Unleashing the Power of Color

Emerging technologies can help your direct mail pieces hit their target



Eve Padula


Direct mail is certainly a more traditional form of marketing, but it has changed a lot in the past decade. Today’s consumers expect (and, in some cases, demand) to be treated like individuals regardless of their demographics, and ongoing technological advancements make it possible for direct mail to change with the times. Features like personalization, full-color printing, and relevant messaging are now more affordable than ever, and many of the barriers to return on investment and high customer engagement have been removed. Although direct mail campaigns hold an important place in the overall media mix, many marketers still question the value of a direct mail investment or may not understand how to truly modernize their direct mail pieces for maximum impact. Let’s consider the role that color can play in catching a consumer’s eye and triggering an emotional response.


The Impact of Color

Color has long been known to influence consumer behavior. In today’s world, a color image is often more desirable than a basic black & white one. For marketers, the use of color can create powerful reactions among their intended audience. According to a study by Digital Information World, 93% of buyers primarily notice a product’s physical appearance when purchasing that item. Color is a component of physical appearance, and this insight can be transferred to direct mail communications.


Brands of all sizes have been successfully using color to create demand as well as improve recognition and loyalty. As outlined in the Figure below, specific colors have been shown to evoke certain responses.


Colors and Common Associations


It’s no coincidence that major fast-food brands like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Pizza Hut frequently rely on various shades of red and yellow in their logos—yellow creates a feeling of comfort, while red is thought to make people feel hungry and more impulsive. Meanwhile, businesses like John Deere, Waste Management, and Seventh Generation rely on shades of green to communicate an affiliation with nature and eco-friendliness.


Of course, there are other colors too, and these also have their own associations:

  • Pink can represent frivolity, whimsy, joy, kindness, and love.
  • Brown makes people feel welcome, calm, and at home with their surroundings.
  • Grey conveys feelings of practicality, timelessness, and solidarity. However—overuse of grey can lead to feelings of nothingness and depression.
  • Metallic tones like gold and silver can lend a touch of elegance. Because they are associated with prestige, they can elevate the perception of a brand’s status, wealth, and power.


The Time Is Now!

Just a few years ago, many marketers were struggling to justify the cost of full-color direct mail. Even with the onset of digital presses, four-color click charges made many projects cost prohibitive. On top of that, it was nearly impossible to add specialty features like gold, silver, neon colors, or textures at a price that brand owners were willing to pay. Today’s ongoing technological innovations are changing all of this.


Each year, Keypoint Intelligence’s forecast data compares color and black & white print volumes. Today’s larger production printers with special inkjet capabilities are more affordable than ever and offer solid financial returns. As the production market (and specifically inkjet technology) matures, a natural shift from offset to digital will cause color print volumes to grow.


US Print on Demand Forecast: Color vs. Black & White
Source: Keypoint Intelligence's 2021 US Print On Demand Market Forecast


Specialty printing capabilities (e.g., color embellishments, unique finishing, and engaging digital enablers) and personalization are expected to be used even more as the digital and physical worlds continue to align. Today’s brands can now deliver mail embedded with the technology to take their audience online at a reasonable cost. This will also help drive larger color print volumes.


Marketing and advertising spaces are often sold by the size of the banner, message, or pop-up. Direct mail is similar—the larger the mailed piece, the higher the investment. Even so, the landscape changed when the United States Postal Service (USPS) recently increased the size allowance for first-class postcards. The end result was that marketers gained nearly 72% more space to tell their story and elicit a call to action. Pardon the pun, but this is big…especially considering the opportunities to create better, more engaging marketing messages.


In addition to the expanded real estate marketers have in consumers’ mailboxes, the USPS’s 2022 promotional calendar offers incentives to use immersive marketing methods. One specific promotion allows for discounts when a direct mail piece uses specialty inks. When you’re working with your clients, any conversations about these new techniques must expand beyond technical specifications and cost per piece. To attract interest, you must be able to articulate why it is important to deviate from business-as-usual direct mail. As noted earlier, color can translate to power and value. When used correctly, color can enhance engagement and increase the merit of the mailed piece.


Recent USPS promotions are beyond the scope of this blog, but hopefully you’ve had time to familiarize yourself with them. If so, you’ll see the intended interplay between print and technology. Direct mail incentives that include augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and virtual reality (VR) make it possible for marketers to take their messaging to the next level. With proper planning, they can deliver much more than ink on paper. Today’s trends enable marketers to engage an audience with sight, sound, and touch.


There is a natural hesitation in trying new things, and this is something that remains a challenge for many marketers as well as the PSPs who support them. Understanding how consumers engage with direct mail can give you the confidence to do things differently.


Keypoint Intelligence’s Opinion

As businesses begin to stabilize following the intense disruption of the past two years, marketers must seek new ways to connect with their customers and prospects. Today’s PSPs have an ongoing responsibility to generate awareness about the value that print can deliver. Even in today’s digital world, direct mail can help address the most pressing business needs while generating additional revenue.


Subscribers to Keypoint Intelligence’s On Demand, Business Development Strategies, and Customer Communications Advisory Services can access additional research, forecast data, and analysis on the impact that color can have on direct mail. If you’re not a subscriber, just send us an email at sales@keypointintelligence.com for more information.


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