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How This Direct-Mail Piece Packs a Small But Powerful Punch Postcards can't hold much copy but when done right, you'll see your business grow.

By Robert W. Bly

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Ben Pipe Photography | Getty Images

The following excerpt is from Robert W. Bly's book The Direct Mail Revolution: How to Create Profitable Direct Mail Campaigns in a Digital World. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | IndieBound

For many products and offers, especially complicated ones, you'll need to send a full direct mail package or a self-mailer to tell the story, present the facts, answer objections, and allow the consumer to place an order. But not all direct mail campaigns require you to do this in-depth -- a postcard works well enough to do the job.

On a postcard, the space for graphics, copy and the reply mechanism is much more limited, but they work great under these conditions:

  • The product is familiar to the reader or simple and easy to explain.
  • The marketing objective is to generate a lead or inquiry rather than to generate orders accompanied by checks and credit card payments.
  • The offer features a premium or other free item the prospect can send for, such as a demo disk, CD, catalog or brochure.
  • The primary response mechanism is a phone call via a toll-free number or a URL for a landing page that gives the prospect more detailed information on the product or offer.

Postcards get their message across at a glance. That's because the copy and graphics are immediately visible with no envelopes to open. Postcards stand out in the mail with a brief, to-the-point message. Even when someone is sorting incoming mail over the trash can, the postcard will get noticed and read -- even if it's on its way to getting tossed.

Advantages of postcards

Many marketers on a budget prefer using postcards for their direct-mail campaigns. Here are some of the advantages of using postcards in direct-mail marketing:

  • Postcards don't need to be opened. The headline, copy, and graphics are all right there for the viewing unlike other marketing that comes in an envelope and requires prospects to at least open it. This gives your marketing piece more opportunities to catch prospects' attention before being tossed.
  • Postcards are short. This appeals to readers or skimmers with a short attention span because they can get to the point quickly without wading through what they see as a bunch of unnecessary filler material.
  • Printing and postage costs are cheaper. Traditional sales letters or direct mail packages often cost twice as much as postcards, if not more. So, if you're working with a small budget, want to reach thousands of people you couldn't afford to mail to otherwise, or simply want to test the waters, postcards can be a cost-effective means of doing just that. Creative and printing costs for postcards are much less than for a full-blown direct-mail package because there are no envelopes, letters, brochures, buck slips, or other inserts.
  • Writing and designing postcards is easier and less costly. If you choose to write your own copy and do your own design, postcards take a fraction of the time you'd invest in a typical direct mail package. Alternatively, if you hire out the writing and design to a third party, you'll spend a bit more than doing it yourself but still not nearly as much as you would with a full direct mail package.
  • Postcard mailings are simpler to produce than full packages. There's no folding, bindery, insertion, or packaging. Postcards have only two sides to worry about -- the front and the back.
  • Postcards work for many businesses. Whether you're a retailer, an information marketer, a direct marketer or any other type of vendor, postcards have worked for a wide variety of businesses.

Postcard copy

Following are some guidelines for writing effective postcard copy, which you'll need to do in a limited space.

Keep it short

You don't have much room on a 3½-by-53/8-inch or 4¼-by-6-inch postcard. Copy must be brief and to the point. Maximum length is approximately 100 to 150 words.

Don't use an overly verbose or descriptive style. Write in terse, almost clipped prose. Make sure each sentence gives the reader a new piece of information -- you don't have room to repeat yourself. Avoid transitional phrases, warm-up paragraphs, and other stylistic habits that waste words. List key features or benefits with bullets.

Do a copywriter's rough

Sketch a rough layout showing how your copy should be positioned on the card. And don't just write copy in ordinary paragraph format. Use headlines, subheads, captions, bullets, bursts, arrows, underlines, boldface type, and other graphic devices to highlight various components of your copy.

Make the headline pay off right upfront

The promise of the headline should be fulfilled in the body copy -- immediately. Your first few sentences should explain, elaborate on, and support the promise made in the headline.

Here's an example from a classic postcard selling a $69.95 book, The Complete Portfolio of Tests for Hiring Office Personnel:



Now you can avoid it with

The Complete Portfolio of Tests for Hiring Office Personnel.

Be sure the person you hire has the right skills for the job.

Stress benefits

Highlight the benefits of what you're selling. For example, if you're selling a machine that folds paper into booklets, don't just say, "Stainless steel hopper, 10 inches wide." Add, "Makes up to 600 booklets per hour." Postcards are inadequate for explaining complex products and concepts. If the reader needs a basic education in your product before they can make a buying decision, postcards may not work well for you. Of course, you can write a booklet or report presenting the background information and then offer it free through a postcard.

Tell the prospect what to do

Though it may seem obvious, don't assume the reader knows what to do with your card. Include instructions on what to do next. Your copy should tell the reader, "For a free decorating guide, call toll-free XXX-XXXXXXX or visit today." A card that doesn't ask for action is often just looked at and then thrown away.

Robert W. Bly

Author, Copywriter and Marketing Consultant

Robert W. Bly is an independent copywriter and marketing consultant with more than 35 years of experience in B2B and direct response marketing. He has worked with over 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Embraer Executive Jet, Intuit, Boardroom, Grumman and more. He is the author of 85 books, including The Marketing Plan Handbook (Entrepreneur Press 2015), and he currently writes regular columns for Target Marketing Magazine and The Direct Response Letter.

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