A Community College Mailer Decoded

Welcome to a new Propelo Media series called Decoding Direct Mail where we review mail actual mail pieces that we received in the mail.  You’ve probably gotten thousands of mailers in your lifetime and probably give each one no more than a second or two, unless the mailer hits the mark and piques your interest.  This week we look at a community college mailer we recently received.

Having managed and executed millions of pieces over the last 20+ years, we tend to look at mail pieces the way a detective would evaluate a crime scene.

Each component from target audience, headline, call-to-action and more tells a part of the story if this mailer is going to be a good one, or one that needs some refinement.

To be fair, this series will focus on mailings we get where we have no affiliation.  These are unsolicited reviews from mailings that we simply received in our own mail boxes.  As such, we have no insights into the campaign planning or strategy.

We’re just evaluating each mailer just like you would as you sort through your mail.  Unlike most though, we are taking the time to evaluate each aspect of the mailer to pull out the nuggets that could help you and your business with future mailings.

Now, let’s jump right in…

First Impressions: Community College Mailer

Today’s review is from a recent community college mailer I received in my area.  The actual mail piece is a 6 x 4 postcard, that while on the smaller size contains a lot of information.  They actually do a pretty good job of separating the information from the front to back side of the postcard. 

The front, or impact side, of the mailer has just enough text to create some intrigue.  The back, or address side, is where they placed more of the detailed information should the recipient want to learn more.

Community College Mailer sitting on a table

Direct Mail Kit

I spent 15 years working for a direct mail provider that exclusively worked with postcards, so I have a soft spot for them.  What I think I like most about a postcard is that the delivery vehicle is the actual marketing piece.  You get full range to entice the recipient with text, images, call-outs, you name it as their touching it for the first time.

So this community college mailer instantly gets a leg up.  We’ll get into the messaging and the call-to-action later, but in short this is really just a community newsletter teaser.  So a regular postcard likely works very well.

If the ask were something more significant, then perhaps a larger postcard would be better suited.

Also, to be clear, postcards are not always the best option for mailings.  There are plenty of types of businesses and/or types of campaigns that should look at alternative formats.  For example, non-profits typically have requirements for a remit/return envelope, so a postcard is out for that need.

Target Audience

This particular mailer was addressed to “RESIDENT” vs. my actual name.  This means that they are more focused with targeting a specific localized area vs. targeting specific people based upon certain demographical criteria.  

As a community college servicing the local area, this makes sense.  The more finite you do your targeting generally incurs some increased costs, so this is a good budget saving approach.  Depending on certain criteria, USPS can also give you discounted postage rates when you do a saturation mailer.

Other businesses that also broadly service their local community like pizza shops, fitness centers or even automotive shops could benefit from this type of direct mail strategy.


“Get your spring cleaning done at MHCC” reads this headline. This headline adheres to the billboard mentality.  In college I’ll never forget a professor saying you only have a fraction of a second to capture attention.  Cars are flying by at 65 mph, and people are focused and/or distracted with roads, cars, radios and phones so you should try to keep your headline under 7 words, and this one does just that.

Direct mail can face similar challenges.  Most mailers get seconds from the mail box to the front door to grab, and hold, attention.  Maybe the pile of mail doesn’t get looked at until later when it will finally get sorted, but you still have a finite window to make your mark.

Your goal is keep the messaging as succinct as possible, while also focusing on capturing attention.

So does this headline capture my attention?  The answer is kind of.  I do have teeth like virtually everyone in the community, so it does have relevance.  However, there’s nothing here to tell me why I should get my teeth cleaned at the local community college.  

I assume because it’s likely part of a dental program, that I’m likely to get this service for free, or at a discounted rate.  There is a subheading that does state that the facility is new and that I can learn more through their online guide…but at this point I’m still not sure what benefit there is to me…but we’ll get there.

Direct Mail Design / Visuals

Ascetically, I think the community college mailer looks good.  The primary graphic on the front has a toothbrush with some foam bubbling up around the college name.  The supporting images at the bottom highlight the new, seemingly state-of-the-art dental facility, and show a happy patient.  

These visuals do a couple of things to help out the mailer.  First up, they tie in nicely to the headline in a way that works well together.  We’ve seen plenty of visuals that completely miss what the headline is saying, so this is a good pairing.  Secondly, even though I still am unsure of the underlying value proposition, the images at the bottom do make me feel like this is a place where I would get good dental care.

The layout on the back does a good job segmenting the detailed text information, along with the clear call-to-action which is a strong plus.


The messaging on the address side lets me know that the college has just released their Spring community newsletter online.  It teases the new dental facility and other community-based activities from their planetarium to athletic and art events coming up.

Finally, at the very bottom we learn what the value proposition is to the mailer where it says you can learn about the free dental cleanings.  It’s great having this information in the messaging, but it feels like a missed opportunity to put “free” into the headline on the front.  I think a change like that could significantly improve the response rates to the mailer.

Messaging is not unlike videos on Youtube.  Unless it’s really, really well done, there is a level of drop-off in viewership the longer in.  Messaging is the same way, so if the meaty part of the offering is buried at the bottom, it’s likely that some people will never get to that part when they otherwise might have been interested.

Call-to-Action (CTA)

The call-to-action is clearly pushing people to scan the QR code, which is reinforced with a text version of the URL for the online periodical.

I’m actually really happy that QR codes have made a comeback now that QR code readers are built into most mobile camera devices.  This is a great way to seamlessly bridge physical offline media with richer online content.

One common CTA mistake is when a mailer has too many actions being pushed.  This mailer is the exact opposite.  It has one CTA that succinctly takes people immediately to the online magazine, which is the whole goal of this mailer.

One last consideration is to consider how heavy your CTA is.  By heavy, I mean what will the recipient literally have to do in order to fulfill your action?  CTAs should be crafted by where they fit in the sales funnel.

If you’re selling cars, a CTA that is literally asking for you to come and “buy today” is going to get less responses than one that says “test drive today”.  “Test drive today” will get less responses than “customize your dream car online today.”

In this instance, the ask is minimal.  All I literally need to do is click a button.  Additionally, because I know it’s just a community magazine, I know that there’s no purchase intent so I suspect the CTR is pretty strong for this mailer.


You can’t measure what you can’t track.  What you can’t measure, you can’t change, so tracking is a very important part of any direct mail campaign.

There are ways to do post-campaign tracking using matchback analysis, but having immediately trackable channels on your mail piece is vital.  There are a few ways you can do this from a dedicated phone number used only for the mailer, a unique promo code, or a trackable URL all are viable ways to track the media.

In this instance, they’re using a bit.ly url shortener, which automatically includes tracking.  So on top of making the typing aspect of any URL easier, it provides you with the visibility needed to evaluate how effective the mail piece was.

Direct Mail Final Rating

Our rating systems are highly subjective, and perhaps not always consistent, but as we do more and more of these they should get more consistent.  We’ll be using the standard 1-10 system.  It’s very likely that seeing any scores above a 9 aren’t likely, so adjust your weightings accordingly.

I’m going to give this a solid 7.5.  While the value prop was buried a bit, the overall mailer hit the mark.  There’s no heavy lift in the ask, rather it’s a welcoming piece to get more information about things in my community.  

I feel like the regular sized postcard probably worked just fine for the KPIs that they were looking for, which is a plus for the budget.  

Nice job on your community college mailer MHCC!

Do You Want a Review?

If you have a mail piece that you’d like us to review, email ideas@propelomedia.com and we’ll see about getting it added to our queue.  Note, in order to qualify for a review, the mail piece must be from your actual business.


Right People, Right Channels, Right Results

Often confused with “multi-channel marketing”, omni-channel marketing elevates your campaign’s effectiveness by communicating your message to the right prospects in the channels they use, at the right time.