Direct Mail Marketing With Postcards: The Headline Factor

If you’re spending money on a direct mail / postcard marketing campaign, but you’re not spending time developing headlines — you’re wasting time and money.

Why is the headline so important to a direct mail marketing postcard? We’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s demystify the headline by breaking it down to its purest form.

A headline is a line of text at the head of a document, hence the name. I don’t tell you this to insult your intelligence. I tell you this to open your mind to what all a headline might accomplish.

When you use the word “headline,” most people think of newspapers (“12 Arrested in Whoopee Cushion Incident”) or advertisements (“Lose 15 Pounds in 30 Days, Guaranteed.”) But headlines can be found on a much wider array of publications than that.

The Purpose of Headlines

In general terms, a headline is designed to:

1. Get the reader’s attention so that it’s the first thing they read.

2. Describe the information that follows.

3. Identify the intended audience (within the context of the publication).

These goals apply to direct mail headlines as well. Only in direct mail, there’s a much stronger desire — and financial incentive — to getting the message read completely. If somebody buys a newspaper, glances at it and then tosses it in the trash, the newspaper has still made a sale.

But in direct mail, a quick glance followed by a trash toss equals money lost.

The Purpose of Headlines in Direct Mail

So for direct mail marketing, we could rewrite our headline goals as such:

1. Grab the recipient’s attention within the first five seconds.

2. Highlight the value of the information that follows. Promise readers you will save them time or money, make them healthier or happier, or help them avoid something terrible.

3. Evoke some form of response from the intended audience.

A Headline Should Move the Reader Forward

In direct mail marketing, your headline must channel the reader toward a desired response. Maybe your postcard offers a freebie — some product or information of value — as a way to generate phone calls. Maybe you’re pointing toward a website where some kind of sample or free trial can be obtained.

Whatever form it takes, your offer is an essential part of your postcard. But how will people know what you’re offering? How will they know the value to be obtained by taking the action you want them to take?

By the headline, that’s how. So if your headline falters, your entire direct mail piece falters. It doesn’t matter that your offer is spectacular or your product first-rate. Without a headline that identifies the audience, grabs their attention and evokes a response, all else is lost.


I’ve known direct mail marketers who put all their energy into cool designs and flowery prose, while tacking on a headline almost as an afterthought. But I’ve never heard these marketers brag about their response rates or ROI.

Headlines have the power to make or break a direct mail marketing campaign. Treat them accordingly. Write them. Revise them. Hone them. Track and test them. And then start the process over again. You can’t afford to do anything less.

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