web visitor a reason to reveal their all-secret identity by offering something you have that has intrinsic or real value, such as joining a list for discounts, a free newsletter, or access to an informative article. Just be pushy about it. Asking too for too much personal information too quickly is a turn-off and will chase away potential customers. A “Contact Us" page with a standard form is sufficient for most business models.

    Some lists are available for free. Government records, apartment complexes by unit number, or cooperate with another business on a joint mailing. Ask your current clients for the names of people they know who might be interested in your product or service. By the way, the easier it is to get a list the more other groups/businesses will be using it too.

    Business associations, social organizations, and publications where your company advertises might allow you to use their list of members or subscribers. This will provide an additional level of filtering to reach a more targeted audience. In many instances the organization will ask you to supply the materials and they will coordinate the mailing in an effort to keep their list private. Some associations will permit a third-party (fulfillment house) to process your campaign under the agreement the list will be kept confidential. Whether or not there is a charge for acquiring the list depends on the policies of the business or organization.

    Purchasing data is a very efficient means of acquiring quality contacts. There are many companies that specialize in gathering and purifying contact data. This will save some marketing dollars as you can target a specific audience. The list can be as simple as name and address by geographic location or filtered by a detailed demographic search. The more detailed the information the higher the cost will be. Lists range in price from 15- to 75-cents per contact. When you interview list companies ask about the error rate for their data. At last check, 9% bad data is the industry average.

    Use the recipient's name whenever you have it. Mail addressed to “Occupant" or “Resident" is a signal to throw it away immediately. Be a little creative for when the name isn't available. “Hungry BBQ Lover" to advertise a restaurant is a good way to get attention.


    Get your postcards, buy the stamps, print address labels, attach both, and drop in the mail. Done! That was the simple version. Some businesses will engage the entire family in this type of production. Many independent contractors will sit at home in front of the television and process all their material. It works and it might work for you.

    Let's say you plan to mail considerable quantities - 500 or more pieces - on a routine basis. Take into consideration the man-hours (labor cost) of using your staff and executing a timely campaign. You might want to think about having a bulk mail license to save on postage. It is suggested to assign one or two people to ensure all the bulk mail is sorted according to the licensing agreement with the US Postal Service.

    Fulfillment services can process your materials, get it to the post office, and most will allow the use of their bulk mailing license. Their representatives can offer ideas and suggestions for how often you should send mail, the latest trends in direct mail strategies, and help coordinate your mailings with the rest of your marketing plan. Some printing companies also offer mailing service; a one-stop shop for all your distribution needs.


    As with any mailing, the success rate of the campaign increases considerably when it's followed up with a phone call. This “warm call" can be used to confirm the postcard was delivered to the intended recipient or find out if there are any questions about the postcard's message. When dealing with a large number of contacts, it might be best to retain the services of a telemarketing or business development company. A personal visit (door knocking) can be equally as effective.

    Earlier in this article it was suggested that one way for people to act on your message is for them to visit a specific web page. Specific because it's easier to know why web traffic has increased and who is visiting. Make sure the web address (URL) is simple and clear, for instance ‘ ’ People will get frustrated if they can't get to where they want to go quickly. It is not necessary to have a unique page for the campaign; it only makes it easier to track responses. Remember to test the web address and review the page as part of the proofing process.

    Your frontline staff should be prepared to react with any calls or responses. Create a system and teach your staff the process. If your postcard included some type of discount, make sure your computer or cash register system has been programmed accordingly. For retailers who featured a particular product: Think about the in-store presentation. You could have the product prominently displayed at the front of the store. Since the customer already knows about the item from the postcard, a suggested strategy would be to have the display in another section of the store to encourage shoppers to walk through to see more of your offerings. Situate a complimenting product close by to capture any impulse purchases. For example, if your featured product is kitchen knives, place within arm's reach a selection of cutting boards, blade sharpeners, and protective gloves. Grocers do this all the time. When you buy ice cream you don't have to go very far to find the chocolate and caramel sauce.

    Tracking Results

    You will want to have a system for tracking each mailing. The message, any offers or discounts, to whom the card was sent, when it was sent, its projected delivery date, and the cost of the campaign. Aside from your due diligence as a responsible business person, you'll want to know the effectiveness of the promotion.

    Tracking the response rate is vitally important. Criteria such as who responded (because it might be someone who was not on your list), promptness of the response compared to the arrival of the offer, the offer that got their attention, and how they contacted you (phone, email, web hit), was the person making a purchase or an inquiry call and when do they plan to buy. Record how many postcards were returned to quantify your database and update your mailing list for future use.

    With the information on the cost of materials and distribution compared to responses, you will be able to calculate your key numbers. This information will aid in the design and content of future mailings.

    Key Numbers

    Percentage of Bad Contacts =

    Number of Returned divided by Total Mailed

    Percentage of Responses =

    Number of Responses divided by [Total Pieces Mailed minus Returned Pieces]

    Cost per Response =

    Total Cost of Campaign divided by Total Responses

    Cost per Sale =

    Total Cost of Campaign divided by Total Responders who made a Purchase

    This example is a simple analysis. Depending how many factors were included with your original data, it is possible to delve into the information (datamine) to find more responses from a particular zip code, people in a certain age range, by gender, or any other demographic aspect. Whether it's simple or profound, you need to know the effectiveness in order to plan the next campaign.

    For some, postcards will be the best communications tool, and for others it won't fit their business structure. Without a doubt, postcards are an effective way to stay connected with your target audience when incorporated into an overall marketing strategy. They will help to keep your message fresh and your name in front of current and potential customers. See if they will work for you!

    John Safin has written non-fiction, fiction, humor, and political ravings plus acted as ghost and speech writer for top business leaders. He can be found as a gregarious marketing and public relations professional. In addition to his writing talents, John creates promotional materials, graphic and web site designs. John is the founder Writers Round Table Phoenix. Originally from Upstate New York, John now calls Phoenix, Arizona home.


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