The Power of Handwritten Direct Mail

April 9, 2020 Jesse Stein Jesse has founded, operated and sold multiple Internet-related ventures over the last 20 years. Most recently, he started and ran DietSpotlight.com, a leading nutrition website with more than 120 million total visitors and 325,000 subscription-based customers. In 2018 Dietspotlight was an Inc 5000 fastest-growing company.

Overview

Direct mail marketing refers to the traditional marketing practice of reaching out to your customers by mail. From handwritten notes to postcards, these messages create an emotional touchpoint and act as a valuable tool for maintaining customer LTV (long-term value). Whether you’re looking to improve your client retention or simply get the word out to larger audiences, direct mail marketing might be the perfect tool for your next campaign.

Different Types of Direct Mail

There are as many types of direct mail as there are things you can ship at the post office. As you design your customer-retention campaign, find a balance between the amount you want to spend and the impact you’ll have when customers open their mailbox.

Postcards

Postcards are one of the most popular types of direct mail. They’re easy to design, cheap to produce, and perfect for automated campaigns.

When you’re designing a postcard campaign, put some thought into card size. Smaller postcards are suitable for reminders, offers, and quick brand messages. They don’t stand out, but because they’re so compact, customers are more likely to keep them in their desks or pinned to a bulletin board.

On the other hand, large postcards are the right choice when you want to grab attention or communicate a lot of information at once. Bigger postcards might cost more to ship, so keep this in mind as you plan your campaign budget.

Classic Packages

The classic package refers to any direct mailer that consists of an envelope with a letter inside. Classic packages may also include coupons, samples, or anything else that fits into a traditional envelope.

The most important design aspect of a classic package is the envelope. Customers will use details from the outside of the package to decide if they even want to open it. Some campaigns see more success with branded envelopes, while others get the best results by using a plain mystery envelope.

Lead Letters

A lead letter is a personal note sent to a prospective lead. This type of direct mail is most suited for corporate communications or high-end clients, but it can also be very effective on an individual level.

Depending on the size of your business, you may want to write a unique lead letter for each client. You can use a template for larger campaigns, but try to include personalized details to help your message seem more sincere. Remember that your goal is to generate a response, not an immediate sale.

Handwritten Letters

Handwritten mailers are one of the most personal ways to communicate with your customers. Believe it or not, you don’t have to write all of those letters by hand – instead, you can outsource to a handwritten letter company.

For design purposes, treat your handwritten letter like a lead letter or a classic package with an extra personal twist. Don’t forget to put thought into the paper, writing style, and length of the note.

A handwritten note can lose its impact if the content is too generic or salesy. A template is necessary for a large-scale campaign, but you should still put considerable thought into the message that you want to send. The letter should be signed by someone at your company who the customers can actually get in touch with. It’s fine to outsource the signing to a handwritten mail service, but make sure the contact information is correct.

Self-Mailers

Self-mailers are direct mail pieces that don’t need an envelope. Brochures, pamphlets, and flyers all fall into this category. Self-mailers are usually distinguished from postcards by their size, shape, and additional folds or layers.

Self-mailers are a lot cheaper to send than classic packages, and they offer more opportunities for creativity than postcards. Many self-mailers can also double as informational pieces to be handed out at your office or retail location. Addresses can be printed directly onto self-mailers, reducing labor costs, and freeing up more of your budget for design.

Catalogs

The catalog is a classic type of mailer that’s used when you have a variety of products or services to offer.

Catalogs aren’t as popular as they used to be, especially now that customers can look at your products on your website. Still, there’s something incredibly impactful about presenting your best products in a physical format, and this mailing method shouldn’t be overlooked.

If you own a retail store, consider sending out a catalog around the holidays or another major purchasing season. Put your focus on products that will be in stock for a while – if your catalog looks nice, it might sit on coffee tables for months or even years to come.

Dimensional Mailers

A dimensional mailer is a piece of mail that’s sent in a three-dimensional package. From boxes to tubes to goodie bags, dimensional mailers are often extremely successful because they stand out from the rest of your clients’ mail.

Dimensional mailers have the highest response rate, but they’re also quite expensive to implement. You can reduce your budget by making sure the package complies with post office recommendations.

The best use for a dimensional mailer is when you want to share a product sample or a promotional giveaway. Spend plenty of time designing the package and its contents, and remember to think about how well your mailer will hold up as it’s shipped across the country.

Designing a Direct Mail Piece

You don’t need to be a graphic designer to create a direct mailing campaign. In fact, many automated direct mail services will handle the work for you. But even if you take advantage of a postcard design program or a handwritten letter company, you’ll still want to make sure your campaign is built on solid design principles and remains consistent with your brand.

Purpose

You should know the purpose of your mailing campaign long before you decide what kind of mailer you’re going to use. Think about what you want to communicate and why you’re choosing physical mail over digital marketing. Then, let your purpose inform the rest of your design decisions. Depending on your business model, you might use direct mailers to:

  • Stay in touch with long-term clients. If you haven’t heard from a client for a while, a small postcard or a handwritten note can be a great way to restart the relationship. Keep the message sweet and simple, and consider offering a service discount if they respond.
  • Establish your brand identity. Customers are more likely to develop an emotional connection with physical mail and handwritten mailers, so this tactic can be a good choice when you need to boost a new or struggling brand. Your mailer might be the first contact clients have with your company, so put plenty of effort into the final design.
  • Announce the grand opening of your new location. Direct mailers are the perfect choice for opening announcements and address changes, especially when they’re sent to customers in the same area. The United States Postal Service even offers an every door option that will let you send mailers to an entire neighborhood or zip code.
  • Send out discounts and coupons. If a customer gets a coupon in the mail, there’s a surprisingly good chance they’ll visit your store or your website. For best results, make sure the same deal is available online; you don’t want to punish customers for recycling your mailer too early.

Content

In the digital marketing world, headlines are everything. But if you send people physical mail, you should expect them to read it – and that means you need to put thought and effort into the actual text.

Don’t be afraid to hire a copywriter to help with your direct mail campaign. Even if you only have one headline and a paragraph with contact information, you still want to make sure your content makes the right impact.

The main difference between digital ads and physical mail is that physical mail can’t be changed once it’s printed. A/B testing is a lot more expensive with direct mailers than it is with digital ads since you have to do a new print run for every variation.

To save your budget, only print as many mailers as you think you’re going to use. You can always order a second print run after the first once proves to be effective. And don’t forget to proofread heavily before you go to print; a single spelling error can cost you thousands in a physical mail campaign.

Visuals

Whether you’re creating a postcard, a handwritten note, or a tri-fold flyer, your visual design will have a significant impact on your campaign’s success. Visual design includes images, colors, fonts, and general arrangement of the piece.

Postcards and self-mailers don’t go into envelopes, which means clients will see your visuals as soon as they receive their mail. These types of mailers benefit significantly from big images, bright colors, and effective use of white space.

Even if you’re using a classic package, you should still put thought into the visual design of the letter and coupons within the envelope. Think about whether you want printed text or a handwritten font, and remember that traditional letters can benefit from an image or a splash of color.

No matter how you choose to design your piece, remember to stay consistent with your brand. Use company colors and fonts that have been specified in your marketing style guide. Direct mailers can heavily influence your brand identity, so only use pieces that you’re proud to be represented by.

Packaging

Physical mail requires boxes, envelopes, stamps, and paper. Since you’re already paying for these amenities, you should choose options that enhance your campaign and help communicate your message.

Start by choosing the right kind of paper for your campaign. Thick paper is more expensive, but it can also help your letter seem more important or professional. Colored paper can be used to brighten up a campaign without incurring additional printing costs. If you’re printing postcards, compare different kinds of cardstock, and decide if you want to pay extra for gloss.

On that note, remember that ink quality is surprisingly crucial for physical mail. If you use cheap ink, your postcard could bleed onto the other mail in the stack. Blurry letters and sloppy print jobs are bad for your brand, so choose a printing company that you can trust.

Next, choose the right packaging to present your piece. Although you can use plain envelopes or boxes, you should consider dressing your mail up with a custom-printed design. Stickers can also be used to give affordable packaging a more brand-friendly flair.

While you’re thinking about packaging, consider who will be completing each mail piece. Folding letters and assembling boxes will require labor hours; that’s why most companies opt for a simple postcard instead.

Running a Direct Mail Campaign

Running a direct mail marketing campaign is easier than you might think. As long as you have a purpose and a few design ideas in mind, you can have your flyers in mailboxes before your monthly SEO results come in.

Develop a Mailing List

If you use CRM software, you already have a mailing list for your customers. Most programs will let you export a mailing list as a spreadsheet or CSV file.

If you don’t have a list of customers, get in touch with the post office. USPS has an every door service that will let you mail to audiences in a specific neighborhood.

Whichever method you use, remember to review your addresses before they get sent to the printer. Small typos can result in returned mail, and no one likes to be referred to as “resident.”

Design and Proof Your Mailers

If you’re going to pay for printed mailers, they need to be worth the cost. Most of your planning phase should be spent creating something that speaks to your audience and adequately communicates your brand.

With that said, try not to over-design your mailing pieces. You can avoid a lengthy design process by starting with a clear vision and working with a designer who you trust.

Proofing is the most important step in the design phase. Start by reviewing the digital version of your mailer; look for errors, poor font choices, and anything else you want to change. Next, ask your print company for a physical proof before they complete the actual run. This will let you catch significant problems, such as misaligned images or blurry text before you pay for a few thousand copies.

Add an Identifying Code

Analytics are an important part of modern marketing. But unlike digital ads, direct mailers can’t be fed into Google Analytics or your favorite CRM software. Or can they?

Most direct mailers have a call to action that includes a link, email address, or phone number. You can track customers by adding an identifying code to either of these methods of communication. Choose a specific landing page, create a specific email, or purchase a separate phone number unique to your campaign. Leads that contact you through the campaign-specific channel can then be attributed to your recent batch of mail.

If you don’t want to use a campaign-specific phone number, try giving out a unique coupon code instead. The goal is to include an identifying feature so you can distinguish mail leads from clients who found you through a digital channel.

Start with a Trial

The best way to keep mailing costs from getting out of hand is to run trial campaigns at every turn. Five hundred postcards are much cheaper than 5,000, and you can use the response rate to decide if a larger campaign is worth your time.

A good rule of thumb is to test your campaign on 10% of your audience. Select random clients from your mailing list, and don’t forget to include a trail-specific code.

If you have a small pool of customers, a trial might not be necessary and could potentially cost you more than running a single campaign. Consider how much each print run will cost you, and make a decision based on the results you want to see.

Run the Campaign

For all the work that goes into developing a mail campaign, you might find that running it is somewhat anti-climactic. The process truly is as simple as printing the letters, packaging them, and dropping them in the mail.

  • Printing: The time between finishing your design and receiving the printed pieces can be nervewracking. Choose a print company you can trust, and always check the proofs before you finalize the job. You should also re-check the quality as soon as your mailers are delivered; you don’t want to notice a problem after you’ve stamped a few hundred envelopes.

 

  • Packaging: Your mailers need stamps and postage before they can be dropped off at the post office. You might also need to fold flyers, stuff envelopes, or assemble boxes. Your print company or handwritten mail service will handle this work for you – ask in advance while you’re planning the campaign.

 

  • Shipping: Many mail campaigns can be run with help from the United States Postal Service. You can also use UPS, FedEx, or your shipping company of choice. Smaller campaigns can be dropped off in person, but if you plan on shipping a few thousand items, you might want to call ahead.

Record Your Results

No matter which channel you use, the modern marketing cycle remains the same: design the ad, deliver it to your audience, and record your results for analysis. Once you have your data, you can do it all over again.

One of your most important metrics is the ratio of letters sent to actual responses. Remember, mail campaigns are best used to generate leads and might not always result in immediate sales. You should also remember that physical mail can take time to produce results; some customers hang onto a coupon for months before they use it.

Physical mail campaigns can also improve your audience’s impression of your brand without directly resulting in leads. Customer LTV (long-term value) isn’t determined in a matter of weeks, and neither are the results of a direct mail marketing campaign. Pay attention to how much traffic you see in the year after your campaign is run. Mail recipients won’t always call you immediately, but they’ll think of your company the next time they need services in your field.

Automation & Outsourcing

Direct mail works, but there’s a reason email is the more popular marketing method. Collecting addresses and stuffing envelopes are time-consuming activities that can significantly increase the costs of your campaign.

Luckily, a combination of digital conveniences and modern industry have made physical mail campaigns easier than ever before. From automated mailing programs to handwritten letter companies, you can send out a direct mail marketing campaign without ever leaving your office chair.

Automated Direct Mail

Automated direct mail refers to the many digital processes that can make your mail campaign a breeze. Features of an automated direct mail service include address databases, activity-triggered printing, and template-based designs that let you avoid an expensive design process.

Address databases can be integrated with your CRM to pull addresses from your existing customer profiles. Most automated direct mail services offer an easily-updated database that pulls records from multiple systems; talk to your provider about options that work for your company.

Many automated services also offer a digital design process that lets you make your own postcard or flyer from a template. Make sure you use high-quality images and remember to choose brand-specific colors from the options available. For larger campaigns, you may still want to pay a designer to make a truly beautiful piece.

The real benefit of automated direct mail is that you can use it to send mail when a customer completes a specific digital action. These triggers might include joining your loyalty club, using a coupon code, or going three months without making a purchase. When integrated with your other digital marketing efforts, triggered mailing campaigns can be an excellent customer retention tool.

 

Handwritten Mail Services

Handwritten direct mail is surprisingly effective. Something about getting a handwritten letter from a company just feels more personal than a typed message or a printed flyer. But unless you want to write a thousand handwritten notes by yourself, you’ll need a more sustainable option.

Handwritten mailing services will handle nearly the entire mailing process for you. Most of them offer multiple handwritten font styles and may even let you choose the paper or envelopes you use. Letters are usually based on a template and enhanced with customer-specific information that you provide from your database.

From handwritten direct mail to more traditional physical mail campaigns, you’ll be surprised at how effective direct mail marketing is as a client retention tool. Put plenty of thought into your campaign, and you just might see amazing results.