Which Type of Direct Mail Should You Send?

Young smiling businesswoman reading a direct mail letter at desk

There’s no denying it – direct mail is here to stay.

Direct mail outperforms email in several areas, including open rates, memorability, and reading preference. In our heightened digital era, handling a physical piece of mail can be a breath of fresh air.

However, “direct mail” is a broad category, that encompasses several different styles of mailings. Depending on your campaign goals and overall marketing objectives, one format may be more effective than another.

4 Common Direct Mail Formats

Letter & Envelope:

A traditional letter in an envelope remains the most personal format for direct mail. Variable Data Printing (VDP) allows for easy personalization of any mail piece with the name of the recipient. However, a letter goes deeper. Rather than a straight advertising piece, which may feel as if the brand is speaking to a recipient as one of many, a letter mailing helps a recipient to feel that you are talking with them one on one.

Letters are the ideal format for nonprofit fundraising appeals. From a marketing standpoint, letter mailings work well to nurture relationships with clients who are already familiar with your brand, to tell a story, and to explain a complex offer.

While some mailings may just be a single letter in an envelope, you can include other pieces of content to help support your message. This could be a brochure, business card, or rack card. For nonprofits, additional content could be a remittance envelope, reply card, or printed insert.

Direct mail letter and envelope
Vermont Symphony Orchestra added interest to their direct mail letter by mailing in a full color envelope (center).

One factor to consider with a letter and envelope format is that recipients won’t see your message until they open the envelope. And, getting those envelopes opened can sometimes be a challenge. A way to offset this is to get creative with your envelopes, either by adding a compelling tagline or printing the entire envelope with a full color design.

Direct Mail Postcards:

Postcard Collage
Postcards offer a readily visible canvas for eye-catching design and imagery.

Postcards are the most visual direct mail piece, because all your content is front and center for the recipient. There’s no need to get them to open an envelope, so your efforts can focus on an eye-catching design for the postcard. In fact, postcards are the most read type of direct mail piece. They’re a concise way to strike your audience’s interest and encourage them to learn more.

Postcards are effective when you have compelling visuals and an attention-grabbing headline. They are ideal for promoting an event, be it a college reunion, formal dinner, or seasonal sale.

This format also works well to track the effectiveness of a marketing campaign. You can include a link to a landing page and track the number of visits to the page or require in-store visitors to mention or bring in the postcard to receive a special offer.

UVM Direct Mail Postcard
This postcard mailing for UVM made use of Variable Data Printing (VDP) to personalize each card with the recipient’s address, graduation year, and reunion year.

And, if you want to add direct mail to your marketing mix but have a tight budget, postcards offer an inexpensive way to cut down on costs while still delivering a compelling message.


At Paw Print, we use the term “self-mailer” to refer to a folded mail piece that is mailed without an envelope but is more complex than a postcard. Like postcards, self-mailers have the advantage of making your design visible from the get-go. They also tend to stand out in a mailbox.

Rice High School self mailer
This self-mailer for Rice Memorial High School is a folded sheet that has been tabbed to hold it together for mailing, and addressed directly on the mail piece.

Self-mailers can be used for a variety of purposes. Many sales mailers include featured products and coupons, (think Bed, Bath & Beyond!). They are also an effective format for newsletters and annual reports, which are meant to be informational rather than salesy.

Because self-mailers are graphically interesting and less personal than a letter, they often get shared with multiple members of a household. This allows your message to be shared among a larger audience than just your mail list.

Dimensional Mailer:

Envelope mailings, self-mailers, and postcards all make their way through your mailbox from time to time. They’ve proven their effectiveness, but they all have one thing in common—they mail flat.

Entrepreneur opening a padded envelope

That’s where a dimensional mail piece comes in. Receiving a package in the mail is exciting and it’s sure to be opened, as recipients will want to see what’s inside.

Often, a dimensional mailing will contain a promotional product, one that aligns with the campaign slogan or the brand’s services. For example, this consulting firm mailed a package to prospects containing branded socks, with the tagline, “We’ll work our socks off for you.”

Including a promotional product is fun; it’s exciting for the recipient to receive a gift; and it is often very effective. As the branded gift is used by the recipient, they grow familiar with the brand’s logo, and are likely to recall that brand when services are needed, or a follow up call comes in.

Direct mail piece with promotional item
We assisted Stewart Construction with this dimensional mail piece, which included a branded journal, brochure, personalized letter, and business card.

However, a dimensional mailing is more than just sending a promotional product. It’s about creating a cohesive package. In addition to a gift, you might include:

  • A letter of introduction, personalized to the recipient and their business
  • A card with a compelling visual on the front, possibly one that relates to the promotional gift
  • Your business card
  • A brochure or flyer detailing your services
  • Custom packaging that entices the recipient to open the package, and aligns with your message and branding

Dimensional mailings are all about making an impression. They’re a popular choice when prospecting for new clients, when such a package may be a lead’s first encounter of your brand and an introduction to who you are. They also work well when sent to existing clients introducing a new service or product you may be offering.

Direct mail continues to remain a popular marketing medium, with response rates consistently growing annually. While direct mail does require strategic planning and creative thinking, it continues to prove its effectiveness, time and again.

Interested in adding direct mail to your marketing mix? At Paw Print, we bring years of expertise to designing, printing, and fulfilling even the most complex mailings. Give us a call at 802-865-2872 to discuss your next direct mail campaign.

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