direct mail postcardThe direct mail postcard is hot right now.

Check your mailbox and notice how many business mailings are postcards.

Ask anyone who is considering direct mail, and their first thought is almost always to use a postcard.

Do a Google search and see how many postcard companies are out there.

Large, small or in between, the postcard is a simple, straightforward and relatively inexpensive vehicle for getting your message out to a targeted list of prospects.

I love postcards. I use them all the time.

However, I only use them, or recommend them, in the right situation … when I have a short, simple message.  Or when I have a highly visual message.  Or when I am asking for a low-commitment response.

But what if your readers want more?

What if your message needs additional explanation or clarification?  Not every product or service can be summarized in a paragraph or a few bullet points.

What if your point of differentiation requires a longer conversation?

What if your mailer needs to ask for an order?

Sometimes a postcard isn’t enough

You are a college admissions officer trying to recruit students to your school. Can a postcard give students a real taste of everything your school has to offer – from academics to campus life to financial aid?

You are the marketing director for a windows manufacturers. Can a postcard give homeowners enough detail to motivate them to pick up the phone and schedule an in-home appointment?

You are the publisher of an investment newsletter. Can a postcard provide enough reason and proof to convince readers to subscribe to the newsletter?

You are a business coach with a unique approach to business planning. Can a postcard give prospective clients a good understanding of how and why your approach can make a difference in their business?

You are the marketing director for a continuing education program with dozens of courses available. Can a postcard showing a list of course titles work as well as a catalog with complete course descriptions?

Why postcards are so appealing

Marketers like the postcard, in large part, because of the price. Compared to other mailer formats, the postcard is far cheaper to design, print, address and mail.

But they also like its simplicity and its short-copy structure.

Some marketers will argue that the postcard is a favorite because their prospects don’t have the time or inclination to read long copy. That may be true for some (or even many), but what about those prospects who are interested in what you sell and want to know more?

Many will rationalize that if their prospects want more information, they can go to their website or pick up the phone.

Of course they can.  But will they?

How many won’t take that next step because it’s not convenient?

Would it have been smarter to send them a long-form letter, or a multi-panel self-mailer, or a catalog instead of the postcard.  To be sure, it would have cost you more upfront, but your results – your ROI – could have made it worthwhile.

The cart before the horse

Too often in direct mail, the format is selected first before there is any discussion of the strategy.

Someone decides a postcard is a good idea – and then everything evolves from there.  The copy is written to fit the space, not sell the product.  Sometimes the copy gets squeezed into the format making it virtually impossible to read.

A better approach is to start with the strategy and decide what needs to be communicated

Consider your objective (inquiry vs. qualified lead vs. sale), your offer,  your message, your visuals, your testimonials or endorsements, and your response process.

Think about how much space you will need to effectively deliver your message.

And then decide which format makes sense.

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."