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Tips for a Successful Direct Mail Campaign

Direct mail is one of the oldest forms of advertising. It is also one of the most difficult to successfully execute, particularly given the changing landscape and the difficulty penetrating consumer radar. Recently, I was asked to provide an overview to management at my current company on key direct mail components that will enhance the probability of success and increase ROI. I thought I would share my thoughts here. Please keep in mind that these comments were written with a business to business campaign in mind, however they can be adapted for consumer campaigns as well.


Successful direct mail campaigns start with a targeted distribution list. Companies need to be sure that they are reaching the right people, the decision makers for customers  – otherwise they are just wasting their time and money. Further, different messaging should be crafted for current customers and potential customers. Potential customers will be less familiar with your company, and require an introduction to your business. They need to be informed about the benefits of doing business with you, before they consider buying your products or services.

Targeting can further be refined by having a closer look at customer buying habits and volume. How recently have they purchased from you? What is their current sales volume? Which customers have the greatest revenue potential? The better you can target high value and loyal customer, the greater your return on direct mail initiatives.

Incentives and a Call to Action

Incentives that provide value will significantly increase direct mail response rates. Direct mail campaigns that do not include an incentive, for the most part, simply do not work.  Perhaps you could consider offering a special price incentive to customers who receive your mailer?  If offered for a limited time only, ideally a short duration with an explicitly stated expiry date, customers will be more likely to act and place an order. A sense of urgency needs to be created.

Further, tied into the incentive, direct mail should have a strong call to action.  For example, “Act Now! To order, call your sales rep today at XXX.XXX.XXXX.”  A sense of excitement in the message tone and copy will also help.

Set Goals, Test, Track and Refine

Measure, measure, measure!

In order to determine the effectiveness of direct mail campaigns, and to make improvements, set goals and track your success in achieving them. A common goal for direct mail campaigns is the customer response rate. How many customers are taking action?  It would also be helpful to receive customer feedback, to learn more about their preferred methods of communication.  Based on this information, you could then refine your direct mail strategy.

Design and Personalization

Studies show that standalone direct mail pieces such as postcards, have a better response rate. You might also find that a unique shape or feature will help make the direct mail piece truly stand out.

Another factor that improves direct mail success rates is personalization. For some of your top customers, consider a handwritten note.  Personalization requires time and effort. That said, imagine the surprise customers will have when they receive a well thought-out handwritten message.

Direct mail copy should focus on customer benefits and product features. It should also be concise, using bullet points highlighting key words instead of paragraphs.


To truly take note of a marketing message, customers need to be hit multiple times.  Frequency is important, and there are  a couple things that can be done to increase it. For example, it would be a good idea to give a follow-up phone call to customers who receive a direct mail piece, ideally within a couple of weeks. Alternatively, you could consider sending out the same piece twice within a short time frame.

What are your thoughts on direct mail? If you are able to take the time to share your thoughts, I would love to read them.

(Edit: Oct 6, 2009)

I would like to thank Luann Collins, Owner/CEO of Jaguar Data Systems Inc. in Naples, Florida, for providing additional insight via Twitter. Luann mentioned that it’s also important to integrate direct mail campaigns with other marketing initiatives and channels. Very true! A direct mail campaign should fit within your overall marketing strategy, and there are ways to link campaigns to other platforms – particularly online.

  • Nicole Poitras

    Great points Eric! One thing that a lot of people forget about is the goal setting and proper tracking of the mailing and that is obviously one of the most important.