Portfolio Image: © Friend + Johnson

Simple postcards vs. fancy direct mail: which works better?

Q: How do postcards perform (compared to specialty pieces) with editors and art buyers?

How postcards perform compared to more specialty pieces of direct mail is the $64 million question. As agents, we guide the talent we represent to do a wide range of marketing and direct mail is always part of the equation.

The big question always comes up: Should we do more frequent mailings with postcards, or a specialty piece that only goes out once or twice?

We find that consistency is the most important factor in direct mail, so if a special piece can be designed in a cost-effective way and can be mailed out at least three or four times during the year, then it will have a bigger impact than postcards. But if the special piece is so expensive to produce and mail (postage is a big part of the overall budget in direct mail) that it only goes out once, then in our experience it’s not worth the cost.

Specialty pieces are often very effective because they do stand out in all the direct mail being delivered daily. But how that piece performs is based on several aspects of the piece itself:

  • Make sure the piece doesn’t have too many extraneous bells and whistles. If it’s overly complicated or the design overpowers the photography message, then your piece will fall short.
  • Make sure the message is clear and is designed in a way that makes it “collectable.” You want a more specialized piece to live and work longer than a simple postcard. Is it an easy piece to put on a bookshelf for later reference? Is it usable like a journal or calendar? Is the piece you are sending worthy of framing? Will future specialty mailings build on the one they have just received?
  • Make sure to build on the design in the next mailing, branding it in a way that reminds them of the previous piece. You want them to look forward to getting your pieces and recognize them when they come.
  • Target these special pieces to a more limited number of clients. Because the piece is going to cost more, make sure it goes to a person you know you want to work with – not just a hot agency you want to get into – and has a need for what you do.
  • If you have labor to spare over cash in the bank for this project, you can do something more handmade. One of my favorite pieces was a collection of small printed cards tied off at one corner with twine.
  • Make your piece personable by including a handwritten note.
  • Know up front what different sizes and weights cost to mail. The cost of postage on an odd-sized piece or especially heavy piece can be a substantial part of your budget.

When you’re sending a reminder, remember that your audience is inundated with other postcards, mailers, etc. What is going to make yours stand out? Image is always No. 1, followed by making sure that whomever you’re targeting buys what you sell. You have to do your homework and use appropriate imagery. It’s not always about the biggest and the best piece; it’s about a well-designed piece that clearly reflects you.

With that said, an overall direct mail campaign designed with one or two unique/special pieces and supported with similarly designed postcards can be the best all-around option. It allows for a more cost-effective campaign and also addresses the frequency need. A kick-off specialty piece supported by four postcards throughout the rest of the year will be very effective because the specialty piece will grab attention and the postcards will help maintain it.

One final thought that can’t be emphasized enough: The most important part of any direct mail campaign is the imagery. The photography featured has to be the hero, whether the piece is a specialty piece or a simple postcard.

Interested to see how Agency Access can help you?
Learn More