4 design tips to drive sales

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Everyone is familiar with the infamous yellow starburst. You see it in the Sunday circulars, car dealership flyers and TV infomercials. Are they pretty? Nope. Do they muck up a design that an art director spent hours on? Probably. But do they work? ABSOLUTELY.

Think about it – what do car dealership postcards, Sunday circulars and TV infomercials have in common? They are shamelessly focused on driving sales. My point is that pretty design isn’t necessarily the key to effectively driving response. I like to say that while our direct marketing campaigns might not win us any ADDY awards, they will certainly get results for our clients.

There’s a lot that goes into building and executing an effective direct marketing campaign – data, compelling calls to action (CTAs) and great copy. But today we’re going to focus on creative.

I’ve compiled some of what I believe to be the most important considerations to keep in mind when you’re designing for a direct mail campaign. (Yes, I know some of this might make some creatives out there uncomfortable but stick with me on this. Or send me hate mail – your pick.)


1. UX is not exclusive to digital.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a user experience expert – we have people at Flint far smarter than me when it comes to that! However, I firmly believe that all creatives have to be fairly well versed in UX. I don’t care if you’re designing a website or writing for a print ad, you have to think about how and where people are going to interact with
your content.

For example, did you know that the front of the postcard isn’t the area most likely to be seen? USPS delivers your mail address side up in your mailbox, and the first thing people do when they pick up their mail is verify it was addressed to them – even if they read nothing else, they will look there. That tells me we should be putting our CTA just below the return address.


Here are a few other UX tips to keep in mind as you’re designing your piece:

  • Consider the reading distance. How far away will the reader be from your design? Can they read your CTA?
  • How much time will they have to spend with your content? A print ad experience is very different from that of a web ad or a billboard.
  • If your CTA drives them to a landing page, pay attention to the experience there as well. Are you providing them the information you promised on that landing page? It’s easy to get caught up in the “minimalist” trend these days, but when you’re trying to convert response, less isn’t more. Give them enough information to make decisions and take the next step.
  • How old is your target audience? Keep in mind the age – and quality of eyesight – of your readers. If your target demo is 50+, keep your text 12 point or bigger, limit reverse type and really pay attention to the contrast throughout your piece. (That means no red text on black backgrounds, folks!)


2. Spotlight your call to action.
Look, I get it – you’ve spent a lot of time (and money) to develop this gorgeous new campaign creative and a big old CTA is totally going to distract from the design. Your solution? Make it tiny, reverse copy, and throw it down in the bottom corner. Problem solved, right? WRONG!


The whole point of direct marketing is to get people to respond, and that means keeping your CTA front and center, loud and proud.

  • Make it stand out! Sometimes that might actually mean using a bright starburst – seriously, it works! Starburst or no starburst, keep your CTA large enough to stand out. Highlight the key words or actions in bold lettering. But remember – if you emphasize everything, nothing stands out.
  • Repeat your CTA throughout your piece.
  • Include a response mechanism. Your call to action is what you want them to do, but don’t forget to include how they should respond. Include the URL or telephone number in your CTAs.


 3. Don’t overcomplicate it.
Keep your design and copy simple and straightforward. While clever is fun, it also requires people to stop and think. (I can hear our copywriter now … “God forbid we make someone think!”) There are certainly instances where that is the right direction, but when we’re talking direct marketing, we are often talking a very small window of opportunity to get someone to react and engage. I’d rather they spend time with our CTA instead of trying to “get” the headline.

  • Don’t get clever.
  • Think about the main message you want to get out, and stick with that.
  • Avoid too much copy.


 4. Make it personal.
Include content that shows you know and understand your audience, and that your product is exactly what they need! With the amount of information we know about our customers, there are countless ways you can personalize your messaging and design.

Some of the best places to start include:

  • Include their name in emails or direct mail.
  • Feature a product they currently own or have expressed interest in.
  • Use an offer specific to the product they use (oil change, anyone?).

If your budget or available data limit your ability to use personalized information, there are still ways to make your content feel personal, including showing your product in use and adding a little humor or emotion to your writing.


We could get deeper into design tips and talk color psychology (you’ve probably seen “junk mail blue” used before), A/B testing and the best types of fonts to use but we’ll save those for next time. For now, we hope you’re able to take some of these ideas and try them out in your next direct marketing campaign.


For any questions or to continue this discussion, contact us! We look forward to hearing from you!

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Kaia Watkins

Kaia helps clients drive customers to action. As our dealer channel and direct marketing strategist, Kaia provides strategic and creative planning as well as campaign development. She has 11+ years of experience in direct marketing, with particular expertise with industrial and agricultural dealers and dealer networks. She’s a DMA Certified Marketing Professional (DCMP) and spends thousands of miles on the road connecting with clients, so she wasn’t daunted by a vacation to Africa (ask her about the baby elephant she adopted, but not in front of her spoiled dog, Bentley).

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