5 Creative Twists to Optimize Hardcopy Mailings

Amanda Kohn by on Mar 01, 2016


Direct mail is over seven times more effective than digital, including email, social media and mobile, channels. But what makes a piece of direct mail stand out among the abundance of bills, magazines and other junk in an alum’s mailbox? After reviewing several hundred pieces of collateral from our Alumni Monitor coverage group, we have identified the most impressive and notable mailings of 2015 in terms of visual design, readability and impact. Check out our five tips for developing noteworthy hardcopy communications to guarantee alumni engagement.

1. Push the Envelope: Before an alum even opens a piece of mail, the outside of the envelope can grab their attention with a decorative design, logo or relevant graphic. Common designs include a hashtag, campaign logo or university seal. According to Darwill, a direct marketing and communications company, the use of dynamic messaging throughout the envelope helps provoke curiosity without giving too much away. This includes incorporating messages (or logos) on the front, back and inside of the envelope.

Case Study: The College of William and Mary

William and Mary Homecoming Envelope

William and Mary’s Homecoming 2015 announcement has a festive feel with its metallic gold envelope border and celebratory confetti design. A simple “Join us” sentiment next to the delivery address helps identify the piece of mail as an invitation, sparking curiosity and further prompting the alum to open the envelope.

2. Rock the Cardstock: While thank-you letters are common among alumni associations and universities, generally sent as a token of appreciation after receiving a donation, schools can up the ante with a thank you card, which adds a personalization element, especially if hand-written. GuideStar advises that a greeting card is friendlier and more personal than a business letter.

Case Study: Ohio State University

Ohio State Thank You Card – Front and Inside Message

Keyboard Sticker

Upon donating to OSU, alumni receive a thank you card, in some cases personalized and hand-written. A recent card, entitled “From One Buckeye to Another,” includes an image of buckeye nuts and a keyboard sticker. The fun stationery adds a level of appreciation that alums might not get from a business-like form letter.

3. Get Graphic: Professional, well-designed graphics can really capture a reader’s attention. Gaining in popularity, infographics take advantage of the fact that visuals are processed by the brain 60,000 times faster than text. For alumni associations, incorporating infographics into a direct mail piece (e.g., a post card) helps share data without overwhelming the reader, providing alumni an at-a-glance overview of their alma mater’s achievements.

Case Study: Boston University

Boston University Infographic Postcard

Boston University’s Year in Review postcard infographic highlights student body achievements, social media successes and giving results from the 2015 fiscal year. The colorful, tiled design, incorporating school colors for branding purposes, does not overwhelm the reader with content, but rather presents fiscal year quick facts in an easily-readable, visual manner.

4. Wish Them Well: Greeting cards are among the most common direct mailing and successful for their visual design, readability and impact. Four schools in particular – Ohio State, Sacred Heart, Syracuse and Wellesley – sent greeting cards for multiple holidays in 2015. Each card played off of a specific theme and included a giving request. While a nontraditional way to ask for money, holiday, birthday and other greeting cards can serve multiple purposes: wishing alumni season’s greetings/happy birthday/etc., expressing appreciation and bridging a platform to ask for a charitable contribution.

Case Study: Syracuse University

Syracuse University Valentine’s Day Card – Front and Inside Message

Giving Request

Syracuse wishes alumni a happy Valentine’s Day with its fun and playful #OrangeLove greeting card. The themed design, Valentine wishes and wordplay draw the reader in, and the acknowledgement of the alum’s partner adds a sense of personalization. By extending the message’s heart-filled branding to the giving request card, SU sets itself up for some reciprocal love.

5. Go Beyond the Bi-Fold: Traditionally, direct mailings within the higher education arena tend to consist of letters or bi-fold cards. Some alumni associations are experimenting with nontraditional brochure patterns such as a map fold or accordion fold. These innovative designs are a happy medium between a quick-look postcard and long-form letter, offering a mix of graphics, images and text-based facts. Wellesley College and William and Mary have both recently deployed creative brochures to promote the Wellesley Effect giving campaign and 2015 Homecoming schedule, respectively.

Case Study: SUNY Binghamton

SUNY Binghamton Homecoming Brochure

SUNY Binghamton’s creative Homecoming brochure really wows. To open the brochure fully, each flap opens in a different direction, encouraging the reader to scan the information on every panel. The multi-fold layout engages the reader with its mixture of text, photos and other graphics, and the incorporation of the alum’s name adds a note of personalization.

For now, direct mailings are here to stay and will continue to be sent out from alma maters to their alumni. The key takeaway from our analysis is that adding a creative twist to traditional marketing pieces can go a long way in garnering alumni engagement and attention. Mailings should include relevant and professional graphics, a personalization element outside of the salutation and a memorable aspect to keep alums interested after they’ve stepped away from the mailbox.

For more information on improving your alumni communications over email, check out our Email Best Practices Slide Deck.

For more information on Alumni Monitor and our research on alumni outreach and engagement, please contact Dana Peterson at dpeterson@corporateinsight.com or visit us at alumnimonitor.corporateinsight.com.

About The Author

Amanda Kohn

Amanda is a Senior Research Associate for Alumni Monitor at Corporate Insight. Read more