Direct Mail Best Practices Guide

Know Your Target Audience

It’s nearly impossible to design an effective direct mail piece if you don’t know who you’re targeting. Understanding what your audience wants helps you create a persuasive design that complements the copy you write.

Identify the Goal of Your Piece

Knowing the goal of your piece (and your campaign as a whole) helps you tailor the message you want to send and informs your decisions about copy, imagery and format. Keep the tone of your text consistent with your other communications.

Plan for Personalization

Personalization is one of the most powerful tools in direct mail. Each of your direct mail pieces can be personalized to appeal to the preferences of the recipient.

Choose the Right Format

Format dictates the amount of copy and images you can fit onto your piece.

Organize Copy Effectively

Your offer and CTA need to stand out clearly since they’re the most important parts of your mail piece. Your direct mail should include:

  • Headline: Cut through the clutter with a focused and compelling headline. Be sure to use a powerful, bold headline that tells your story and highlights your offer. Keep it short and specific. If you’re mailing in an envelope, tie the snipe on the outer envelope (OE) to the headline on your letter, mailer or brochure.
  • Subheads: Use subheads to guide a reader through your text and highlight your most important points.
  • Body Text: Being clear and avoiding jargon doesn’t necessarily mean talking down to your audience.
  • Your Offer: Clarity is key. Remember your audience and what you’re selling. Be sure the offer stands out and is compelling and appropriate to your target audience.
  • Call to Action: What do you want the recipient of your direct mail piece to do? Make it obvious and easy, otherwise the consumer probably will not act (example: Call us now to save big).

Visual Design

A brand is much more than just a logo. The visual components of your design provide the initial impact of your mailing. Typography, your color scheme, use of white space and images all contribute to making your piece the one your prospects respond to.

  • Typography: Pick a small combination of fonts – no more than three – that support your marketing and brand. Make sure they are easy to read. Vary font size to add visual interest.
  • Colors: Pick a color scheme that makes sense to your audience. Reds for a dentist or doctor is probably a no-no. If you’re a lawyer or an accountant, remember that people expect you to look professional, so that day-glo paisley background is out.
  • Keep it Simple: Be clear and don’t clutter your message with unnecessary design elements. A beautiful shot of a flower or a piece of furniture is more compelling than 10 indecipherable images.
  • Images: Images for print are different than those we use for online work. If you download images from the internet, be sure they are of high enough quality to be printed. Avoid backgrounds that are busy. Don’t put text on top of complex images.
  • Use Your Space Wisely: Remember that an area of white or a block of color can be as important as an area with text and an image. Keep your piece from being cluttered and overcrowded. The goal isn’t to fill up space; the goal is to use it to get your message out in a way that is appropriate to your audience and your goal.


  • Search for spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Is the information accurate (offer, phone numbers, url, expiration date, etc.).
  • Does the overall design of your ad flow and make sense?
  • Are there any places where the copy is unclear or confusing?
  • What’s the main point you’re trying to emphasize on your piece? Is it coming across clearly?

Jenny Lassi • September 1, 2020

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