Using Creative Innovation to Cut Through the Clutter

The 3 things you need to know from nailing the basics to taking advantage of innovations

Advertising has been transformed by technology and the explosion of channels and platforms. But one thing hasn’t changed: the power of breakthrough creative to catch and keep consumers’ attention.

Like so many advertising media, direct mail is being moved in exciting new directions by great creative minds. But how can you nail the basics and create pieces that cut through the clutter and drive consumer action? Let’s dive into some learnings from a few creators of this year’s most innovative direct mail campaigns.

Nail the basics

Getting the aesthetics of direct mailpieces right begins with understanding your audience and what kinds of images, colors and fonts speak to them.

“Consider what an entire audience may gravitate toward, not just what you like,” explains Rene Bonin¹, creative director of Amplified Mail, a direct mail design platform.

Start with what kind of emotional response you want to evoke and then go from there. For example, a luxury brand might focus on neutral colors and sleek and simple design to evoke an aspirational feeling. A local petting zoo might take a different tack and gravitate towards bright colors and loud, fun text.

Once you have an idea of what you want your mailpiece to convey, you can move on to the specifics of size, shape and format. Each format has different benefits and choosing the right one for you comes down to knowing what action you want to drive. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and consider how you would react to a letter format over a postcard or a catalog. Remember that quality matters and is a direct reflection on your brand, so if you can, create the budget for high-quality paper, design and imagery.

A leading national cable company reaped the rewards of high-quality materials this year with its Refer-a-Friend mailer that used die-cut and soft touch aqueous coating to really catch consumers’ eyes. The brand’s referral message was simple, so it made sense to go with a basic large postcard shape and minimal graphics.

If you’re feeling stuck, remember that when it comes to impactful design, less is more. In Bonin’s words: “Don’t feel compelled to fill every corner to get your money’s worth. You can be heard a lot louder by whispering than shouting.”

Take advantage of innovations

New technologies like digitally enhanced mailpieces can really make your campaigns pop.

A high-quality paperboard company saw this play out with its 2019 holiday card. Working with an outside agency, the brand created an interactive experience to bring its paper-based execution to life. It also integrated a QR code² that could extend the experience online. This combination worked—the mailpiece achieved a high response rate.

Another innovation to leverage is personalization. Take advantage of retargeted direct mail to create mailpieces that play into content a consumer has already interacted with online. For example, if a consumer viewed a specific product multiple times online or liked an image of it on your social media, you can create a mailpiece with that same imagery to provide more details and maybe even a special discount just for them.

A local car dealer saw these benefits play out when it incorporated a personalized handwritten note that encouraged prospects to visit the dealership and trade in their car for a new vehicle. The notes used the consumer’s first name and specific car information to drive the desired action.

Avoid common mistakes

While it can be tempting to go as big and bold as possible, try to err on the side of simplicity. Keep your imagery and messaging clean and avoid clutter at all costs. Focus your design around one specific call to action so your audience knows what it needs to do.

Bonin recommends thinking aesthetically as you design. Set your primary text apart from the background by playing with drop shadows or making background images lighter or more transparent. Be sure to consider the visual flow as well. Use a clear hierarchy of light, regular and bold text and graphic elements to prevent the viewer’s eyes from bouncing around.

Choose one or two treatments for all photos and graphics to keep everything orderly and help guide the viewer through your messaging. And at the end of the day, if you are still struggling, don’t be afraid to call in some help. “If layout and design aren’t your strengths, leave it to a professional—the results will speak for themselves,” says Bonin.

Of course, killer creative only works if can actually be delivered. Make sure to do your homework and research how to properly format your envelopes. Topics to know include postage, endorsements, barcodes and address spacing.

Last but not least, make sure to have fun. Direct mail is your opportunity to show consumers just how creative your business can be and bring some joy into their lives.

Bob Dixon helps develop products and services for the U.S. Postal Service that meet customers’ needs in the digital age. He leads a team that supports a variety of online tools, including Informed Delivery, which is changing the way people interact with their mail.

¹ In writing this article, Dixon relied on “Top Tips to Design an Effective Direct Mailpiece from Amplified Mail’s Creative Director” on USPS Delivers.
² QR Code is a registered trademark of Denso Wave Incorporated.