It seemed like only a matter of time when integrating direct mail with email marketing programs would go mainstream. And there isn’t a more mainstream email service provider than MailChimp.
Earlier this summer MailChimp launched a beta postcard direct mail service. I know MailChimp has been talking about marketing automation capabilities for several years now, and I wanted to see if their Postcards beta feature set allowed integrating direct mail postcards into a drip marketing program.
The convergence of my favorite email service provider and postcards, my favorite direct mail format, was something I had to try out.
Click here to jump to the review and skip the postcard editing process.
Creating Your Postcard
Firing up my MailChimp account I found it as just easy to create a postcard as it is to create a simple email.
Click the Create Campaign button and select Postcard.
After naming the postcard you’re presented with a straightforward editor.
The editor pretty much shows you everything there is to do in one simple screen. You can see the recipient list and front and back side of the postcard at a glance. You can select any list or any segment you already have created. You will, of course, need to have mailing address data in the list.
If you select a list without mailing addresses MailChimp will kindly tell you there is a problem with the list in their own chimpy way.
When you select your list MailChimp will inform you how many recipients on the list will get the postcard. It doesn’t warn you if some of the list is missing address data so pay attention that number of recipients is what you expect.
Editing the postcard is straightforward. Select a single 1875px by 1350px image for the front, and type the heading, body text, and optional logo for the back.
The front preview has a print guides option that indicates the nominal trim line and safe area.
Here’s what the editor looks like when the postcard is ready to send.
Click the Send button and you’re done!
How Good Is It?
When the postcards arrived in the mail they were pretty much what I expected.
It’s important that budget, timelines and marketing goals are aligned.
MailChimp Postcards are quick and inexpensive to use, but they aren’t ready for a premium brand that wants to create a great initial impression. But a small company that wants to create some initial awareness as the start of a demand generation program or get a transactional message out to its audience, may find the current state of postcards useful.
1. It is easy to create a postcard
Once you have the front image designed and copy written you can set up your postcard in about five minutes. It’s really that easy.
An online-oriented designer needs to learn a little about bleeds and save zones so they keep important design elements away from the edges, but they definitely don’t need to be a print expert.
2. Inexpensive to send a small batch of postcards
I sent a test batch of postcards to five recipients for $2.80. Total cost to print and mail!
A small service business that wants to send out a change of address postcard to 250 active customers would spend less than $140.
3. Digital print quality is fine
The print quality is what I’d expect to see off a digital printing press such as an HP Indigo. Although I didn’t test color reproduction or photographic reproduction, it is probably fine for most small companies.
Limitations of MailChimp Postcards
I found many more things that I disliked about MailChimp Postcards than things I liked. These include:
- A single small size
- No list cleansing abilities
- No coating to protect the ink
- No personalization capabilities
- Limited design control
- No marketing automation integration
1. A single small size
The small postcard size won’t stand out in the mail and it doesn’t provide much room for your message.
I (almost) always recommend oversized postcards. They are almost impossible to ignore and give you plenty of space to communicate your message and provide a clear call to action without crowding the design.
2. No List Cleansing
Direct mail service providers always, or at least they should always, run mail lists through the Postal Services NCOA (National Change of Address) database and perform other list cleansing steps. Perhaps MailChimp’s mail service providers do this but I haven’t seen any documentation or correction feedback loop, so it doesn’t seem to be the case.
For small companies that have up-to-date customer lists this won’t be a big issue. But my experience is that most companies, big and small, don’t have a good process to incorporate mailing list cleansing feedback back to their CRM or other list management system.
3. No coating to protect the ink
The postal services mail handling equipment can be hard on uncoated postcards. Each of the two postcards I sent were damaged in the mail.
This type of mailing damage is normal for uncoated digital offset press printing. Coating is an extra processing step that protects the printing and can provide a different touch feel and change the appearance.
To save costs some companies will have the front side coated and not the back side. The front side tends to have the main marketing message and a hero image with heavy ink coverage. The back side normally has less ink coverage, is more text intensive, and seems to be less affected by the USPS handling equipment.
4. No personalization capabilities
I didn’t expect a sophisticated set up personalization capabilities but I was surprised to see that there was no support for MailChimp’s merge tags.
The front side of the postcard is a single image, so any text you want needs to be included in the image. A graphic designer with a keen eye will probably notice that the text isn’t as sharp as it is when it is vector graphics rendered on a digital press, but most people won’t notice the difference.
On the back side of the card there’s no way to start out your message with even a basic “Hello Tod…”.
Since there are no personalization capabilities, an option is to make a different version of the postcard for different market segments. There is no ability to copy an existing postcard campaign, so you need to start from scratch. While I initially grumbled about this I realized, since there are so few options, that it only takes a few minutes to create a new postcard from scratch. I assume the ability to copy existing draft or mailed postcards will be added as capabilities and complexity increase.
5. Limited Design Control
There are four areas that you have design control:
- Front side hero image
- Back side headline
- Back side copy
- Optional Back side logo
There is no typography control on the back side of the postcard. You have to use the preselected fonts, sizes, weight, and layout.
This is not a tool for graphic designers.
But small business owners that haven’t invested huge amounts of money in their brand graphical identify may not be bothered much by this. The lack of control means that there’s few decisions to be made and it can be implemented quickly.
There’s only so many layout options you have with a 6” x 4.25” postcard anyways.
It can be a problem, though. The headline in the test postcard has a small “o” in “offers” because making it a capital “O” caused offers to spill over to the second line. This made the headline three lines, it doesn’t look good and doesn’t leave much room for the body copy.
Having the ability to make minor changes to font types and sizes would alleviate many problems like this.
It would also be very helpful to make certain text bold, like a website address or other call to action.
6. No integration with MailChimp marketing automation drip campaigns
I’ve been preaching the value of integrating direct mail with automated email marketing programs for year now. Since MailChimp has had basic email marketing automated drip campaigns for several years now, I expected to see the ability to integrate a postcard into the middle of a drip.
While not having personalization abilities would limit the benefits of this, I can think of many cases when sending a generic message would be useful.
MailChimp email automation has some good segmentation capabilities that would be useful in event marketing.
But segmentation for MailChimp Postcards is more limited than this. You can use any prebuilt segments you have in your list. There is also no way to add a postcard into a MailChimp automated email drip campaign.
Where MailChimp Postcards Are Useful
Most companies that have sophisticated email marketing programs will likely not find widespread use for MailChimp’s direct mail postcard capabilities as they are today. This is not surprising since MailChimp has a lot of customers on the small end of the SMB market, and this is the initial beta release of postcards.
I received another postcard from my accountant on the same day my test postcards arrived that would be a great fit for MailChimp Postcards.
The postcard was printed in bulk and had a stamp and address label attached. MailChimp postcards would have provided numerous advantages over the process used for this change-of-address mailing:
- MailChimp Postcards requires much less labor than printing labels, and labeling and stamping each postcard by hand.
- Mailing cost would have been less, $0.27 for each postcard as opposed to a $0.35 stamp.
- The marketing copy would not be covered up with the postmark and barcode.
- The postcard could have the logo on the address side and it would look more professional overall.
Save the date postcards and reminders for events are other use cases where a small business might find MailChimp Postcards useful.
But larger companies that have a large investment in their branding, or any company that wants to leverage the personalization capabilities of direct mail, should turn to their print and direct mail service providers.
Please contact me if you have any questions about whether MailChimp Postcards might be right for you or if you’d like to discuss ideas to integrate direct mail into your digital marketing programs.