12 dazzling examples of direct mail design

Direct mail is one of the most challenging types of marketing collateral to design. The temptation is strong to simply try to replicate past successes and stick with what you know works, but if you want to truly succeed, you have to be willing to try something new.

Not every direct mail has to completely reinvent the wheel. The important thing is to find some way to set yourself apart from your competition – whether that’s a creative new type of packaging or simply an attractive logo. Here are some top tips for creating an innovative direct mail piece, along with cool designs that demonstrate those principles.

01. Create a mascot or character

A mascot can help give your company a face

A fun character can help to humanise your client’s company and encourage people to identify with your message. This Society of Design Etiquette campaign pictured above uses four colourful mascot characters to promote good design principles.

02. Explore subtle textures

A spot varnish creates a luxurious feel

It often helps to engage potential customers on multiple sensory levels. The use of foil stamping in Erre’s direct mail design pictured here is visually subtle, but gives the black envelope a luxurious texture to the stripes that recipients can feel as they handle and open it.

03. Use die cut windows creatively

Have fun with die cuts, like Caroline Henson

A die cut window can express the company’s purpose or values in unexpected ways. This high-concept promotional piece for a hairdresser by Caroline Henson, 'Get rid of your roots', urges the user to visually 'drain' a yellow design of its darker elements. It's an effective visual representation of dyeing brown roots out of somebody’s blonde hair.

04. Get confrontational

An element of surprise can stop recipients in their tracks

Kengo Maeda's Night of the Living Dead direct mail design features an extra flap styled to look like a zombie’s hand. When inserted into a person’s mailbox, the hand can be left dangling out, creating the appearance of a fearsome monster creeping out from inside. It’s a confrontational image that immediately draws the recipient’s eye.

05. Tell recipients what's inside

The benefit of opening this envelope is clear

A solid call to action is an essential part of any direct mail campaign. Most people tend to look at the address area of an envelope first, so that’s one of the best places to put your call to action (as Tartan Marketing has done here by writing 'For the love of wind power: Member perk pack inside' on the front of the envelope). Make sure it’s clear, concise and gives recipients a reason to look inside.

06. Find engaging ways for recipients to open

This direct mail begs for interaction

Another great way to encourage recipients to open your direct mail piece is to make it open in an unconventional way. Warren Hardy for BMW added a perforated pull-tab to this piece that mimics the path of a vehicle cutting through a field of snow. It’s the sort of element that begs the recipient to interact with it.

07. Try special finishes

Foil stamping doesn't need to be shiny to make an impact

Foil stamping is a creative and versatile imprint method that gives direct mail pieces a little something extra. Bamboo Living’s portfolio design features a white, non-metallic foil to make the logo stand out while also maintaining a natural, organic look. For other brands, a shiny metallic or coloured foil might better complement the design.

08. Show off your product

Show the recipient what's inside the mail

Seeing is believing, so showing off images of a client’s products or services is often much more effective than simply talking about them. Company Folders uses images of its products to engage recipients of this sample packet envelope.

09. Seal your envelope in a unique way

These stickers are a fun touch

Sometimes the smallest touches make all the difference. For instance, instead of just sealing your envelope in the usual way, consider using a colourful sticker such as the bowling balls used for this festive envelope from Masterskaya Vkusa.

10. Think outside the box

A controversial approach from Touch

Direct mail marketing doesn’t always need to be in a conventional envelope. Plenty of unusual 3D objects can be sent through the mail. This hand-delivered fake blood bag from Touch is a controversial piece designed to get people talking.

11. Include a free gift

Make sure your gift will survive the journey intact

Offering recipients a free gift (such as a promotional product or other small item) gives them an excellent reason to look inside; it contains something they may actually want. For instance, this unique desert-themed direct mail campaign by MDG Advertising for MDVIP includes a miniature cactus.

12. Provide something useful

Not all direct mail ends up in the recycling bin

Consider going one step further; instead of including a gift inside your direct mail piece, make the entire direct mail piece a gift. Here’s a cool example: the World Wildlife Fund mailed T-shirts to various schools with the terms of its design contest printed on them.

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