Using an Unusual Format for Direct Mail

Basic mailpiece formats, like letters or single-fold mailers, have been around for ages. They’re popular for a few simple reasons: they’re easy to produce, convey information quickly, and are affordable. What if you want to make a bigger impact, though? That’s when an unusual format comes in handy.


Common sense, plus decades of research, proves novelty can have a powerful impact on how audiences receive information, how well that information “sticks” in their minds, and how likely they are to make a future purchase. Novelty, or the element of surprise, is connected to the ability to “delight” audiences, which can be a key determining factor in how well a piece of marketing performs.

Along with the emotional component, novelty also can have a measurable, chemical effect on memory. One scientific study discovered that novelty could improve recall by boosting the release of dopamine from specific neurons in the brain.1 In other words, when you harness the power of the unexpected, you’re giving people a better chance to recall the information presented to them.

In direct mail, there are several ways to leverage the advantages of novelty to improve ROI.


If every piece is “novel,” then it simply becomes the new normal, and the impact of the novelty or surprise is soon lost. Since it also may cost more to create and mail these unique pieces, it’s essential to consider when it makes the most sense to make that extra investment in hopes of higher ROI.

Consider three main categories of opportunities:

  1. A high-value prospect. When a contact fits this category, investing in a high-impact piece of mail often makes sense because you want to stand apart from your competition.
  2. A highly-engaged prospect. Sometimes, prospects are engaged with your brand and receptive to marketing efforts but haven’t converted. A creative, novel mailpiece could finally convince them to put their money where their interest is.
  3. A chance to convey information in an eye-catching way. Suppose you have a particularly interesting idea or information that naturally lends itself to a creative presentation. In that case, taking the plunge and finding a novel way to convey concepts can be worthwhile.


We know that novelty has scientifically proven benefits, and we have some ideas on when it could pay off to make that extra investment to create something unexpected and fun. Now, it’s time to consider what “novel” looks like in this context.

Look for interesting involvement strategies or ways to get people more involved from a tactile or visual standpoint. Some strategies might involve the physical shape of a particular printed piece, such as:

  • A piece that tears to reveal something
  • A piece that incorporates movement
  • A piece with a stylish or layered fold pattern
  • A piece that uses three-dimensional or pop-up elements

You can also create interest through the use of specialized multisensory print techniques. That might mean tactile coatings or varnishes, textured areas to draw extra attention, “scratch and sniff” spots, and much more.

A touch of novelty and creativity can pay off in a big way, especially when designing direct mail pieces. The Priority team is always here to help you develop innovative mail pieces that highlight your message in the most memorable way possible.

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