The Importance of Design Consistency in Direct Mail…or Not


For just a few minutes, forget everything you’ve heard about maintaining design consistency in your marketing. Sometimes inconsistency is exactly what’s required to break through with your offer.

What we generally practice and preach—and what intuitively rings true—is that the components in a direct mail kit (outer envelope, letter, brochure, etc.) should have a consistent, professional design style. But you see, just like there’s an exception to every rule, there’s a time to deviate from a guideline. That is, to stop being so consistent!

Keep reading to find out when inconsistency can really pay off.

It Starts With A Test
An insurance client of ours had been running a (fairly consistent) direct mail kit for some time. Its components were designed to match the brand’s look and feel, and, of course, to match one another. Copy and offer details were updated as needed, but you could tell that the envelope, letter, brochure, and application were part of the same package. It performed well enough, but the team wondered, “what if?”

We decided to test this kit—take a whole new approach, in fact—and use it as a “control” to see if we couldn’t improve  the client’s campaign performance. We threw consistency to the wind, just to see what might happen.

For the test kit, nothing matched. The various pieces inside were of different colors, fonts, even different sizes—and you know what? The kinda ugly kit won handily against the well-designed control. It generated a 16.2% better application response and became the new control for the next two years!

If we hadn’t tested this in the first place, we’d have never known that shaking the kit up a little (or a lot) would yield such improved results. Sometimes breaking the rules can be both fun and profitable, as long as you keep your content professional.

Making The Case for Inconsistency
We concluded that in some cases, looking “too designed”—or “matchy-matchy” as some might say—just isn’t provocative enough to drive action. Recipients might associate your well-designed kit with “expensive” and reject the offering. It’s possible that even if they open the envelope, nothing jumps out at them so they toss the kit in the recycle bin.

If you suspect this is what’s happening with your mailings and want to try something (really) new, read these words of advice before you fly in the face of conventional marketing wisdom:

Always Test. As direct response marketers well know, you don’t really know what works unless you consistently (there we go again!) test your campaigns and evaluate your findings. Without testing to inform and support our experiment, we wouldn’t have had the confidence to sidestep consistency for the betterment of our client’s marketing efforts.

Don’t Be Sloppy. It can be really fun to change things up—to design a topsy-turvy direct mail kit, for example—but please, don’t make it a free-for-all. It’s a strategic decision to part ways, if just for a moment, with what you’ve always done. Make sure you’re careful about what you’re changing up because you want to uphold your brand and design standards and not totally bewilder people with what you’re sending them. Disruption is one thing, confusion is quite another. Taking it to the limit could backfire if you don’t do your due diligence.

Maintain Some Consistency. Note that it’s still important to maintain message consistency from piece to piece and between your mailing and offer landing page (if you have one). You don’t want to create any disconnects for a customer who is about to move from the letter to the brochure or–gasp!—take action on your CTA.

If you have a long-standing direct mail control, you may want to try a strategically inconsistent test. Let us know if we can help.