Trevett's Guide to Direct Mail Best Practices

April Cassidy

| 10 min read

Direct mailings, properly designed, can provide a rewarding return on investment for savvy marketers. Here, we share our pro-tips for creating a successful targeted mailing.

People still love to go to the mailbox and find something interesting inside. 

17 Direct Mail Best Practices

Direct mail still works... if you follow these tips.

1. Invest in a highly targeted list.

Your mailing will be a waste of time, effort, and money if you don’t hone your list. Sending a blanket mailing to everyone may be a good idea for some situations, like a new restaurant opening nearby. 

But for most businesses, to really beef up your ROI (return on investment), you need a list of people who are likely to want your products or services. The more specific the list, the better. Then mail directly to your audience.

A mail house can help you find the best mailing list service or broker. Or, for most organizations, if you want the absolute best response and conversion rate, use your in-house customer list.

2. Get personal

The more personalized your piece, design, and offer are, the better results you can expect to see. At the very least, include the person’s name. Think about a personalized map from their address to your store on your print marketing materials. Add handwriting on the envelope. Or send a special birthday offer just for them.

A targeted direct mailing with a very personalized approach works well because consumers feel understood. Everyone likes to feel special.

3. Choose your mail piece wisely

Some types of direct mail ads get a much greater open rate than others. You may have a wonderful offer but if you can’t get people to read it, you may not get a good return for your mailing campaign cost.

Your mail marketing service professionals can help you decide which type of mail piece will work best for your organization and offer.

Postcards are the number one option

For most organizations, a postcard is the best way to go. Especially an oversized one that stands out among the rest of the day’s mail. If it has attractive images, lots of bright colors, and a simple, easy-to-read message, most people will read it. They don’t even have to open an envelope.  

An unconventionally sized letter may pique interest

Larger-than-normal envelopes that don’t look like bills tend to garner people’s attention. Consider a solid colored envelope for your mail campaign that goes along with your brand colors or theme. Also, be sure to include a teaser on the envelope.

Dimensional mailers grab attention

Packages almost always get opened. Include your sales letter or a postcard inside along with a gift. Everyone loves to receive something fun in an interesting package.

Catalogs are very popular

Most recipients will hold onto a catalog for a while and browse through it. They may even keep it and look at it multiple times.

4. Send a gift

If you send a letter, your open rate will skyrocket if there are goodies inside. Some ideas might be samples, custom magnets, tickets to an event, raffle tickets, a referral bonus, or a gift card.

5. Hire a professional designer

Experienced graphic designers know how to lead the eye and create something people want to look at. Large images, emotion, and familiar branding provide a quality experience that makes your message more memorable. 

Combine stunning graphics with special textures, inks, and finishes like embossing, textured paper, or a unique font to stand out from the crowd. And be sure your design isn’t too cluttered.

6. Imitate successful campaigns

Study the most effective marketing direct mailings in your industry and use them for inspiration. Strategies that are successful for others in your niche may be successful for you, too.

Have others had good results with postcards? QR codes? A certain type of special? It’s wise to keep tabs on your competition.

7. Write good content that meets a felt need

Words really do sell. Your content should be clear, concise, and should speak directly to potential customers’ frustrations, pain points, and desires.

Today’s consumers appreciate rather short copy in mailings. Simple words, short sentences, and plenty of space around the words allow your message to have a greater impact.

Some approaches to take for mail marketing:

  • Open a story loop - provide a good hook that makes the reader want to keep reading out of curiosity.

  • For consumers, focus more on benefits than features.

  • Focus on the consumer and their emotions, not your company.

  • Address emotions for a more successful direct mailing:

    • Fear of danger

    • A desire for more (money, wealth, stuff, health)

    • Anger over something that is not right

    • Aspirations and dreams

    • Exclusivity - a personalized offer

    • Scarcity - a limited time offer

    • Meet a deep emotional want/need

    • Curiosity

    • Love

  • Talk about the problems people face now and how much better life could be after using your product.

  • Use known “power words.”

  • Answer customers’ potential objections.

  • Include a PS for extra impact

If you aren’t comfortable writing the words yourself, invest in a good content writer so that your message will hit home with your audience and not be ignored.

8. Be sure to include a tantalizing offer

40% of your success in a mailing comes from having an irresistible offer. An unimpressive offer won’t bring much of a response, even if you have a great mailing list and beautifully designed piece.

Ideas for fantastic offers:

  • FREE products, gifts, membership, samples, or services

  • Discount

  • Something unique

  • Holiday special

  • Save time

  • Sign up for an email newsletter with valuable and exclusive email content

9. Send only the best

Triple check that the piece is completely high-quality. Don’t allow a typo, poor printing quality, or formatting errors to cause you to make a terrible impression on potential customers. You’ll lose credibility and it will be difficult to earn the trust back.

10. Use a real stamp and send first class

People value first-class mail more than bulk rate mail. A genuine stamp provides a personal touch people like. The more people you can get to open your mail piece, the better your mail ROI should be.

11. Timing is everything

If your product is seasonal or you have a time-sensitive promotion, your direct mailing must be timed perfectly. A first-rate direct mailing sent at the wrong time will fail. Be sure you allow enough time for design, production, and for the post office to deliver your mailing. 

Ideally, give yourself at least a few extra days of padding so that your mailing doesn’t arrive late. Then if there is an issue with the post office delivery or some other problem, you won’t have to go into panic mode.

12. Include your website/social media

Combining your digital marketing with direct mailing is the best way to increase response and your ROI. Invite people to your website or to enter a contest on your social media sites. Provide an incentive for sharing their email address to get some valuable offer or content from you.

Share a QR code for people to use to get freebies or other items/services of value. Provide an augmented reality app. Or give people coupon codes for your next big sale.

13. Use a strong call to action

What usually works best?

Opt for one of the following marketing strategies:

  • Sale (especially buy-one-get-one-free)

  • Discount

  • Contest with a prize

  • Online survey with an incentive to participate 

  • Some type of limited-time promotion

  • A personalized offer (like for a birthday)

14. Send multiple mailers

Often, it takes a lot more than one mailing to get the results you want to see. Many organizations find good results by sending a mailer every month or so. The American Marketing Association suggests sending a direct mailing every 21 days, in general.

15. Consider testing the market 

If this is your first mailing, try testing with a smaller group of people first to see what kind of response you get. Talk with your designer or printing and mailing company about how best to do this.

16. Don’t attempt a large direct mailing on your own

Use an experienced mail house. They can give you professional direction that saves you a great deal of time, money, and stress.

Our best customers are those who attempted to do a large mailing of several hundred (or more) pieces on their own.

We can usually do the entire thing cheaper than you can do it yourself, not to mention, we know all the constantly-changing Post Office regulations and how to make sure the Post Office will accept your mailing without any delays or extra fees. 

And we have the equipment to handle large mailings. You and your team probably don’t. If you try to do it on your own, you can spend many hours that you could have used for something a lot more profitable.

17. Track everything you can

If you really want to know what kind of response rate and ROI you are getting on your mailings, you need to track your results. Then you can measure how many people responded and know how successful you were. And you can make tweaks for future mailings to be even more successful.

For example, send people to a specific landing page only for this mailing campaign so you can monitor how many people visit your website through your mailing.

Or provide a special coupon code so you can track your conversion rate for this particular marketing campaign. Then you won’t have to wonder how well your mail advertising worked. You’ll have solid data.

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