Adrian Rowe

How to Create More Effective Direct Mail: The First Hurdle

Seven proven techniques to encourage more recipients to open your mailings, consider your content and engage with your brand.

You wouldn’t open a new store on a busy High Street without giving a lot of thought to your exterior and your window displays, would you?

So when you’re designing a new promotional mailing, it’s just as important that you encourage the maximum number of recipients to open your envelope and ‘walk through the doors’. According to Royal Mail research, 72% of people say they open all their mail, but that still means more than 1 in 4 aren’t necessarily going to engage with your message…unless you give them a compelling reason to.

How can you improve your chances of success?

Consumers expect communications to be timely, relevant and personal, and ideally useful too. And it starts right there – on the doormat. We all lead busy lifestyles and we’re all bombarded by advertising messages online, in print, on TV and out and about. What are the most effective tactics to grab the attention of your audience…persuade them to pause…and consider your latest product or offer?


  1. Make a Compelling Offer

Whatever your product or market sector, you need to work hard from the outset to encourage a response. The same factors that make an attention-grabbing newspaper headline work just as well on the doormat. What’s new about your product? What makes your product unique? How might the recipient miss out if they don’t find out more? How will they benefit by reading on?

“Discover the secret of younger looking skin”.

Variations on this headline have been grabbing attention for decades and no wonder. In seven succinct words, it makes a promise that appeals to almost half the planet!

Better still, phrase it as a question:

“Would you like to know the secret of younger looking skin?”

If your targeting is good, almost everyone receiving this envelope will be nodding and silently mouthing ‘Yes’, so you have not only increased your ‘openers’, but you have put them in a positive, receptive frame of mind.

Even better still, make them an offer. Can you give something for free (the most powerful word in the marketing playbook)? Is there a big discount? Will they miss out on a bargain if they don’t read on right now?


  1. Be Creative with your Format

Dramatise your message and offer by using die-cut elements to create stand-out on the doormat. Explore the rich variety of one-piece mailers, postcards and special formats available to create engaging, memorable mailing packs. Check out GI Solutions’ website for a wealth of inspiration.

Don’t underestimate the importance of colour when designing your outer envelopes. You can revitalise a failing mail-pack with a colour overhaul, as I once did with a long-running, successful mailing when response rates started to decline, by switching from green to an orange background. Use colour to support your offer or your values. Blue conveys trust and strength, while orange promotes friendliness and confidence. And it may be clichéd, but red is still the most powerful colour to convey excitement, bargains and discounts.


  1. Use Digital Print to Get Really Personal

Remember, direct mail should be timely, relevant and personal. Why go to all the trouble of capturing and storing all that great data about your customers’ preferences, buying habits, pets’ names and more in your Big Data silo if you don’t use it when it could be most effective? You’ll get a much bigger impact and more sustained attention to your message with clever use of personalisation.


  1. Extend the Address Window

If you’re not using digital print, you still have the opportunity to make your envelope message more personal by extending the standard address window. What’s more, it feels like the recipient is able to ‘peek inside’, and they’re one step closer to opening your pack.

“£100 worth of vouchers just for you, Mrs Sample”

“Would this sofa look good in your lounge at Rose Cottage, Mrs Sample?”

“An exclusive thank you gift for VIP customers like you, Mrs Sample”

Messages like this, used effectively in an extended window or, even better, an extra window, can boost your open rate and dramatically impact your ROI.


  1. Use a Hand-scripted Message

Probably only your gran or your favourite auntie will bother to send you a hand-written letter these days, but it’s still a thrill to get them, isn’t it? We are still hard-wired to expect that a hand-written outside means a more personal message inside. Closed face envelopes with hand-scripted fonts continue to get big uplifts for mailers who know the secret, especially if the envelope features an extra message in the same font.


  1. Always Include a Call to Action on the Outer

It seems obvious, but many mailers seem to ignore the fact that some of their recipients will already be very receptive to their offer, especially if the data selection has been done well. Don’t miss the chance to ‘ask for the sale’ right there on the doormat!


  1. Always, Always Feature a Deadline!

And finally, no matter how utterly wonderful your offer is, few of your recipients will leap into action and take up your offer immediately, without hesitation or delay! We all lead busy lives, have the attention span of a goldfish (or less apparently, since the smartphone revolution*), and put things on a ‘to do’ pile (that never gets ‘done’).

So always, always put a deadline on your offer…or find a way to create one. And feature it prominently on your envelope. Give your recipients a compelling reason to open now, read now and act now…or lose out.

So there you have it – seven proven techniques to increase your open rates and improve your bottom line.

Act now and put these techniques into action…or lose out!


Adrian Rowe is an Honorary Life Fellow of the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing, Chairman of marketing agency Red C and a regular speaker on direct and digital marketing issues. He developed the Direct Mail Fallout Model to help marketers improve the performance of their direct mail

You can download your own copy of the Direct Mail Fallout Model here: