The Complete Guide to Direct Mail Marketing

What is Direct Mail Marketing?

Direct mail marketing is a channel of direct marketing where printed, physical promotional materials are sent via postal mail to prospective or existing customers. Ultimately, the goal is to earn their business or develop an ongoing business relationship with them. In addition to direct mail, other methods of direct marketing include email, phone (telemarketing), text (short message service – SMS), event, and direct response TV (infomercials), to name some of the most popular channels.

Direct Marketing
  • Direct Mail
  • Telemarketing
  • Email
  • Mobile Ads
  • Display and Search Ads
  • Social Media Ads
  • In-Person Sales Meetings
  • Print Ads


Indirect Marketing
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Press Releases
  • News Coverage
  • Sponsorships
  • Influencer Marketing
  • Referrals

How Does Direct Mail Marketing Work?

On the surface, direct mail marketing may appear like a simple process, but successful direct mail campaigns are created strategically, over a period of time. Before getting your marketing piece out the door, there are a number of steps to follow to achieve maximum results. Follow this process and you’ll understand how direct mail marketing works.


A Direct Mail Marketing 101 Class would begin with three main components: the list, the offer, and the creative.

Targeted mailing lists

Targeted List

Your list is responsible for more than half your marketing campaign’s success or failure, so find one that targets an audience that would be interested in your product or service. A direct response list will typically give you better results than a list you compile from various sources. The more targeted your list, the more likely your chances of a good response.

Targeted mailing lists

Promotional Offer

Once your list is set, you need to focus on the offer, not the product or service itself. Think of it as a process. You’re more likely to close a sale when you focus on the steps that lead to that sale, rather than the sale itself. Some examples of popular offers include BOGO, discounts, free trials, free gifts, and limited time, to name a few.

compelling creative for direct mail marketing

Compelling Creative

The better looking your direct mail piece, the better response you’ll get. You need to get people’s attention, so consider color and copy on the outside of the envelope. Once they open it, be sure to follow up with the message from the outside of the envelope and make it easy (and obvious) for them to respond.

After you’ve established your target market and the message you want to convey over a series of mailings, it’s time to decide what type of direct mail piece you’re going to use. As a precursor, assume people are busy and that they get a lot of mail. Your direct mail piece needs to capture their attention right out of the mailbox. So you need to get creative with your design. That’s not to say a standard-sized self-mailer won’t do the trick, but there are other ways to get your recipients interested.

Common Types of Direct Mail Pieces

Letters are the most personal form of direct mail communication. When it come to direct mail costs, letters provide a cost effective way to introduce your business to a target market or to start a fundraising campaign. A well-written letter creates a valuable one-on-one connection with your customer and according to the DMA, it typically results in a 4.3% direct mail marketing response rate.


Here are the most popular sizes:


• #10 business and correspondence envelopes (4.125” x 9.5”)


• Monarch envelope (3.875” x 7.5”)


• Announcement envelopes are known as A-style envelopes and they come in a wide variety of sizes, from A-2 (4.375” x 5.75”) to A-10 (6” x 9.5”). They’re popular for mailing pictures, greeting cards, small booklets, and more.


• 6” x 9” envelopes are typically ideal for folded letters accompanied by printed materials like brochures and other sales materials.


• Larger envelopes, like 9“x 12”, are suitable for sending proposals or booklets that can’t be folded. Remember that this size is susceptible to higher postal rates from the USPS. These oversized letters (AKA flats), however, have the greatest household response rates (6.6%), so if you’re going to send a letter, consider going big for (potentially) the best result. How big? According to the USPS, the word “flats” refers to large envelopes, newsletters, and magazines. However you choose to label them, they must have one dimension larger than 6.125” high or 11.5” long or 0.25” thick.

If you want to send letter-sized marketing mail, but you don’t want to use an envelope, consider a self-mailer. With a self-mailer, you’ll save on the cost of an envelope, and you’ll have more room for your copy. You can also implement a perforated reply card or coupon as part of the design.


To get the recipient more engaged, use a unique fold (multi-panel gatefold, roll fold, or Z-fold) and get creative with the way you organize your information. Other popular options include a sleeve, Snap Pak, or booklet mailer.

Postcard mailing is a cost-effective way to send direct mail. If you want to make an announcement or drive customers to a store, website, or event, mailing a postcard is a sensible choice.


Here are the most popular postcard mailing sizes:


• Standard postcard (4¼” x 6”)


• Double postcard


• Oversize postcard (9” x 6”)


• Jumbo postcard (11” x 6”)

For the past 100 years or so, catalogs have been a proven way to generate sales. In fact, the DMA reports that 91% of merchants list catalogs as one of their primary marketing tools. More recently, of course, catalogs have been proven to drive website traffic. They’re an important branding tool that can offer your business a host of benefits. You can showcase multiple product lines under one cover, and allow recipients to browse and discover new products at their leisure.


Depending on the number of pages you want to feature, the size and thickness will vary. Your direct mail marketing campaign cost will also vary based on these parameters.

When you really want to grab the attention of your recipients, a dimensional mailer is an exciting choice. Naturally, a pop-up or three-dimensional format like a box, tube, bag, or other container is going to be more expensive to produce and ship. To a targeted audience, however, it’s money well spent. Dimensional mailers have an almost perfect open rate with the best response rate of any direct mailer, according to the DMA’s annual Response Rate Report.


Furthermore, you increase the “pass-along” value as this type of direct mail is more likely to be shared with family and friends.

Additional Direct Mail Marketing Resources

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Direct Mail Marketing Best Practices

The $44-billion direct mail industry is growing exponentially. Direct mail response rates are at an all-time high and the ROI for households is almost 30%. Thus, modern-day marketers are now using direct mail as often as they do social media—and they’re planning to use it even more in the coming year.


Consumers of all ages, meanwhile, trust direct mail more than their digital marketing counterparts. They consider it more personal. Many of them sort through their envelopes and packages as soon as they pull them from their mailboxes.


Whether you look at it from a marketer’s or consumer’s perspective, direct mail marketing works. There are major advantages to executing a successful direct mail campaign, and following some established best practices can help.

1. Look at Your Current Customers. If you already have a database of names, look at them to determine why they buy from you. Examine their similarities. Who among them brings in the most business? It stands to reason that others similar to them (who are not currently customers) would also benefit from your product or service.


2. Identify Your Competition. Check out your competitors. See who they’re targeting and who their current customers are. You don’t necessarily need to go after the exact same market. Rather, consider finding a niche market they may not have already tapped into.


3. Evaluate Your Product/Service. Look at the features of your product or service and compile the benefits. Once the benefits are determined, make a list of the types of people that would need your product/service. Ask yourself, “What problem does my product solve?”


4. Choose Demographics to Target. It’s not only about who has a need for your product/service, but also who’s most likely to buy it. Consider things like age, location, gender, income, education, occupation, marital status, and ethnic background, too.


5. Don’t Forget Psychographics. Psychographics are a consumer’s more personal characteristics. Consider how your product or service will fit into your target market’s lifestyle, using traits like personality, attitude, values, interests, and hobbies.

What would you like to say to your target market with a particular campaign? Are you introducing yourself to a new geographic region or are you trying to improve your numbers in familiar territory?


Create a message that reaches your intended audience with the impact you desire. You’ll achieve this by having a solid understanding of who your audience is. As long as you’ve identified your target market, you’re well on your way.


Here’s an example. If your product is expensive B2B software, a direct mail marketing piece wouldn’t work as well as a series of convincing, lead-generation steps. Invite them to a seminar. Ask them to stop by your booth at a trade show. Convince them to download your white paper for more information. This process works better than coming right out and asking for the sale.


Also, don’t forget the tried-and-true methods of successful sales such as discounts, money-back guarantees, and risk-free trials.


Finally, don’t forget multiple calls to action with a deadline to respond. Be specific with both. Make it very clear what you want them to do and give them a limited amount of time as motivation to respond quickly.


Note: Whatever message you decide to send, plan on follow-up mailings over a period of time rather than one all-encompassing send off.

After you’ve established your target market and the message you want to convey over a series of mailings, it’s time to decide what type of direct mail piece you’re going to use. As a precursor, assume people are busy and that they get a lot of mail. Your direct mail piece needs to capture their attention right out of the mailbox. So you need to get creative with your design. That’s not to say a standard-sized self-mailer won’t do the trick, but there are other ways to get your recipients interested.


Consider your options. If you’re going to go with a self-mailer, use a unique size and add an eye-catching design.


Here are some other ideas:

• Oversized envelopes. According to the Direct Marketing Association, they have the best response rate.

• Add bulk inside the envelope. If you add something lumpy inside the envelope, it creates intrigue. That leads to more opens.

• Design for a quick read. Make your design easy to skim. If there’s a lot of confusion with your direct mail, it’s more likely to be thrown away. Create a powerful message with words and images, but make it easy to look at.

• Think in 3D. If you send something in a box or tube, it’s almost guaranteed to be opened. After all, who doesn’t like to get a package in the mail? Yes, it’s more expensive, but weigh the potential return on your increased investment. Then decide if it’s right for you.


The more valuable the direct mail piece appears, the less likely it will be tossed aside. Which means you’re on the right path to achieving your desired goal with the mailing. (Remember, if you’re using an envelope, the top priority is getting it opened.)

Best Practices for Direct Mail Timing

It matters when you send your direct mail message. It’s one of the easiest, but also one of the most important parts of any campaign. You want your mail to arrive in mailboxes at a specific time for maximum effect, so here are a few tips to make that happen.

Get Time-Sensitive Material Out Immediately


If you’re running a timed promotion or you’re including coupons with expiration dates, timing is critical. Anticipate any potential problems in the campaign process and get your direct mail piece on its way with plenty of time for customers to consider your offer.

Be the ‘First to Market’ if You Use a Purchased List


If you’re sending your direct mail marketing campaign to a purchased list, keep in mind you might not be the only company sending direct mail to that same list. That means you need to get to their mailbox first. Does it really make that much of a difference? Research shows that it does. So you need to streamline your entire process in order to be the “first to market.”

Get Your Mail Delivered on a Specific Day


If you want your mail delivered on a specific day, Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) is a great option. Not only can you select the exact day your direct mail piece is delivered, you can also choose the zip code and carrier route, and target your audience by age, income, or size of household. EDDM doesn’t include personalized mail, so response rates may suffer as a result. MSP can help you dial in the mail drops to tight delivery windows by consolidating the mail and planning the deliveries to specific Network Distribution Centers and Sectional Center Facilities.

Prepare for Your Busy Seasons


If you have certain times of the year that are busier than others, send your direct mail messages well in advance. For example, if you’re busier during the summer months (let’s say you own a lawn care business), plan some late winter and spring campaigns to help people prepare for the upcoming season. If you’re running a fitness center, think about those New Year’s resolutions to get fit and get a mailing to your target market in December.

Additional Information on Direct Marketing Best Practices

Direct Mail Marketing for Specific Industries and Occasions

The Direct Marketing Association reports that direct mail is a $44.2-billion industry. It’s the second largest ad spend in the country (teleservices is first at $45 billion) and it’s growing by billions of dollars each year.

For every $167 that was spent on direct mail in the U.S., an average of $2,095 in products or services was sold. That’s a 1,300% return on investment. Naturally, your results will vary depending on how much you spend on the design and copy of your marketing piece, plus the purchase of a mailing list (if applicable), and the printing and mailing. It also depends on the size and type of direct mail you’re delivering (a simple postcard will cost a lot less than a more extravagant piece) and how many you send.


So, where are the direct mail marketing dollars being spent? Direct mail is relevant to any industry, but there are a few, in particular, that have thrived using it. For instance, financial services are the heaviest users of direct mail. This includes the insurance industry ($5.8 billion), credit cards ($5 billion), mortgage and loans ($4.8 billion), banking ($1.3 billion), and investment sectors ($208 million).

Furthermore, nonprofits find that direct mail increases donations by 40%. Direct mail is a proven way to get advertising messages into consumers’ hands. Thus, it’s a viable option for marketing professionals who want results without allocating their entire budget to one channel.


When you factor in the design of your direct mail marketing campaign, plus the printing and postage costs, it may seem like an expensive endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be. Partner with a knowledgeable direct mail provider to better manage your spending while delivering targeted direct mail campaigns.


Who Uses Direct Marketing?

Popular Industries That Rely on Direct Mail Marketing

  • Ad Agencies
  • Associations
  • Automotive
  • Casinos
  • Channel Marketers
  • Educational
  • Financial
  • Franchising
  • Health & Fitness
  • Healthcare
  • Hospitality
  • Insurance
  • Mortgage
  • Non-Profit Fundraising
  • Print Brokers
  • Publishers
  • Real Estate
  • Retail
  • Software Developers
  • Telecom
  • Travel/Entertainment

Industry-Specific Direct Mail Marketing Research

Digital Integration for Direct Mail

Digital marketing has become a critical component of any modern-day marketing plan. Email, websites, search engines, pay-per-click ads, social media, and mobile apps are all familiar digital channels to the smart marketer, and you should use them along with your “traditional” marketing methods.


Print marketing and digital marketing are strategic partners. There’s no need to separate the two. To get the most out of your marketing efforts, you need an integrated approach that combines both. The practice is so successful that 50% of multichannel marketers say they typically reach their financial goals with it.

Quick Response Codes (commonly known as QR codes) were invented in 1994 when they were designed for Japan’s automotive industry. Their purpose was to allow vehicles to be tracked (via high-speed component scanning) during manufacturing. Today, they appear everywhere from print ads to in-store retail displays and product packaging to hiking trails, just to name a few of the locations.


These unusual-looking, two-dimensional barcodes are scannable with a smartphone to do things like:


• Get product or service information

• Send an email or text message

• Go to a website link


By adding QR codes to direct mail marketing, smart marketers can direct consumers to customized PURLs (more on these to come). This allows them to create a more personalized experience for each customer, plus it allows for customer engagement and offer-redemption tracking.

Augmented reality (or AR) takes QR-code technology and makes it more user friendly. Rather than having someone scan an optical label, you can use image recognition with unique designs and photos to unlock a world of digital engagement, all from the comfort of a customer’s smartphone.


Like a QR code, an AR tag can open a website URL or landing page, show a video, make a phone call, etc. Then you can track those responses to measure ROI.

One of the ways a marketing manager can create a personalized experience for a customer is with a personalized uniform resource locator, or PURL. As a layman’s marketing term, it’s a personalized web page (not a knitting stitch). It could also be called a personalized landing page.


For example, when you provide a PURL to a customer (in the form of a URL, QR code, or AR technology) and they click on the link, scan the code, or type the address into a web browser, they’re taken to the personalized landing page. At the same time, their activity is tracked so you know when they visited the link. If they provide any information via a form on the page, you get that information, too, of course.

Another example of direct mail digital integration is a program called Informed Delivery® by the United States Postal Service. This service allows your customers to digitally preview their mail from a smartphone or tablet.


After your customer creates a free account and signs up, they’ll receive a black-and-white view of the address side of their letter-sized mailpieces. They can also manage their packages to track the delivery status, schedule redelivery, or leave instructions for their postal carrier.


Why is this important for your marketing efforts? As someone who’s creating and sending direct mail, you have yet another opportunity to engage your customers by combining print and digital marketing. According to the USPS, you can triple the impact of your marketing message: via email, digital content, and the direct mail piece itself.

Detailed Resources on Digital Integration for Direct Mail

Measuring and Analyzing Direct Mail Results

How will you know if your direct mail marketing campaign was successful if you don’t measure your results? You should be able to connect your direct mail to revenue for your organization. After all, that’s the intent of any successful business.


Metrics and Methods for Measuring Direct Mail Marketing Results


Let’s begin with how many mailings you’re going to send for any given campaign. That number will inevitably vary from one campaign to the next, but let’s shoot for a certain standard.


Smart marketers learn patience. It’s unlikely you’re going to achieve the success you’re looking for with one mailing. Rather, it’s going to take up to seven mailings.


That may seem like a lot, but there’s an old advertising rule that says someone needs to see a marketing message as many as seven times before they decide to take action. That’s why you should plan to send multiple mailings as part of any direct mail marketing campaign.

Requesting an Action

Within your direct mail piece will (hopefully) be a call to action. This CTA will require that a prospect performs a specific task in response, such as:


• Visiting a landing page (maybe a PURL)
• Completing a form for additional information
• Calling for more information
• Making contact for a free demo or sample


Keep in mind that your CTA will vary according to the relationship you have with your prospect. You’re probably not going to ask for an order with your first mailing, especially if you’re just introducing yourself to a potential customer. The key is to make sure you know your audience and what the appropriate course of action is to request. Then, you can track their behavior accordingly.

A/B Testing

A great way to figure out what’s working or not working with a direct mail campaign is to conduct an A/B test. From the simple to the complex, A/B testing can provide valuable information for future mailings. Here are a few ways to test your next direct mail marketing campaign.


Simple A/B Test


If you want to get your feet wet with A/B testing, run a simple experiment that includes one difference, like the offer. Split your mailing list in half so each group receives a different version. Then track the results to see which of the two offers performed better. To make the tracking process easier, use unique coupon codes, promo codes, or URLs.


Control Group A/B Test


A control group test involves a previous mailing and a test piece. First of all, determine what you want to test, like headline, color, images, etc. Then divide your list into two parts to see which one gets the better response.


Complex A/B Test


For a more thorough test, you could categorize your mailing list according to purchase history or demographics. Then create separate mailings for each one. Then you could test a variety of direct response methods, as previously mentioned, to decide what works best. For example, you could compare how a phone number CTA performs against a website URL or QR code as your CTA.

Direct Mail Panorama

The Future of Direct Mail Marketing Today

Managing direct mail programs is challenging and time consuming. With our Direct Mail Panorama program, you’ll have more control and a better understanding of your direct mail marketing campaigns than ever before. Streamline the direct mail process while gaining greater insight into your campaigns. A panoramic view of all your direct mail metrics allows you to improve upon each campaign with shorter cycle times and higher engagement rates.

Helpful Information for Measuring Direct Mail Results

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