What’s the Right Direct Mail Format for Your Campaign?

by | May 7, 2019

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Have you ever heard somebody say “Form follows function?” It means an object’s shape or form should reflect what it’s supposed to do.

This approach usually applies to architecture or industrial design, but you can use it to decide how to deliver your direct-mail message to your target’s mailbox. You can choose among several winning formats with the added bonus that they all meet the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) rules, too.

But, not every format works equally well for every campaign. How can you figure out which one is right for yours?

Here are three common direct mail formats and their unique strengths to consider when mapping your strategy:


Why it works

To most people, the envelope is direct mail.

It can include several elements, such as the outer envelope (and its teaser), a letter, a lift note, inserts, a brochure, an order form, and a reply envelope. These components support your message in different ways, such as answering objections and providing extra information.

It is also a more personal way to speak to prospects, to tell your story, and what you can do for them.

Who uses it

The biggest envelope users are verticals like nonprofits, financial services, insurance, healthcare, and transaction promotions. Their audiences require lots of reassurance about data confidentiality and security and most personal information.

Folded Self-Mailer (FSM)

Why it works

This format is more versatile and visually engaging than a postcard. With multiple tabbed or glued folded panels, you have more real estate to tell your customers about your offer and what you want them to do.

Who uses it

Retailers, telecom companies, and some healthcare providers are common users because they need to convey a fair amount of information but without a lot of personalization.


Why it works

Think about it: a 2-sided card that doesn’t have to do any heavy lifting. It gets attention quickly and inexpensively, conveys a small amount of information, and tells recipients how to respond. That’s it!

Who uses it

Postcards are suited for limited uses for most industries, with nonprofits as the biggest exception. Here, more than any other format, the mailer’s job is to focus the reader on something narrow: make an announcement, remind them about a date, tell them about a sale or grand opening, or thank them for a purchase. Because of these limits, and their lower printing and postage costs, they’re perfect for most small and local businesses.

Takeaways & Tips

  • Make sure the content matches your objective and audience.

    Don’t spend extra for a full-dress envelope campaign when a self-mailer can do the same job for less. On the other hand, a luxury retailer can damage its reputation and audience expectations by mailing a postcard on uncoated stock.

  • Use typography and hierarchy to stress important info.

    No matter which format you pick, don’t go crazy with fonts! Just use one or two that are attractive and easy to read. Also, organize your copy, images, and graphics to emphasize the most important information. Make it as easy as possible for your recipient to scan your piece, discover your pitch, price or offer, and know what you want them to do.

  • Check your budget.

    Got a champagne-size campaign but only a beer budget? You have many options for design, printing, processing, and postage but also a wide range of costs. Weigh the impact of each on your campaign’s budget versus your campaign’s objectives and other expenses, such as data and list usage, and your offer’s price points.

  • Watch your timeline.

    A direct mail campaign has many moving parts and tasks to check off from a schedule. Even a postcard campaign could fall victim to delays or holdups in approvals, printing, or postage. So, plan realistically.

  • Decide how this format will fit into your marketing program.

    Is this format a one-off, just for one campaign, or one of your go-to mailers? Developing a template, with copy and graphic elements that you can swap out easily, can save money on the front end but could also become stale easily.

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