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BMI: Tuesday Marketing Notes (Number 408—February 4th, 2014)



Executing Your Company’s Direct Mail Projects (Part 2: Direct Mail Package Design, Copy, and Production)

by Eric Gagnon

Next to your mailing list, the direct mail package is the most important element in your company’s direct mail projects. The copywriting, design, production, and printing of your direct mail package consumes the most time of any other step in your direct mail projects, but it can be executed concurrently with the mailing list selection process (which we outlined in last week’s TMN here).

If your direct mail project is a brand-new mailing list test, or a new mailing to your company’s customer and prospect lists, you must factor in the longer lead time required for your ad agency or direct mail consultant to develop a completely new direct mail package for this project.

If you are “rolling out” from a successful direct mail test, and/or mailing one of your company’s existing mailing pieces, the task of designing and producing your mailing’s direct mail piece is already done, so the time required to scale up your mailings is limited only by the time required to print more of these materials for your mailing.

Direct Mail Package Development for New Mailings

When developing a new direct mail package—that is, a mailing piece having mostly new and unproven elements, and being mailed for the very first time—your first step is to decide on the rough shape this direct mail piece should take.

Are you making a “big,” or a “little,” announcement? “Big,” important mailings, such as new product launches and major sales promotions, generally require you to stay with the proven, envelope-bound direct mail formats, consisting of an outer envelope, sales cover letter, brochure, and reply card, in either the larger 9 X 12 format, or common letter-size (#10) mailing piece. This is also the least risky and most proven format for mailings to outside, rented mailing lists, whose added list rental expense will raise the stakes on any mailing project.

When your marketing project requires that you present, explain, and sell the complex features and benefits of your company’s product or service, the print “real estate” provided by the four individual elements of the envelope-bound direct mail package—the envelope, cover letter, brochure, and reply coupon—give you four separate opportunities to get your sales message across to your potential prospects.

The self-mailer alternative: If, on the other hand, you are planning a mailing that has a “simple” story that can be easily and effectively explained in less space (and your mailing project does not bear the extra expense of renting outside mailing lists), your direct mail piece can take the form of a simpler, one-piece self-mailer format.

Examples of these kinds of mailings using a self-mailer format would include seasonal or one-time sales promotion announcements to your company’s existing customer or prospect lists, “news” announcements, such as industry awards given to your product or company, or other spot promotions and announcements mailed to your company’s “captive” customer and prospect lists.

When in doubt, go with “three pieces in an envelope:” Whenever you are faced with the task of developing a direct mail piece for a completely new marketing project in your company—especially one that involves the launch of a brand-new product, or a product in a new and untested market, it’s best to stay with the conventional, “three-pieces-in-an-envelope” letter-size (or larger) direct mail format.

This format is not only the most proven direct mail format used in most mailing projects, it also gives you four different opportunities to present, explain, sell, and close the recipients of your mailing—through the outer envelope, the sales cover letter, the brochure, and the “call to action” reply card. Most important, this format also minimizes the risk of not providing your prospects with sufficient information to motivate them to take the next step closer to buying your product.

Direct Mail Piece Development and Production: Timing and Mechanics

After you consider the general type of direct mail package required for an upcoming mailing, you need to  work with your ad agency or direct mail consultant to develop and produce the direct mail package. This section covers the key steps involved in the planning, development, and execution of direct mail packages.

Step 1: Sketch Out the Requirements and Sales Copy Points of Your Direct Mail Package

As a marketing manager, your first task in developing a direct mail package is to sketch out the requirements and basic sales copy the mailing piece should contain. The point of this exercise is not to be doing your ad agency’s job for them by writing the direct mail piece, but to lead the process by giving your team a list of the minimum sales copy points to be included in the mailing piece, along with any other direction you think they will find helpful for the project.

Your “package notes” should include the following information:

Who is the audience for the mailing? Describe your mailing list(s) and the characteristics of the people whose names are on them—their job titles, demographics, and previous buying history with your company (if any);

Key sales benefits: List the key sales benefits of the product or service offered in the mailing. Identify and describe the most important benefit, followed by next-important sales benefit, etc.;

Describe your offer terms and call to action: What is the offer and call to action for this mailing? List the price of the product or service featured in the mailing piece, and (if offered) the special terms you’re extending for the promotion. This can be stated as the answer to the question: “What special offer are you willing to make to the prospect if they are willing to respond to your mailing, right now, and what must they do to take advantage of this special offer?” Are there any other terms or limitations to this mailing’s special offer (i.e., what language do your company’s lawyers want you to include in this mailing)?

For this task, the writing exercises described the three-step copywriting exercise covered in TMN #3 (accessible here ) should provide you with sufficient background for sketching out the key sales benefits and copy points of your mailing for your ad agency or marketing consultant.

Step 2: Direct Mail Package Copy, Development and Production

Once you’ve handed over your sales copy outline and notes to your ad agency, the next one or two weeks are a process of going back and forth with your agency or marketing consultant, molding and refining the direct mail package for your mailing project.

The Proofing Cycle

Once you receive a .PDF proof of your mailing package, print it out, read and review it, mark it up with your changes and edits, then FAX your changes back to your ad agency. This process will be repeated a few more times as you and your ad agency or marketing consultant work together to refine the mailing piece to its final form.

At this stage, it’s important not to run through too many of these proofing and correction cycles. once a deliverable is corrected more than three times, the process tends to devolve into an endless loop of unnecessary corrections that serve no purpose other than to delay your mailing.

Create a mockup of your direct mail piece: Once you believe your direct mail package is getting very close to its final form, print out the .PDFs of the individual elements of your direct mail package—envelope, sales letter, brochure, reply card, etc—and fold and assemble them to create a simple, printed mockup of the mailing package roughly approximating the piece you’ll mail to your prospects. If you’re producing an envelope-bound package, tape the layout for the envelope to the front of a real envelope; then fold and assemble the pieces into the envelope exactly as they’d be prepared for the actual mailing.

Look at your mockup with “new eyes:” Put yourself in the shoes of the recipient of the mailing, and imagine that you are seeing this mailing piece for the very first time, having no prior knowledge of what’s in it.

First, look at the outer envelope—does its sales copy intrigue you enough to open the envelope? Next, open the envelope of your mockup and examine the contents of the direct mail piece; take a close look especially at how the individual pieces of your mailing package “fall out” of the envelope, into your hand. Pay close attention to the individual pieces of your mailing: Are the main, bold headlines on your brochure clear and bold, and do they adequately convey the main sales message of your company’s product? Do the sales copy points printed on the other individual pieces of your mailing communicate the other chief benefits of your company’s product?

Get into the habit of printing out the .PDFs of the direct mail package elements, assembling them into mockups of their final, mailed form, and looking at these pieces with “new eyes.” It’s an invaluable exercise for helping you see your direct mail materials (and all other marketing collateral, for that matter) as your customers and prospects see them for the first time. The more you develop this skill, the more effective your company’s marketing collateral will become.

Who else should review the mailing piece? Marketing managers often fall into the trap of letting too many other people review and comment on proof copies of direct mail and other marketing materials under development. This nearly always leads to additional delays in execution and production of your direct mail materials, resulting in lost marketing opportunities and, ultimately—lost sales. Revising marketing materials many more times than is necessary can actually reduce the quality and effectiveness of your final product.

Wherever possible, keep your marketing copy and layouts away from all but the fewest number of people who need to review them. Ideally, marketing materials under development should only be reviewed by three people—you, your company’s sales manager, and your company’s CEO. At larger companies, the company lawyer must also review all marketing copy. Give all of your reviewers hard deadlines on their review of your project materials, and be careful not to let these deadlines slip.

Once you’ve cut back on the number of people who review your company’s marketing materials, also cut the number of times your direct mail materials are reviewed, edited, and sent back to your ad agency for revision. There should be no more than two of these “revision cycles” for any direct mail project; any more than this, you’re losing valuable time on your project.

Get a postage estimate from your lettershop: As soon as you’ve finalized the direct mail package for a mailing, send a mockup of the piece over to your lettershop, along with the other pertinent details of the mailing, such as the quantity of names to be mailed, and the postal rate (First-Class or bulk rate).

Your lettershop can then estimate the total amount of the postage needed for your mailing. Since lettershops require your postage expenses be paid in advance of the mailing, it may take your accounting department a week or so to cut a postage check and send it to the lettershop, so start this process early enough to avoid a mailing delay.

Comments? Questions? Send them to me at:

Eric Gagnon (, a director with the Business Marketing Institute, is author of The Marketing Manager’s Handbook and The CRM Field Marketing Handbook.

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