As marketers, it’s so easy to fall in love with a direct mail format.mailer format

A nicely designed mailer comes across your desk and you like what you see – and you think, “This could work for me to.”

Well,  it might work for you – but it might not too.

It depends on your audience and your message.

I love postcards. I’ve loved them for a long time. I love their simplicity, their attention-getting potential and, of course, their price.

For the right applications, postcards are the perfect mailer format.

For other applications though, they are completely wrong.



For all of their advantages, postcards aren’t very personal. In fact, they’re just the opposite. They are meant to be seen by everyone in a household or office – which means they have great “pass-along” potential.

But if you want to send a mailer that is meant to be personal – even private – a letter is a much better option.

Personalization is a powerful element in direct mail – especially when marketing for consultants and other professional services.

You can personalize a postcard. You can use personalized landing pages (PURLs) and you can integrate personalization into the design using variable data printing (VDP). It’s all great stuff – very fun and clever.

But it’s not personalized in the same way a letter is personalized.

Even with all the gimmickry, postcards cannot convey that same one-to-one communication you get from a sales letter.


Message and Space

Postcards are great for simple lead generation, brand-building or retail promotions. We also recommend them as a follow-up “reminder” mail.

But if your objective is to generate actual orders (not leads), you need space – a lot more space than even the largest postcard can provide.

Order generation campaigns are typically long-copy campaigns because closing a sale takes a lot more than generalities.

You need a complete sales message with lots of details, specifics and credibility builders.   And this takes up space.

Conference promotions are a perfect example. When you send out a conference mailer, you are looking for sign-ups. You’ll take leads, but your goal is to get registrations.

To do that, you need to provide details and you will need space for all of the items listed below

  • keynote speakers with photos
  • individual sessions (title, descriptions, speakers)
  • well-known speakers with photos
  • testimonials from past attendees
  • who will attend/who you’ll meet
  • who will exhibit
  • social activities
  • hotel accommodations
  • pricing options/early bird discounts/group discounts
  • order form (although this is mostly handled online now)


Try putting all this on a postcard. All of the above contributes in some way to selling conference registrations.  Even if you have some of this information available online, the mailer needs to grab the reader’s attention with specifics and details.

Postcards could work effectively for “early bird/mark your calendar” mailings, but that assumes a more complete mailer will follow.

What you need for a conference promotion is a multi-page piece – a large 3- or 4-panel folded brochure or even a booklet if it’s large conference with many sessions.  The size of the conference often dictates the size of the mailer.


Many mailer choices

Direct mail offers all kinds of formats in many different sizes.

  • letter packages
  • letter/brochure packages
  • postcards
  • folded self-mailers
  • booklets
  • snap packs
  • magalogs
  • dimensional packages (boxes and tubes)


Every mailer format will work with the right application.  You just need to match them up correctly.

The lesson here is to let the message determine your format.  Don’t pick a format and then try to make things fit.

Many campaigns start with a favorite format or creative idea, but those campaigns too often end with a broken heart.


For more discussion on this topic, click on the links below:

Expanded discussion on direct mail formats

Tutorial – selecting a direct mail format

Tutorial – letter vs. self-mailer



Written by Bob McCarthy

This article may be reprinted without permission as long as the article includes the following credit:

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant helping businesses develop measurable marketing programs across multiple marketing channels. You can read his blog, The Direct Response Coach, on his website at Bob can be reached at 508-473-8643 or at


Bob McCarthy is a direct response copywriter and lead generation specialist.copywriting kit graphic

Download his Freelance Copywriting Information Kit.

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."