Before we continue to dig deeper into Direct Mail as a powerful marketing tool, we have to warn the “dreamers” who think a single campaign will create an overnight success, that successful direct mail is continuous, dynamic, and constantly evolving process.

Even though 65% of the people have made at least one purchase as a result of direct mail, 80% of the prospects react after the fifth contact. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts in Direct Mail Success.

There are a lot of factors and elements to consider when developing a successful direct mail campaign but there are four fundamental which should get special attention because of their importance.

Fundamental Elements of the Direct Mail Marketing

direct mail marketing elements

The List

The list as we mentioned numerous times before, is the most vital element of any direct marketing campaign, yet the most overlooked, especially from ”small” marketers for the obvious budgeting reasons….

In many cases, the direct mail list is the weakest point in the campaigns, because it is taken for granted, typical mistake of the large companies, or not getting enough attention because of lack of experience or funds, a mistake common for small businesses.

Another reason for the ineffective mailing list is simply because people assume “they have the list”, and that’s enough? 

Is it? There is no such thing as a “perfect” list which means you have to invest time and effort to get as close as possible to the desired perfection. The frustration comes from the fact that somebody else develops the audience in most other forms of advertising, while in the direct mail, it is your privilege and responsibility.

The mailing list used to be simply the list of names and addresses of existing or potential customers, well not anymore. In the digital age, we already are talking not for simple, direct mail campaign, but for a data-driven marketing. What exactly is that animal? With all the technology and communications possible now the big data companies can collect all types of information for any prospect, like lifestyle, hobbies, creditworthiness and so much more. So, be smart and try to narrow your prospects to the littlest detail, this might take you more time and money to compile your list, but it definitely will pay off later. Spending your marketing budget on addressing the “right” consumer will result in maximizing the expected response rate and return on investment. A lot of you probably already think, “this is for the big guys only”. Wrong again, the modern technology, the large number of data banks and companies that specialize in data quality services, made the special data vastly accessible even for the small businesses with limited budgets.

So where to start? Simple, with your database. Start registering all information you learn about your existing customers - go through their purchase history, who they shop for, what they shop for, when, what they react on - sales or new items, etc. - the list is endless. If you start doing this, you will be surprised how much insights about the existing customer are in your possession absolutely free. While going through your database, you can do one more little and easy step: mark the “not to mail” records. You will immediately recognize the names or companies (for B2B), that are useless to send to because you don't expect any sale to come from them based on their previous purchase behavior. This will make your mail much more efficient and will save you money.

Next step, make sure that your mailing list is up to date!

“Over 40 million Americans change their addresses each year. Undeliverable mail cost Marketers $20 Billion a year!”

Run your database through an address standardization and move update services at least twice a year, and always before executing a direct mail campaign. It is also a good idea to invest a little more and fill the missing information to your existing records. You can append virtually any needed missing field - phone, email, birthday, occupation, interests. 

Imagine the following two letters:

“Dear Mrs. Jones,

We wanted to let you know that everything in our store is 10% Off till the end of the month. And if you present this letter to our manager he will give you a free gift reserved especially for you. ……….”


“Dear Mrs. Jones,

We know how much you love cardmaking, that’s why we wanted to let you know that everything in our craft department is an extra ten percent off, just for you. And because your Birthday is coming up, we have another surprise waiting for you - when you come to the store ask for the Manager, he has special free gift reserved for you. Just pick it up - no obligation of course……….”

Which one you think will generate a better response? 

We already established the fact that the database of your own existing customers is the best place to start when compiling a list. 

What next? Put the information you collect and analyze to work! Make a portrait of your “perfect” customer and rent or buy a list with consumers that carry the same characteristics - age, gender, income, purchase behavior, etc. If you have room in your budget, the best would be to order a “predictive modeling profile” from a specialist based on your “best customer” list (minimum suggest 1,000 records) and then acquire the new list with the results in mind. We will discuss the data modeling in greater details in one of our future articles.

Keep your list alive! Invest in CMS (Contact Management System) such as Insightly or BigContacts to keep all your data in one place and update as soon as the new contact entered or collected within your company’s digital workflow. Update as frequently and as accurately as possible.

direct mail marketing house list checklist

TIP to Scoop: Dear advertisers, set funds for mailing list maintenance, acquisition, and management in your marketing budget. It will pay off big in the long run.

The Offer

In my 15 years experience in direct mail field, I noticed one big mistake most of the marketers, especially newbies, make. They never account for second or third mail; they only want to achieve their goal in one shot. Second big mistake: when I ask the person who contacts me for the first time to create a direct mail campaign, what is the GOAL, 9 out of 10 don't have an answer, they just want more sales. Which leads to the next mistake: the offer, usually such does not exist. Most of my client’s drafts which they supplied to me for evaluation were endless descriptions and technical details about their exceptional product or outstanding service, assuming that the prospects will run to them and ask to buy immediately. Well again, this is not the case.

To create and execute an effective campaign you need to set a specific objective to accomplish. That objective will be the center point around which your entire piece, including copy and design, should be created. While the special offer typically comes at the very end of the text, an experienced writer will plant the seeds from the very first words.

“Sell Experience, not Product”
direct mail marketing offer dos and don'ts

This may sound a cliché, but make sure your prospects understand what you are selling. Show them benefits and what they can get out of your product. They don’t care about the product itself, as mush, so put the technical specs in small type or box on a side.

Be creative; make your offer to correlate with your goal. Make it Clear and understandable with straightforward guide what action the prospect has to take to access the offer. The statistics show that, if the offer is not presented clearly, this drives to a sense of confusion and lack of trust. Use easy to follow headlines and subtitles.

Invest in your copy wisely. A lot of people don’t question postage, even though this is the most expensive element of all, but they try to save by all means on the mailpiece itself.  Wrong, wrong, and wrong! Neither postage, neither inserting nor addressing sells, concept, copy and design sell!

Don’t try to imitate somebody else’s offer, or do the design yourself. I know it seems easy with all available apps now but don’t. Trust professionals.

Read our blog for detailed tips “how to write a marketing letter that gets a response.” 

TIP to Scoop: Invest in a professional writer and an experienced graphic designer, and the investment will pay for itself. A fresh, unbiased approach to your message can give your campaign a real boost!

The Package

If the offer is really about What you want to sell or promote, the “package” is the How. We have heard tons of times that the packaging sells the product, well it is true; and it cannot be truer for your Direct Mail Package. The Package is the entire assembly you will use to convey your offer. You always have to consider that all the elements have to work together, supplementing one another to maximize the results you are seeking.

The mail package can take many forms ranging from a simple postcard or self-mailer to a large envelope filled with a variety of materials supporting your proposal. The possibilities are so many that we will devote a special article to investigate and analyze in details the most common and some unique mailpieces.

What exactly should you mail will depend on the message, offer and the response anticipated, but there is one simple rule you have to follow: the less your prospects know about you and your product the more elaborate the package should be!

What you can send? These are five basic types (shapes) of mailpieces:

direct mail marketing mailpiece types
1. Postcards  |  2. Brochures (Self-mailers)  |  3. Snap-Packs  |  4. Stuffed Envelope  |  5. 3-Dimensional pieces

A lot of times small business marketers try to save on the packaging, without realizing that cutting budget most likely will lead to wasting money. You can’t seriously think that a simple postcard can sell an insurance policy - the most probable outcome will be zero response and loss of the entire funds. Or hiding coupons in an envelope will increase the response - if your offer is valuable enough, you don’t need to spend on expensive envelope packaging - an oversized postcard will not just do the work, but it will blow the response up.

Let’s analyze the following example:

A credit repair company had prepared few pieces to be mailed together as a package but wasn’t sure about the shape of the mailpiece they have to use. They asked for our opinion. Utilizing the numbers from the DMA report and our sophisticated response rate calculator, we compared the two scenarios: Envelope # 10 package and Oversized 9"x12". Changing only the total cost (apparently, the larger envelope package costs more money to produce and mail), we record the two return on investment (ROI) results. Even after accounting for the higher cost, the oversized envelope package delivered an ROI of 127% vs. 119% for the small one. After that the decision was easy.

Tip to Scoop: Choose the most relevant for your message package, not the least expensive

The Fulfillment

I had thought a lot how exactly to name the fourth fundamental element before I decided on “fulfillment.” As unattractive as the word is its various meanings and almost all correct if used about the direct mail, made me hold it. What exactly “fulfillment” spells in the subject of Direct Mail?

No marketing campaign can be considered complete and assess the results until the marketer takes the relevant actions requested by the consumers in response to his campaign.

8 out of 10 advertisers fail to FULFILL their promises to some extent, and this statement is true in any form and type of marketing. A huge number of direct mail marketers get so consumed and carried out by the preparation of the campaign, so they completely overlook the fact that the real work begins after the actual response take place.

Tracking is the absolute necessity for any marketing effort, don’t neglect it. Make sure you included in you package a way to track and measure the response rate and analyze the return on investment later. Create a system to respond to the inquiries following your mail. Make sure you have enough staff to fulfill the requests timely and sufficiently.

Follow up! Follow up, then again, and then follow up again - persistence is a key to a winning campaign.

Here are a few easy responding rules to follow to capitalize on the success of your direct mail marketing campaign:

1. Answer each and every inquiry promptly

2. Reply with personal letter or email

3. Be friendly in your replies

4. Respond to questions in clear and understandable language

5. Check grammar and neatness - include only the details the prospect asked for

6. Record all communications for future references

7. Create a workflow that suits the best your business and the particular offer.

TIP to Scoop: Enduring the following pattern: Mail-Track-Reply-Analyze-Follow up, will make your marketing life much easier.

direct mail marketing process

In conclusion, I need to give you one more crucial advice to always consider: ALL the Core Elements mentioned above has to work together and at the right time! Missing to comply with any of them, not may, but will turn your direct mail campaign into a failure.

There are no shortcuts in #DirectMail Success!
Milena Marguenski
Milena is the owner and CEO of US Presort.
US Presort | 3801 Victory Blvd., Suite 1 - Staten Island, NY 10314 | P : 718.980.6556