Postcard or Letter: When to Send Which

Meet the writer: Karen Pieper

Hi, I'm Karen! I've been in the industry for 21 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!

The World Cup is over. Can you handle more competition? We’re sending two popular direct mail items head-to-head: the Postcard or Letter. When planning a campaign, one of your most important decisions is format. It affects design, budget, and targeting and sometimes it’s not so clear which is best. Which one should you bet on for your next campaign?

Postcard or Letter: When to Send Which?

What’s great about postcards

Brevity is the soul of wit. It’s also what makes a postcard so easy and versatile. Postcards get right to the point. They are punchy, eye-catching, and image-forward. They’re perfect for mastering the art of branding a message and perfect for providing an easy bridge to your digital location, such as website or social media page.

They’re also:

Great for first mailings. Use them for test mailings, new targeting lists, un- or under-developed lists, and if you’re new to direct mail. You face less risk of not getting seen because there’s no need to open an envelope. People see what you’re about, what you’re giving away, and what you’re after, all in a glance.

Good appetizers. Not literally, of course. But they’re great to send in advance of a more substantial mailing, like a save-the-date, a reminder of a big event or deadline, or a brief acknowledgement of connection. They are easy to scan for important information and easy to file among reminders or stick on the fridge.

Coupons. One of the quickest ways to secure a connection with a prospect or customer is through a coupon or exclusive offer. A free consultation, an admission ticket, 50% off on the next visit, or a special birthday offer all sell themselves brilliantly on postcards. And the postcard is the coupon. So if your reader is keeping it around and planning on using it, you’re staying top of mind. (We think that’s called a win-win.)

Cheap! Did we mention that? They’re less expensive to produce, create less waste, and require less postage. And turnaround from printers is fast. If you need to say something more substantial, or something rather serious, consider investing in a letter.

Louder. Postcards easily catch attention among mail because of their texture and design elements: thick, colorful, and often glossy, among the pile of white matte paper in your mailbox. They have a higher read rate than other mail.

Fun. Postcards often give off a more casual vibe. They’re great for communications with young people and children (think of a church youth department), for summer communications, for playing with imagery and branding (such a small, relatively risk-free canvas!).

Advice for postcards

For advice on direct mail, we’ve got plenty. But here are a few final words of advice if you decide to go the postcard route.

Headlines: Choose your words carefully, and highlight your main message. Readers are likely to see your message, so make it a good one!

Deadlines: Mention time. “For a limited time only…” “Save the date…” “Now through July…” Times and deadlines get attention and draw limits around your offer, spurring readers to action now.

Image-wise: Be image-wise. Keep images crisp, high-quality, and colorful, and use them to your full advantage. Give your readers a reason to hold this postcard in their hands for a few seconds longer. Catch their attention. Look interesting.

Oversize: Consider an oversized postcard, such as a 6×11, if you need to add an extra touch. They do cost more in postage, but you will get noticed.

There’s one side of the Postcard or Letter face-off. Now let’s hear about the other guys.

What’s great about letters

Don’t be afraid to commit to a letter, especially if you already have some direct mail experience under your belt. Letters can be a smart investment of time and money, but they work best when you know who you’re targeting, rather than sending large bulk mailings with purchased mailing lists (which can totally work with postcards).

Letters are:

Nurturing. Use them most for your in-house lists and prospects who have already expressed interest in you. Though there are times for risk, you will get your best results targeting people you already know want to hear from you. Letters are prime relationship nurturers.

Storytellers. They’re so darn good at nurture because they give you lots of space to bring the reader into the bigger picture. You’ve moved from the coupon-grabbing stage of readership (“What am I getting out of this as fast as possible?”) to the participation stage (“How do I want to be involved with this organization?”). Letters take the time to initiate people into the narrative of your organization. Think fundraising season.

Extra real estate. Clean and simple: you get way, way more square footage (inch-age?) for your creative message. While you’re still writing for the scanners, you are simultaneously writing and designing for those who will actually read every word.

Emotionally versatile. Postcards “just wanna have fun.” When you need a serious message, plea, reminder, to give a pitch or spin a yarn with a certain amount of inherent credibility or gravity, a letter does it. It’s intuitive: a longer message says you have more invested in what you’re saying. Readers get that.

Business partners. When you need a check coming your way, an RSVP, a document signed and returned, or other official business, a postcard won’t cut it. Letters allow you to ask for a business or personal exchange at a depth that postcards can’t.

With these tips in hand, we hope you’re able to pick your next mailer format for the win in the Postcards vs. Letters face-off!

Did you land on letter? No one will understand your letter’s sheer genius unless they open the envelope first. We’ll help you give them every reason to. Give us a call at Letter Jacket, and we’ll help you curate your next direct mail campaign, within your budget.

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