Witkowski_trishTrish Witkowski loves getting mail. She gets it from mailing lists. From friends and colleagues who send her pieces to check out. From marketing and print industry sources.

And she does more than just read her mail. She scrutinizes it. Trish evaluates mail pieces’ format, messaging, materials used, and even a sender’s postage and address strategy. She identifies trends across the hundreds of pieces she looks at. Then, she makes those trends and innovations accessible to others.

Besides being a direct mail aficionada, Trish is the founder and Chief Folding Fanatic at Foldfactory, a company that provides custom folding templates and dielines, and founder of Rock the Mailbox, a database of resources for sending direct mail.

Judd and Amanda met Trish last year at Dscoop. This month, we sat down with her to pick her brain on what’s new in direct mail. Here’s what we learned.

1. Direct mail is not the same as branding.
When many companies try direct mail for the first time, they fail to distinguish between mail pieces and their existing brand collateral. “They think it’s enough to put their capabilities brochure on a mailer, but that’s not what direct mail is about,” Trish explains.

“Direct mail is a conversation. It should always end with a clear offer.”

2. Design matters, but strategy matters more.
It’s easy to get caught up in cool folds and finishing effects, Trish says. “But the unsexy things—like your list, your strategy, and the timing of your offer—all have to be in alignment first. It all goes back to who you’re trying to reach and what you’re trying to accomplish. Those decisions will tell you what your creative approach should be.”

3. We get to know brands with all of our senses.
“One great thing about print is its tangibility,” says Trish. Research shows that we build greater brand loyalty when we experience a brand with multiple senses, like sight and touch.

“Many companies lost a fortune when they stopped mailing print catalogs. What they didn’t understand was that people were still reading the catalogs—they were just placing orders online.”

4. Visual tricks can grab people’s attention without them knowing.
“My favorite techniques at the moment are visual tricks mailers use to catch people’s interest. Things like peekaboo windows and unusual opening mechanisms can really help build engagement.”

Other techniques influence readers unconsciously. “Stamps placed at a subtle skew have a slightly higher open rate, because it gives the appearance of being personalized,” Trish says. “There are lots of below-the-radar ways to use knowledge of human behavior to engage.”

5. Millennials are raising the bar for great content.
According to Trish’s research, people of all generations like and respond to direct mail. But that doesn’t mean preferences are exactly the same across age groups. Millennials, people born between the 1980s and early 2000s, tend to expect more omnichannel experiences, Trish says.

“It’s not enough just to have a cool mailer. When a recipient reads your mailer and then visits your website, the site should be up to the same standards. That mindset seems to be rubbing off on people of all generations.”

6. Marketing formats are stronger together.
Many people think of marketing as an either/or proposition. Print or digital. Social media or direct mail. It doesn’t have to be this way, Trish says. “There’s evidence that well-executed mailers elicit high engagement. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up other channels.

“You never know where your message will hook a reader. Ideally, when you’re planning a mail campaign, your strategy will include other channels, too.”

Want more of Trish’s insights? Visit Foldfactory and Rock the Mailbox for creative formats, dielines, resources and strategies. Or watch videos on YouTube of Trish showing off a “60-Second Super-Cool Fold of the Week” and speaking on trends in direct mail. For fun extras and updates, check out the Foldfactory Facebook page, and follow Trish on Twitter @foldingfanatic.