The Do’s and Don’ts of Postcard Marketing Design
I’ve been in the direct mail marketing business for long enough now that I’ve stopped counting the years – it makes me feel old. Through all my time in this industry, I’ve seen mountains of different postcard mailers, of all sizes, designs, and quality.
Here’s the most important thing I’ve noticed: Good design matters.
Without high-quality design, the value of an offer is null and void. In order to effectively drive conversions (I mean, that’s the point, right?), postcards must have three things:
- Great product images
- Powerful language that motivates
- An excellent use of space
I’ve seen some incredible examples of quality design that truly have the power to generate revenue growth and boost the lifetime value of customers.
I’ve also seen some terrible designs that made me cringe in horror. But I’d rather not talk about those. I’m still trying to erase them from my memory.
Here, we’ll focus on five companies that got it right. We’ll take a look at each postcard design and dissect exactly what it is that makes it great. And hopefully, with any luck, it will spur your imagination to duplicate these ideas for your own marketing plan.
Here are the main points to keep in mind as we work our way through the list of examples:
1) Keep your headline short and informative.
2) Leverage quality images to promote your product or service.
3) Use powerful, motivational language.
4) Keep it clean and tidy. Don’t clutter your message.
5) Use an expiration date when appropriate.
I’m going to cover a lot of information here. So, to make things easier to remember, I’ll review the topics covered for each example with a little fun arithmetic (yes, that’s a thing).
And don’t worry. You won’t need to dig through old boxes to pull out your graphing calculator from high school. I’ll keep it simple.
Are you ready? Here we go!
1. GRUB HUB
I’m not wasting any time here. Let’s get straight to my favorite example of perfect postcard marketing design.
What do I love about it? Everything!
It’s bright, colorful, engaging, and provocative. It has a beautiful image of the product, and I love that it capitalizes on the current ramen noodle trend that is especially popular with their target demographic right now.
And did you notice that this design turns postcard marketing on its head (literally)?
It’s still a standard-sized rectangle, but by utilizing the portrait orientation instead of the usual landscape setting, this mailer is an automatic stand-out that is sure to get attention from casual readers mindlessly sifting through their junk mail.
The symbolized expletive draws the reader’s attention, and then…BAM! They get smacked in the face with the product AND the offer.
What’s the product? BAM! - Your favorite food.
What’s the offer? BAM! - Get it delivered tonight for $10 off.
It’s a classic one-two punch!
As if that wasn’t good enough, they added one of my favorite marketing techniques: the expiration date.
By placing an expiration date in the ad, it creates a sense of urgency with the reader. Not only do they need to take advantage of this great offer, but they need to do it right away. Otherwise they might miss out completely.
The psychology behind this practice is pretty simple. If you give people all the time in the world, they’ll take it. Instead, increase their motivation by limiting their time frame. This is an immensely powerful marketing strategy that I recommend employing any chance you can.
GrubHub continues their top-notch design on the back by reiterating the offer in clear, bold letters, and add the word “Hurry” along with the expiration date to remind readers that they need to take action right away.
Be sure to notice the amount of white space on this side of the card. This is done intentionally for a very important reason…
Don’t clutter your offer. Make it easy for the reader to find the information you want them to have.
If you present too much text or unnecessary images, you can easily dilute your message.
Remember, the best postcard mailers say exactly what they need to say and nothing more.
Are you ready for that fun arithmetic I mentioned? Let’s do the “math” for the GrubHub postcard:
Unique Orientation + Great Image + Clearly Stated Product and Offer = A Huge Return on Investment!
First things first, let’s talk about that bowl. It looks huge!
Even before reading the text, our eyes are immediately drawn to the heaping product in a way that entices our brains to continue exploring the ad.
Plus, by “hiding” the bottom of the bowl off-page, this image creates the illusion that the meal is too big to be contained on the postcard, and thereby increasing the value of the free offer. Brilliant!
And did you notice the barn and windmill in the background? These images are a subtle way of telling the reader that the food is fresh and healthy. Without a single word, we’re convinced that this product is good for our bodies. Keep an eye out for this technique the next time you’re in the grocery store. It’s everywhere – because it works.
The next two things we see are the words “FREE” and “FREE.”
The power of the word free is undeniable. How many ugly t-shirts or useless keychains have you lugged home from a conference or community event? How many times have you tasted the free food samples and Costco knowing full-well that you don’t even like that food? Ever sat through a pyramid scheme sales pitch just to get the gift card at the end?
Using power words like this is a difficult skill, but with this postcard, Chipotle nailed it. Not only have they masterfully used “free” twice in the same sentence, but they’ve also taken the extra step of showcasing it with quotations. Although grammatically unnecessary, the quotes act like giant spotlights shining down on the offer’s most important pieces of information.
Take a look at the reverse side of this mailer. Notice any similarities to the front? What do you see first?
I see the word “FREE” right at the top. Then I see “FREE” a second time.
And what goes along with these two powerhouse words?
A great brand image. The logo is clear, uncluttered and placed right next to the most important words on the coupon.
Let’s review: Great product/brand image + FREE + FREE = We love it!
3. THE CONTAINER STORE
This is about as close as you get to perfect postcard marketing. And let me tell you why…
First of all, it has a great product image. Even for recipients who are unfamiliar with the closet organization of elfa, the image projects a feeling of class and sophistication. When paired with the bold lettering of “FREE,” it automatically makes the reader feel like this is a product and offer that has some real value. It’s more than enough to entice most people to keep reading.
Let’s take a closer look at the text on the right side of the card. From top to bottom, this is an incredible layout.
Right off the bat, the company name and logo are visible and recognizable, but they aren’t overbearing. You see it…but you don’t. And that’s exactly what you want. Postcards only have a limited amount of printable space. Use it wisely to promote your product and your offer.
Next we have that power word again. Say it with me now, “FREE!”
While I certainly love this word, I should take a moment to advise some caution with “Free” and other words like it. Use them sparingly. If overused, they can distract – or even worse, detract – from the value proposition. Be sure to keep your focus on the product and the offer.
As we move further down in the copy, I love that this ad provides a short and precise definition of what elfa is. For the unfamiliar reader who’s made it this far in the text, now they know exactly what the product is and the potential value it brings to their unique situation.
Down at the bottom, but not to be overlooked, is an expiration date.
Remember the expiration date in the postcard example form GrubHub? That’s a totally different industry from The Container Store (obviously), and yet the technique is just as effective. Both postcards are able to leverage this technique to successfully add value to their offers and motivate their prospects to take action. From food delivery to closet organization: the expiration date should be implemented whenever possible.
On the back side, it might have been a smart idea to focus on the benefit of the product rather than doubling down on the free installation. However, The Container Store’s targeted audience for this promotion is likely comprised of highly educated customers who are already familiar with elfa and its benefits. So, there is likely no harm done in this instance.
Most importantly – and this can’t be overstated – there is yet another expiration date. Don’t take the chance of a reader only looking at one side of the postcard, or somehow missing the expiration date altogether. Put it on both sides.
To recap: Great product image + Clearly defined offer (with description) + Expiration date = Conversions!
4. JACK IN THE BOX
Jack in the Box already has a well-established customer base. Literally millions of people already know and enjoy their products. And if Jack is looking to drive sales, all he really needs to do is give his audience a gentle reminder about the meals they already love.
With a little clever wording and a few mouthwatering images, this postcard creates the intended desire. Admit it. You’re feeling a little hungry after looking at those sandwiches, aren’t you? I know I am.
And that’s the goal, right?
But let’s look a little deeper here.
Those sandwiches are massive. They dwarf the small logo tucked down in the corner. That’s important. Since the headline does nothing to describe the product, the images have to carry the weight. For most companies, I would advise against taking such a risk. But again, Jack in the Box is unique, and frankly, these pictures are strong enough to pull it off.
I love the background image as well. Did you notice that it’s the same design as the inside of their sandwich wrappers? What a smart way to subliminally display yet another aspect of the product and create a sense of familiarity with the reader!
On the back side, this ad makes the most of its space by placing multiple offers together. For most companies, it’s best to stick with one offer at a time rather than overwhelm the reader with too much information. But again, Jack in the Box is well-established, and therefore, has the luxury of appealing to the masses.
If you look closely, this side of the postcard miraculously combines six stand-alone ads all together on one postcard. Each of the six coupons has a strong headline and clearly stated offer. The images are perfectly photographed and free from clutter. Pretty impressive, huh? Yeah, I think so too.
Let’s make note of one more benefit from having so many offers on one postcard. For family dining, providing a variety of coupons lets multiple people enjoy discounts on their favorite meals. This gets more people in the door (or the drive-thru line) per visit and can potentially delight six customers with one postcard.
It’s math time again: Great Image + Great Image + Great Image = What headline?
5. IMPERFECT PRODUCE
This is another example that’s right up near the top of my list. In fact, I’m about to use the word “perfect” quite a bit.
First of all, it has a beautiful image of…well…ugly produce. That in itself is attention grabbing. I love how every piece is laid out separately so that its weirdness is on full display. It’s impossible to miss that we’re looking at unique items that aren’t apart of our everyday lives.
So, we’re intrigued. Now what?
The image is complimented by a headline that is both informative and eye catching. Actually, I might go so far as to call it the perfect headline.
Why? What makes it so perfect?
It’s clear. It’s direct. It’s succinct. In only three words, this headline explains the entire scope of the company, and in the reader’s mind there is no doubt what this advertisement is promoting.
Like I said, it’s perfect.
Once again, I’d like to point out the excellent use of white space. Starting from the outside and moving inward, the reader begins with a wide-angle view of the image and then gradually zooms in to find the product headline, then the offer, and lastly how to find out more info. The website address makes a great substitute for the company name or logo.
With such a well-rounded front side of this postcard, I love that the back is focused on making an emotional appeal to the reader. Let’s not forget that emotional marketing drives sales.
If you can appeal to an individual’s sensibilities through humor, concern, happiness, or any other emotion, you are significantly more likely to earn a new customer. Countless studies have been conducted on this area of marketing, and if you’ve got the time, I encourage you to travel down that rabbit hole (at least a little bit).
By providing facts and statistics on a cause that is at the root of their business model (pun intended), Imperfect Produce is able to touch a nerve with prospective customers. It’s not just that they deliver produce, but they also stop ugly, yet perfectly delicious food from being thrown away and wasted.
These days, many people want to feel that they are doing business with a company who shares their worldly outlook and concerns. More and more, eco-friendly business practices are not only good for the environment – they’re good for business.
And for prospects who are perhaps less concerned with food waste, the information provided here is still intriguing and could ultimately lead to a conversion that may not have happened without this additional information.
I think their offer could be a little clearer on this side and it feels a bit wordy. Plus, an expiration date would be nice. But overall, I love this postcard!
Here’s your review: Unique Product Image + PERFECT Headline + Emotional Appeal = (Almost) Perfect Postcard!
HONORABLE MENTION: SPRIG
Now that we’ve discussed some of the best practices of postcard marketing design, let’s take a look at an example that could use some improvement.
But first let me say that I love this image. In a glance, it showcases the variety and the quality of their products. All of these dishes look fresh, healthy, and delicious. That’s great considering that quality food is a big part of their business model.
So, what’s the problem?
The main issue is that the headline offering is the smallest and most easily overlooked part of this ad.
I’ll say that again to really drive home the point. With any direct mail design, the product or service being offered should be the headline. A prospective customer should be able to gauge the value proposition in a glance. Don’t make people work for it.
With this ad from Sprig, however, what do we see? We see the great images of food, but that doesn’t explain the product or service being offered. We don’t yet know what this postcard is promoting. Most people will stop looking by this point, rendering the ad utterly ineffective.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s continue on. What do we see next?
The company name and logo. That’s nice, but it still doesn’t tell us exactly what Sprig does.
It’s not until the very end, and in a conspicuously small font that we see there is a free meal being offered. Finally!
Still though, a free meal from where? Is Sprig a new restaurant in town? Or maybe a farm-to-table co-op? We don’t know yet, because the ad hasn’t told us.
Eventually, on the reverse side of this postcard, we learn more about the service provided and the value proposition being offered.
Once again, the logo is too large, but at least we’re getting an explanation: “Healthy, delicious meals delivered in 20 minutes or less.”
That’s a headline worth focusing on!
But if you don’t hook people’s attention with the front side of the postcard, they’ll never make it to the back side. You’ve already lost them.
Do we need to crunch the numbers on this example? Nah, I don’t think so. You get the gist of it by now, I’m sure.
At the End of the Day, It's About Your Audience
Look, I could show you a million different examples of great designs that motivate customers, but at the end of the day, the most important design features are dependent on the specific recipients you are targeting.
These techniques might seem simple at first, but trust me, high level marketing is really a specialized art. With proper planning and direction though, you too can see top-tier results from your direct mail marketing campaign.
Just remember the things we discussed in this article:
- You need a great headline, a great image, and great language.
- Expiration dates are great motivators.
- Don’t let clutter distract from your message.
If you have questions on these topics (or others), Scout is here to help. Call or email Jordan or chat with him by clicking the button (bottom right). He’s our postcard marketing expert, and he’ll be able to answer any question you might have.
Seriously. Try to stump him.