Direct Mail Design and Strategy

Direct Mail – Still Important to Your Marketing Mix

What is one of the first things you do when you get home at the end of the day? I bet you get the mail! It’s part of almost everyone’s daily routine. Mail is still one of the easiest ways to reach decision makers. It’s tangible, portable and can be read at the prospect’s convenience. An email has to get past spam filters and actually get opened to be effective. Direct mail goes right to the mailbox and can start the sales message on the outside of the envelope or on the front of the postcard. Direct mail is also great for driving traffic to your web site and gathering opt-ins for your email campaigns.

Studies by the United States Postal Service (USPS) and other independent groups found that traditional consumers as well as the more internet-savvy still consider mail a very relevant and useful source of information. People enjoy the physical aspect of viewing mail and many prefer it to email communication and telemarketing. Studies also showed that combining mail with online efforts can have a substantial impact on web site traffic. Using these two tactics together will definitely improve your results.

Direct mail is an effective tactic, but, just like an email inbox, your customers’ mailbox gets pretty full as well. So you’ll need to stand out here too. Some ways to accomplish this are:


Teaser Copy.

Why send an envelope with just address information on it? Why not use that valuable real estate to start the sale at first glance? Try using headlines that will engage your audience…”Do you know the 5 steps to…” or appeal to their curiosity “Find out why so many of your colleagues…”. If you already have a relationship with this prospect make sure to call that out. Even printing a line on the back of the envelope lifts open rates.


Stand Out.

Did you know that 3/4 of all envelopes that are mailed are 24 lb., white, #10 size? Dare to be different, it will pay off. People will open an intriguing envelope. Try a #12 envelope, or one with bubble pack, or unconventional sizes and colors. You’d be surprised what can be mailed. People have mailed barf bags, anti-static bags, burlap bags, even a life-size cardboard cutout of Elvis. Just be sure to bring a test piece to the post office first to avoid any surprises.



Even though people do a lot of their buying online, catalogs are still crucial to selling merchandise. Alone they are a great vehicle to show your products, but when combined with online efforts their effectiveness only grows. Catalog mailings can be highly targeted with the right mailing list and the ROI is very measurable.

The USPS estimates that 37% of e-commerce dollars come from catalog recipients. 41% of Americans shop using both catalogs and the internet (I know I do), and in your target audience the percentage may be even higher. Even retailers that started solely as online stores such as, Ebay and RedEnvelope have used catalogs to gain more sales online. They know that mailing catalogs helps attract new, profitable customers.


Postcard Campaigns

They may have less real estate for your message than an envelope mailing, but you don’t have to worry about people not opening them. They are also very easy for people to save or pass on to another interested party. Try an oversized postcard or a die-cut shape to stand out.


Interactive Mail

These include zip-pull envelopes, scratch-off cards, sticky notes, stickers, etc. The longer a person interacts with your mail piece the more message retention and response it will generate.


Dimensional Mail

This type of campaign can triple response rates and message retention. The cardboard Elvis mailer would be a dimensional piece. Other examples would be sending a premium gift – mailing a sports water bottle with a letter inside, or one walkie talkie with an offer to have the other delivered by your sales rep when the prospect responds. If you’re trying to reach executives you must remember they get a huge amount of unsolicited mail, which is then sorted by an assistant. An important or valuable-looking package is never thrown away like a generic DM piece; it makes its way to your intended recipient. As long as you have a great strategy and message, once your mailer is opened, you should hit your sales goals.



Variable Data Printing technology has come a long, long way. It used to be cool just to inkjet the recipient’s name in the mail piece. Now, you can go far beyond that. New digital presses can change the text and even the imagery of your piece based on each recipient. It’s even possible to automatically generate unique URL’s (web addresses) that can be printed on each piece, putting a prospect’s name right in the web address of your site’s landing page. Smart use of this personalization technology can raise the response rate of a campaign by up to 450%. If a 2% response rate is good, an 8% rate is exceptional! Personalization will increases the cost of your campaign, but the increase in response usually more than makes up for the added expense.


Get the Right Mailing List

Your list accounts for 40-50% of the campaign’s success rate. If your budget is extremely tight target your list more specifically so you can spend more per person. It’s more important that your piece stands out in the mailbox than that it goes to more people only to be ignored by them because they are the wrong people. When you have a quality, highly targeted list it’s safe to assume that many non-responders may actually still be your best prospects. That’s why smart direct mailers will keep mailing to the same list over and over, they get more responses the more they are seen by the same people.



All prospects are not the same, some will be more profitable than others, so spend accordingly. Segment your prospects and try a concept that can be executed on two different cost levels. Maybe one is an elaborate envelope with variable data printed material inside that is sent to prospects your research shows will be more valuable. Then re-purpose the printed material without VDP for a simpler mailer for prospects that are likely to be less profitable.


Make it Easy

Everybody has their preferences so give people multiple ways to respond to your campaign; web site, physical address, response card, toll-free number, etc.


Don’t Skimp on Execution

Using full-color printing makes your piece much more attractive and pulls higher response rates. The cost of 4-color printing is very affordable these days due to new technology and heavy competition in the industry. If you are mailing to a small list try a printer with a digital press. You’ll get 4-color output on small runs for a very reasonable cost.



If you are a small business and only have a few hundred prospects you may feel comfortable handling your own mailing. But most businesses will need professional fulfillment help. Mailing is a complicated business. Drop dates, postal rates and regulations, conforming to postal automation techniques, personalization software programs, all these issues can best be addressed by using a printer or mailing company that is extremely familiar with the industry and it will save you money in the long run.