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Direct Mail
While I understand the tenets of exhibit graphics, direct mailers are a mystery. What are some key principles of direct mail?
If you have a handle on exhibit graphics, you've already got a bare-bones understanding of direct mail. That's because direct mail and graphics aren't all that different in terms of their principles. Both mediums need to capture people's attention, announce who you are, tempt people into learning/reading more, and provide a call to action (e.g., ask people to visit your booth, buy your product, view your website, etc.). What's more, both graphics and mailers need to somehow stand out from competitors' offerings, include just the right mix of text and images, and deliver clear, succinct messages in a glance.

So if you have a basic grasp of booth graphics, you just need a bit more knowledge to create an effective direct-mail piece. Here, then, are seven key components that every mailer should have.

1. One clear, bold message. Like a first- or second-tier exhibit graphic that provides a single, concise message, the front exterior of your mailer – be it an envelope, box, or postcard – should convey one important (and likely benefit-oriented) message. While that message can't obscure the recipients' addresses, it should be large enough to capture their attention and to be easily read from several feet away. You want people to be able to spot your mailer and read its message amid a stack of mail, most of which features tiny text. As a general rule, that means your message should fill up at least 15 percent of the front of the mailer.
2. A single dominant image that complements the message. Along with your one key message, the mailer needs one dominant image that communicates a specific, as opposed to generic, idea. Plus, the message and image should work in tandem to create a single concept, not communicate two separate ideas. For example, if you work for a real-estate firm and your message is "Fast Sales, Low Commissions," a complementary image might be a house with a "Sold" sign in front and a homeowner with cash in hand. This image communicates your message far more than, say, just a picture of a house or a photo of your agents.
3. Color that pops. In order for your text to be easily read atop your background, there should be a strong contrast between the colors of the background and the text. This is most easily achieved by using light hues over dark colors, or vice versa – or by using two colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. Also be sure not to place text atop an image, as doing so usually creates readability issues. And generally speaking two colors, or maybe three, are plenty. You don't want to turn your mailer into a kaleidoscope of confusion.
4. Subheads or focus words. People tend to skim even the shortest bit of text before they decide to read each word, which means the eye needs an entry point to help readers decide whether they should read more or abandon the effort. Thus, your direct mailer needs a few subheads or focus words – usually in large type or a bold font – to pull the reader into the text and highlight the key points. Going back to the real-estate example, after a short lead-in sentence or two, you might have the words "Why We're Faster" followed by some text on your fast-selling techniques, or maybe the words "More Money in Your Pocket" in bold will tempt people to continue reading.
5. Benefits, benefits, benefits. One of the biggest errors people make when writing marketing messages – be it for mailers, graphics, advertising, or even websites – is stating features rather than benefits. Recipients always want to know what's in it for them; rarely do they care about product specs. So using the real-estate example, don't tell people you have more experienced agents than other firms. Rather, explain that sellers can expect a faster sale and sound advice from your myriad experienced agents.
6. Call to action. Every mailer should answer the question, "What's next?" That is, after reading the mailer, what should recipients do? Should they call you or go online to set up a pre-show appointment? Should they show up at a specific booth number with the card to receive a free gift? Should they simply visit a specific URL for more information? All of these options and countless others are valid calls to action. However, if you want to measure the effectiveness of your mailer, consider having recipients return the mailers or visit a specific website in order to be eligible for a giveaway. This simple step turns your mailer into a measurement tool.
7. Company name/logo and description. While your company logo and name shouldn't overshadow your message, image, and benefit statements, recipients must know who sent the mailer, what the company offers, and how to obtain more information. In addition to providing your name and logo, use a straightforward, concise company description, as opposed to long-winded "marketing speak." For example, use "ABC Real Estate, providing commercial/residential services in Texas," not "ABC Real Estate, your full-service real-estate solutions provider for commercial and residential clients in the Lone Star State, offering more than 100 years of combined experience and top-notch marketing skills." And last but not least, include the easiest way for recipients to contact you, as well as a return address on the front of the mailer, the latter of which suggests your firm is well established and has an actual location – as opposed to being a fly-by-night outfit operating out of the trunk of a car.

It's true that exhibit graphics and direct mailers are certainly different animals, both of which require specific knowledge to understand. But armed with the knowledge of these seven basic principles, you'll no doubt create an effective mailer – and tame the direct-marketing beast.

— Joy Gendusa, CEO, PostcardMania, Clearwater, FL

Help Wanted
Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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