Postcards are simple, effective, and inexpensive to produce—they can also be sensory, high-tech, and engaging, too. Today’s technologies have made it easier and less expensive to do some very exciting things with these notoriously simple mailers, and I’ve got 5 great ideas to enhance your upcoming postcard campaigns, so let’s get started.

Idea #1:

Use special print effects to catch their attention.

One of the smartest things you can do with print marketing is to leverage its tangibility. This can be done inexpensively whether you’re printing short run digital, or longer run offset or inkjet printing. Special print effects, including varnishes and coatings in different finishes (gloss, satin, dull, matte), UV coatings in different textures (grit, soft touch, glitter, high gloss, etc.), specialty laminating films, and raised clear digital ink create texture and visual contrast in exciting ways. Special print effects is a big category these days with lots of options, so talk to your printer to determine what’s available for your postcard project.

Varnish/coating effects on postcard campaign by Sappi North America (Chris Paulis Photography)

Raised clear digital ink on a HP Indigo press by ENPOINTE (Chris Paulis Photography)

Other finishing effects like foil (cold, hot, or variable digital foil) and embossing/debossing can add a distracting pop of interest to the card as well. Don’t forget specialty inks like neon, metallic, and white ink, too.

One note on print effects: soft touch coatings in particular can be problematic for the USPS sorting equipment, and you will need to avoid coatings and textures on the barcode/address areas. However, if USPS self-mailing requirements cramp your style, you can always put your cool, textured postcard into an envelope. Work with your printer to determine the best way to set up your digital file, and which effects or coatings will work for your postcard, the mailing process, and your budget.

Idea #2:

Tempt them to scan it with their phone.

If you had said to me in 2020 that QR codes would have a Renaissance, I never would have believed you—but since the pandemic, EVERYONE now knows how to scan a QR code, and will do so willingly. According to an analysis by MobStac, use of QR Codes increased 45% between 2020-2021. MobStac expects QR Code usage to double in 2022. So, why not use them on your postcards? In its simplest form, a QR code can be placed on a postcard to drive people to whatever mobile-friendly experience you’d like to send them to. They’re cheap, easy, and as a marketer, you can get a lot of data on the back end once they’ve been scanned, which is pretty cool.

LIVINGPRINT® postcard from livingprint.com

Better yet, LIVINGPRINT® offers the ability to design, print and mail personalized, mobile-interactive postcard marketing right through your phone! Simply download the free LIVINGPRINT app, choose from an array of creative layouts for your postcard and start to drop-in your own photos and videos. The app does all the work, automatically creating a slideshow of your photos and videos that you can edit to your liking. Crop the photos, change the order, choose a background image or color, add music and a message—it’s quick and easy. When you’re done, LIVINGPRINT generates a custom QR Code that appears on the back of the postcard for the recipient to scan and bring the postcard to life. Tell the app who to send it to and where to print it, and your effort is done! See how it works here. This technology can work for one-to-one marketing, and for bulk mailings, too.

Idea #3:

Add personalization to make it relevant.

Which piece of mail would you look at—the one with your name on it and images that interest you, or the one that looks like it could be for anybody? You know the answer. In fact, 84% of participants in an InfoTrends study said that personalization of a direct mail piece makes them more likely to open/read it. Personalized mail makes the recipient feel important and respected. So, why not use today’s technology to personalize your postcard campaigns? It’s just not that hard—ask your printer for guidance.

Name-personalized Variable Data Printing. Samples: Printing United Alliance and Infiniti USA

This next example, produced by Slate Group for Arkansas Tech University, was personalized by name for every accepted student. Each variable postcard featured a welcome from the Dean of the college of their chosen major. Undeclared majors got a personalized postcard with a fun image, too. So, to make this happen, they needed a photo of each dean to drop in, plus the general image for the kids who have not yet declared a major. Then, they just had to group the list by college and pull the right first name, paired with the right photo in every variable postcard—which, by the way, is all done through software. Impactful and easy!

Multi-point Variable Data Personalization Slate Group for Arkansas Tech University

If you’re not interested in name personalization, here’s a great example of batch targeted variable content on a postcard campaign that was produced by SPC for Petco. There were 80 versions of this postcard. They switched out the animal breeds and the featured products to make the content as relevant as possible for a very large audience of animal-loving shoppers.

Batch-personalized Variable Data Printing from Specialty Print Communications for Petco

Personalization can be powerful in other ways, too. What if every postcard carried a custom map with driving directions and exact distance from the recipient’s address to your location? AccuZIP Variable Maps can do it, with the option of choosing street-view or turn-by-turn directions that are unique to everyone who receives the postcard. Upload your list or purchase a targeted one, select your settings, pay, and download your maps same-day. Variable maps are great for events, retail promotions, restaurants, medical facilities, elections, and real estate, and lots of other things. If you have a list of addresses and a location to send them to, you can have fast, accurate custom variable maps.

Show a custom map of the route from your customer’s address to yours with AccuZIP Variable Maps.

On the very high-tech side of personalized mail, Direct Mail Retargeting is HOT. Think: AI and Machine Learning meets direct mail, resulting in the most timely, relevant, and tangible reminder of what you’re actually interested in. And they know you’re interested, because you were looking at it online and the (highly complex) software algorithm pre-qualified you as a serious buyer. A custom piece of mail was made for you and dropped into the mail stream within hours of your visit to the site. Yep, it’s happening. If you’re interested in learning more about Direct Mail retargeting, start by checking out Pebble Post, Lob, and LSDirect.

Idea #4:

Make it stand out from the crowd.

Think about the subtle pattern of what you tend get in the mailbox every day—a couple of bills in #10 window envelopes, a catalog or two, maybe a postcard mailer, a newsprint circular of some sort with shopping coupons in it. Sound familiar? Now think about what you could do stand out in that everyday pile of mail.

Size is one of the easiest variables you can play with to stand out, using oversized postcards (or “billboards” as they call them in the mail industry) to get attention. Regarding postcard size, it’s important to note that recently the USPS changed the size specifications for postcard mail, now allowing cards as large as 6 x 9” to qualify for postcard rates. This is a huge deal that no one is talking about. The maximum postcard size used to be 4.25 x 6”, and because Postcard mailing rates are much lower than Letter mailing rates, this new increased size is great news for marketers—more real estate for content, better presence in the mailbox, and lower postage. The trifecta!! You can certainly blast past the 6 x 9” size and make billboard mailers as large as 12 x 15”—you’ll just pay more for postage (and production), so before you design a large postcard, make sure you strategize with your printer based on your goals and your budget.

In today’s market, one of the easiest ways to stand out is with SIMPLICITY. One good image. One direct message. Combine it with an oversized format and nice paper, and you’re going to stand out. Here are two billboard mailer examples from recent mailings that can’t be missed.

Samples: King Arthur Baking Company and Life is Good

How about standing out due to shape? Unique and irregular die-cut shaped postcards can actually go through the mail – they’re classified as USPS Customized Market Mail® and pretty much any printer who can die cut can make it happen for you. There are some companies operating in this space that I think have some interesting die-cut CMM offerings, like ThinkShapes Mail and ShipShapes™ Customized Market Mail, but they are not the only ones, so do your homework. A simple search of “custom die-cut postcards” should get you started.

Oversized shaped postcard for Customized Market Mail campaign

Another great idea is to send a creative card format, and although these are technically not “true” postcard mailers (both require envelopes to mail), they are card-like in nature and totally worth mentioning. These two formats from Red Paper Plane represent a highly interactive and an easy way to cut through the clutter. For marketers with a light amount of content and a few extra bucks in their budget, the Magic Changing Picture and the Flapper offer different-but-equally-exciting experiences. Watch one photo dissolve into another with the simple pull of a tab or create four different card views in an infinite (and addictive) cycle of movement. These creative cards will be kept long after the promotion has passed.

The Flapper, and Magic Changing Picture from Red Paper Plane

Other ways to stand out involve the materials that the cards are made with. Paper choice is a fun way to change it up, and even simpler things like choosing a heavier-than-normal weight can make your card feel substantial and important. How about magnetic postcards? Check out  magnetbyMail and Magnet Mailer Postcards for ideas. Plastic postcards are a thing, too—see the snap-out plastic gift card sample in Idea #5. And of course lenticular designs are always show-stealing, like this sample from Dimension Promotions.

Lenticular postcard sample from Dimension Promotions

Idea #5:

Add a surprise for them to find.

An inexpensive way to add something fun and surprising to a postcard mailer is by adding “peel and reveal” areas to the card. Take a 2-panel card and glue the panels together, leaving only the areas that will peel up unglued. A simple perforation around the edge will make it easy to lift and see what’s underneath. The action, the sound it makes, and the discovery can be totally satisfying for the recipient. There are lots of ways to do this, but here’s a nice example from John Roberts Company. Your printer can help you with the production details. Consider revealing a question-and-answer series, hidden images, or a special offer as a starting point.

Sample: John Roberts Company

Another fun surprise is to add a scratch-off section. Who can resist? Great for discounts, sweepstakes, raffles, and other fun surprises. Instant interaction. Check out Mr. Scratch Off and Scratch off Systems as two places to start exploring.

Simple card formats can also be wonderful carriers for gift cards and coupons, like this example from Tommy Bahama. The PVC plastic coupon is tastefully tipped-on to a simple, two-sided card that was inserted into a colorful envelope. Now, a card with a tipped-on element cannot mail without an envelope, because the element could fall off in the high-speed sorting machines, but it’s a great example of how mail doesn’t have to be complicated to be impactful.

Sample: Tommy Bahama tipped-on PVC card

If you need a self-mailing postcard with gift card, consider a plastic postcard format that has an integrated “snap-out” gift card. Consider ValCards, DynamiCard, and Triadex Services as places to start.

Snap-out plastic postcard sample for The Greene Turtle

For postcards with tipped-on elements that ride in envelopes, you’re not limited to coupons, either. This sample produced by Structural Graphics for Kieffer’s Appliances features an oversized postcard format with a tipped on USB drive filled with information. Simply remove the USB, flip it open, plug it in, and download. Also, a reminder that you can tip other things onto a card, like magnets, lenticulars, or even coins.

USB Mailer: Structural Graphics for Keiffer’s Appliances

Ready. Set. Go!

So, now you know what to do, and there’s no excuse for sending a boring postcard. As always, work closely with your printer to avoid common pitfalls on postage, dimension, proportion, and budget. And don’t forget the basics of timing, call to action, and providing more than one way to act on the offer.