How to Know When to Splurge on Direct Mail

Meet the writer: Karen Pieper

Hi, I'm Karen! I've been in the industry for 18 years and can't wait to share my perspective on all things direct mail. I'm currently the Digital Marketing Manager at Letter Jacket Envelopes and deal with tasks from managing the website, facilitating conversations with customers, and much more!

How do you know when to take your direct mail campaign up a notch? As a business or non-profit, you’re under constant pressure to impress, yet you’ve always got to keep an eye on the bottom line. You always pass up that fancier paper, the square envelope, the metallic ink. But when’s the moment to say yes and how do you know when to splurge on direct mail?

How to Know When to Splurge on Direct Mail

We’re not talking about replacing the non-negotiables. But there is a time to go all-out, adding out-of-the-ordinary touches, to achieve a certain kind of value. Let’s talk about some occasions when you might add extra “oomph” to your mailer while feeling happy and wholly justified before the CFO!

Dressing to impress

There are many instances in which your mail is competing with other interests—or competing with the glazed eye effect. Splurge on direct mail when you need to impress and get noticed:

  • Before and during a launch
  • In transition
  • At the start of new initiatives
  • When mail volume peaks, such as holidays
  • At the beginning of the academic year

You’re trying to catch the attention of an audience who is not necessarily prepped to hear something new from you. They’re not necessarily waiting for this piece of mail. In these cases, don’t be afraid of branching out. One great way to do that is through trying a larger format.

Going bigger could be as a simple as trying an oversized postcard to announce a special event or promotion, or using a large booklet or oversized brochure to introduce folks to your fundraiser, rather than the same annual letter. It makes a visual impact and demonstrates an investment in the recipient.

It also gives the designer more room to play and be creative with your message. In fact, get your designer in on it. Like asking a hairdresser at a salon, “What would you do with my hair if you were me?” Ask your designer what he or she thinks would make the most impact if budget were no factor. (Of course, budget is, but you can always scale it back.) This helps you get out of the deadly Safety Zone. Don’t let your direct mail always be the equivalent of the discount wash and trim.

Staying memorable

The number one way to stay memorable through direct mail is to provide a quick bridge between the mail and a subsequent experience with you. Technology is an ideal way to make this happen.

It’s not likely you’re going to “wow” people by your technological prowess, but rather by the lengths to which you go to provide a connection or offer that is really interesting and useful to them. If you’re striving to somehow save them time in getting what they need or connecting to you, that’s hospitality, and that’s impressive—not the fact that you know what a Twitter handle is. Good examples include:

  • Online offer they can redeem immediately
  • Recipient-specific coupon codes
  • Personalized URLs
  • Social media handles
  • Connection to a text reminder service
  • Easy text or online RSVP
  • Quick access to customer service

If digital explorations aren’t quite your audience’s cup of tea, you can make an impression on memory by intentionally engaging other senses, such as touch. Unexpected shapes and textures, heavier paper, or special blends with fabric fibers such as cotton or linen, are commonly used to make a piece of direct mail feel distinctly uncommon.


Rebranding is the time to win new people and refresh your relationship with standing partnerships. A great way to do this is through color.

Color sends messages. Depending on your palette, your organization can communicate, even from the first glance at an envelope, that you’re resourceful, warm, relaxed, energetic, joyful, dependable, venerable, playful—the list goes on and on. As you rethink your logo and color schemes anyway, take the opportunity to strategize a few key mailings that introduce your new venture.

Use color carefully of course, and don’t overdo or overwhelm. But if you’re always in the black and white zone, or black and white plus your logo, that is your comfort zone, and you know what they say about comfort zones. Play with color in font, borders, new images, and on your envelope. Anything that isn’t white will stand out instantly.


There are times when you not only need partners and investors but specific partners and thus the right attention. When a potential connection means a higher-than-average ROI on that relationship, your outreach budget needs to increase accordingly. The less you can afford these folks to send your mail to the recycle bin, the more you need to invest in ensuring they’ll open and respond.

One way to do this is through personalization. Even if you’re sending a similar message to a broader audience, take your time to design VIP small batches, tailoring closely to one or more special audiences. (This may even mean different design and production details for a single ask, a single promotion, or a single invitation.) Customization allows you to add local, regional, cultural, and extremely personal touches, such as handwritten notes, that speak directly to your readers and invite greater engagement. This kind of personalization goes far beyond using names, and if used well, especially for high-impact occasions, make great returns possible.

Finally, since fundraisers so often happen around holidays, metallic inks, usually skipped over because of cost, can be a worthy investment. They can be sophisticated, elegant, or flashy, and people associate them with holiday festivities. Also, silver and gold—to be blunt!—visually suggest “money” and “wealth.” They say, “An investment has been made here, and will continue to be made.” Don’t be afraid to work some interesting inks for the right cause!

At Letter Jacket Envelopes, we’re the envelope gurus. We customize every envelope so you can attract, get noticed, and express your message from the moment the mailbox opens. And you don’t even have to splurge. Check out what we’ve got, and give us a buzz!

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