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Choosing the Right Direct Mail Format: Envelope vs. Postcard

Posted by Brian Jones on May 3, 2024

Direct mail continues to be an effective marketing channel, but determining the right format for your campaign can be crucial for maximizing response rates and return on investment (ROI).

The two most popular direct mail formats are envelopes and postcards, each offering distinct advantages depending on your brand, audience, and objectives.

Envelope mailers, often referred to as business or "official letters," can create an aura of importance and urgency, as if the recipient has an existing relationship with the sender. This format allows for more detailed storytelling and personalization, making it ideal for industries like finance, insurance, and other services that require more explanatory copy.

"Official letters," create an aura of importance and urgency... postcards offer a more quick-hitting and engaging approach

A study by the Data & Marketing Association found that envelope mailers consistently yield the highest ROI among direct mail formats, averaging 112% for prospect lists. [Source: DMA Marketing Insights] ]

On the other hand, postcards offer a more quick-hitting and engaging approach, allowing recipients to easily grasp your message and offer. With limited space, postcards work best for well known brands with existing consumer affinity, and for announcements, promotions, or simple calls-to-action.iStock-1469734746

And postcards are generally more affordable to produce and mail, contributing to their growing popularity. According to the United States Postal Service, postcards accounted for 48% of all mail volume between 2017-2021, up 19% from 2016.

But while envelopes and postcards have distinct strengths, hybrid formats like self-mailers and oversized envelopes have emerged, combining elements of both approaches. Self-mailers, for example, provide more storytelling space like envelopes but with a lower production cost comparable to that of postcards. A recent study by IWCO Direct found self-mailers to be the most profitable direct mail type.1


Source: whosmailingwhat.com

Ultimately, the ideal direct mail format depends on factors like brand identity, target audience, campaign goals, and budget. Partnering with an experienced direct mail agency can help navigate the creative, design, and production aspects while ensuring compliance with postal regulations. In addition, regularly testing new formats and concepts can help prevent campaign fatigue and, on occasion, lead to performance boosts.

Which Format Is Best for your Product and Market?

Well, envelopes can cost more to produce and mail than postcards do. Lead times are generally longer, too. But there are some significant benefits. Envelope packages help:

  1. Tell a more detailed, complex story. The typical envelope mailing contains an outer envelope, letter, brochure, optional lift note, and possibly even a reply device. Using multiple elements allows you to provide more detail and help readers make a more informed decision. iStock-172763090
  2. Keep readers more engaged. The act of opening the envelope creates a level of engagement not present with postcards. Envelope mailings can also incorporate interactive elements, such as foldouts, sliders, and other dimensional components.
  3. Make the mailing feels more personal. Envelopes inherently seem more personal, especially when you use real stamps. And with digital printing, you can personalize your message several times and in different places throughout the package.
  4. Offer greater privacy and security. Buyers love their privacy. Envelopes protect their personal information, provide confidentiality, and deliver a message specifically for them.

When and Why Should You Use a Postcard?

With so many benefits to envelopes, why use a postcard?

Good question... Postcards don’t give you as much space to tell your story, and unless you are sending people to personalized URLs, they don’t offer the privacy of envelopes.

Still, postcards have some real advantages:

  1. They get your offer across quickly. With no envelope to open, the basic offer almost always gets seen. Use postcards for new product announcements, discounts and offers, event invitations, and at the very leas, brand awareness. Since readers don't have to open anything, your brand logo, colors, and personality are sitting right there for them to see.
  2. They are timely. Postcards are inexpensive and don’t require much lead time. Use them for spontaneous offers or quick-turn projects.
  3. They make great follow-ups and reminders. A well-produced postcard can boost response rates to other campaigns, whether digital/email or print. If someone doesn’t respond to your initial mailer, nudge them with a postcard. It only takes a glance to be reminded of a renewal deadline, upcoming appointment, or expiring offer.postcards-3
  4. They can help support digital campaigns. Sending a postcard as a companion piece to an email can add a sense of urgency and importance that prompts a response. Or send it as an "advance notice" of an offer coming to their inbox. They one-two punch can be highly effective.
  5. They keep your brand top of mind. Because postcards are so cost-effective to print and mail, use them for more than just direct sales. Use them for brand building and customer engagement, too.

Direct mail remains a powerful marketing tool, but choosing the right format can make a big impact on your engagement, response rates, and overall campaign effectiveness. By understanding the strengths and limitations of each format, you can deliver their message in the most compelling and cost-effective manner.

How To Get Started

If you're not sure whether a letter package, postcard or self-mailer is right for you, let us know. We can help you increase the performance of a program you’re already running or kick off a new one. J&C has over 40 years of experience and would be happy to learn more about your company and your goals. Contact J&C today. That way, we can give you an honest assessment of how we can work with you to achieve better results. 

1 www.iwco.com/resources/white-papers/direct-mail-industry-report-benchmark-study-2022/

Topics: Direct Marketing, Personalization, Relationship Marketing, A/B Testing, Direct Mail, Direct Mail Format

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