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Direct Mail Pieces: The Ultimate Guide

Master direct mail marketing with Lob's in-depth guide. Explore strategies, best practices, and everything you need for success.

Direct mail pieces have stood the test of time in an ever-increasing digital-focused world for a reason. Human beings crave and desire tangible, physical things that engage and connect them and elicit a response. Tactile, visual, or even olfactory direct mail pieces offer an experience that digital channels cannot.

Marketing professionals and consumers have noticed:

  • 64% of consumers say direct mail has inspired them to take action, such as visiting a website or physical location to make a purchase.
  • 80% of consumers share direct mail pieces with their friends and family, making it more viral than you may think
  • 84%  of marketers agree that direct mail marketing delivers the highest conversion, response, and ROI of any channel they use
Table of Contents

Benefits of direct mail pieces

Direct mail pieces offer a range of benefits that can enhance your marketing strategies:

  • Tangible engagement: Direct mail pieces provide a tangible, physical connection with your audience. They can evoke emotions and build trust in a way that digital messages often can't. Physical mail pieces also serve as a visual reminder to consumers to take action. 
  • Personalization: Direct mail lets you personalize your message, going far beyond just using a customer's name. Using data about your prospects and customers, you can personalize mail pieces with all kinds of information, including gender, prior purchases, or browsing activity to the area they live in and whether they have pets. The opportunities are endless and help make your audience feel valued and understood. Did you know that 68% of consumers are more likely to engage with a brand’s message when it's personalized?
  • High response rates: Direct mail often boasts higher response rates than digital channels, making it a valuable addition to your multi-channel marketing strategy. The 2024 State of Direct Mail reports that 84% of marketers agree that direct mail marketing has the highest response rate of any channel they use. 

In the following sections, we'll delve deeper into the benefits of direct mail campaigns.

Types of direct mail pieces

Direct mail isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. There are several types of direct mail pieces, each suitable for different direct mail marketing purposes:

  • Postcards: Perfect for concise, attention-grabbing messages
  • Letters: Ideal for personal and detailed communication
  • Brochure/Self-mailers: Great for presenting a variety of products or services
  • Catalogs: Effective for showcasing extensive product offerings
  • Checks: Useful to easily invoice and provide payments at scale

Not surprisingly, the 2023 State of Direct Mail Consumer Insights report states that, catalogs and magazines are the most preferred direct mail piece format, regardless of the relationship a consumer has with a brand. The report goes on to share that consumers are most likely to read catalogs/magazines from brands with which they have an existing relationship, followed by letters and brochures.

It’s important to keep in mind that depending on which industry you are in and your direct mail use case can also impact the type of direct mail pieces you might send. For example, financial services, healthcare, and insurance companies tend to send out more letters due to the nature of their communications than retail and e-commerce, which send out more catalogs and brochures However, many companies are using postcards and other direct mail piece formats for customer acquisition, retention or reactivation campaigns. You can see real-life direct mail marketing use cases and the direct mail piece formats used in our case studies

Get a head start on your first direct mail marketing campaign using our direct mail piece templates

Direct mail piece design and content

Design and content are critical components of a successful direct mail campaign. Your direct mail piece should:

direct mail advertisement example with personalization and promo code

Direct mail piece targeting and segmentation

Using segmentation and targeting for direct mail pieces is crucial for achieving maximum effectiveness and engagement.

Understand your audience: Thoroughly research and understand your target audience. Before you begin any direct mail campaign, it's essential to conduct thorough research to gain a deep understanding of your target audience. This includes demographics, psychographics, preferences, and behavior. By comprehending their needs, desires, and pain points, you can tailor your message and design to resonate with them effectively. Remember, not all potential customers are the same, so a one-size-fits-all approach won't yield the best results.

Segment your lists: Divide your audience into smaller segments to provide more personalized content and mailers to smaller, more responsive audiences. One of the primary techniques for personalizing your direct mail is segmentation. Divide your overall audience into smaller, more homogenous groups based on various criteria. Common segmentation factors include demographics, geographic location, past purchase history, or even customer lifecycle stage. By creating these segments, you can craft highly relevant content that speaks directly to each group's specific needs and interests. This segmentation can help increase response rates and ROI of your direct mail campaigns.

Use data and analytics: Leverage data and analytics to make informed decisions about who to target and when. Data-driven decision-making is a cornerstone of effective direct mail campaigns. Leverage data and analytics to refine your targeting strategies and optimize the timing of your mailings. By analyzing past campaign data, you can identify patterns and insights that inform decisions about who to target, which messages resonate best, and when the optimal time for mailing is. This approach ensures that your resources are spent more efficiently and that your messages reach the right people at the right time.

To learn more, get the Optimizing Direct Mail for Maximum Results guide. 

Direct mail piece tracking and analytics

Measuring the success of your direct mail campaign and specific mail piece is essential:

  • Use tracking codes: Implement tracking mechanisms such as QR codes or personalized URLs. 39% of consumers report they use QR codes to take action on a direct mail piece. This figure rises to 44% for those aged 35-54 and over half (51%) for those aged 18-34
  • Analyze response data: Monitor response rates and adjust your strategy accordingly
  • Calculate ROI: Assess the return on investment to determine the effectiveness of your campaign. Use our ROI calculator to get ahead. 
direct mail marketing analytics dashboard to track campaign performance and results

Make your campaigns more successful with the strategies in the Modern Marketer’s Guide to Direct Mail Analytics & Testing

Direct mail marketing automation platforms

direct mail automation platform to increase efficiency, integrations, personalization and more

Using an automated direct mail platform for your direct mail marketing campaigns offers several key benefits that can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your campaigns. Three key benefits include:

Efficiency: An automated direct mail platform is a game-changer for efficiency in your direct mail campaigns. These direct mail companies take the complexity out of the process, making it seamless from the initial design phase to the final delivery. Designing, printing, and mailing can be time-consuming and prone to errors when done manually. Direct mail automation allows you to set up templates, schedule mailings, and manage your campaigns with minimal manual intervention. This saves you valuable time and reduces the risk of mistakes, ensuring that your direct mail pieces reach your recipients on time, every time. It's a cost-effective approach that maximizes your team's productivity and allows them to focus on more strategic aspects of your marketing efforts.

Personalization: Personalization is a cornerstone of effective marketing, and automated direct mail platforms make it easier than ever to tailor your messages at scale. Whether you're sending out one or millions of mailers, you can customize content, images, and even offers to cater to the specific interests and preferences of individual recipients. Personalization enhances the recipient's experience by making them feel valued and increases the relevance of your communications, boosting response rates. Automated platforms offer the tools and capabilities to segment your audience and create personalized content, ensuring your direct mail campaigns resonate with each recipient.

Integrations: A significant advantage of using automated direct mail marketing companies is their seamless integration with your other marketing tools. This integration allows for a unified approach across your marketing channels. You can sync your direct mail campaigns with your digital marketing efforts, email marketing, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and more. This synergy ensures that your messaging is consistent and cohesive across various touchpoints, reinforcing your brand identity and marketing strategy. Additionally, it provides valuable data insights by connecting data from different channels, enabling you to make data-driven decisions and refine your campaigns for better performance. In a modern marketing landscape, where multichannel strategies are vital, integration through automation is a powerful tool to stay ahead.

“We automated all of it—from making sure members were providing deliverable addresses to programmatically sending postcards on-demand.” - Denise Remhof, Product Manager, Couchsurfing

There are several direct mail marketing services to choose from. Consider how each direct mail service will scale as your business does and if it offers all the functionality you want now and in the future.

Successful direct mail piece case studies

Here are a few inspiring success stories from businesses that have created compelling mail pieces in their direct mail campaigns.

Mabel: Increased response rates 30-50% with targeted letters for the healthcare industry

Medicare represents one of the largest sectors in the healthcare industry. However, engaging this demographic has historically been a challenge. Newer and more cost-effective marketing platforms such as social media and digital advertising have limited reach, and guerrilla tactics like spam calls and misleading TV advertisements leave patients confused and skeptical of engaging.

These insights led to the creation of Mabel, a healthcare communications platform that sends personalized letters to Medicare patients on behalf of the person they trust most—their doctor. Mabel uses the doctor’s electronic health records (EHR) system data to segment patients and deliver targeted messaging, helping patients change insurances, enroll in specific health programs, or better manage their health—unlocking a new marketing channel.

Mabel implemented Lob’s automated direct mail solution, which provided an innovative solution centered around API functionality. Mabel leverages technology to automate direct mail on behalf of each clinic, eliminating the burden of manual, inefficient processes.

Mabel’s partnership with Lob enabled its clinics to customize and personalize mail pieces at a patient-to-patient level with unique logos, branding, return addresses, phone numbers, and websites for each clinic. This, in combination with the patient segmentation based on EHR data, ensures that every patient receives tailored messaging that resonates with them, optimizing the impact of the direct mail campaigns.

Direct mail advertisement example from Mabel

Direct mail response rates for Mabel’s campaigns are 30 to 50 times higher than industry norms, and Mabel’s response rates are in the double digits, with an average response rate of around 5%. This highlights the effectiveness of personalized messaging from patients' doctors. 

Gupta says, "We target the Medicare population. These folks are over 65. Spam calls bombard them, so they don't answer the phone. They don't typically have email addresses or check their email regularly, so there aren't good ways to reach them directly. But a letter from their doctor does get a response and gets acted on quickly. And that’s why the response rates are 30 to 50 times higher than a typical response rate from a payer sending letters out is around 0.1 to 0.25%.” 

Read Mabel’s full case study and check out its campaign on our best direct mail campaigns page.

VentureStack: Brings home 2x marketing results using personalized direct mail letters  

Direct mail for the real estate investing market hasn’t changed much in the last decade, resulting in many firms using very similar-looking boilerplate mail. The direct mail piece templates were basic, handwritten letter formats and lacked personalization, customization options, and elements like QR codes for tracking and attribution. Because of the limiting templates, VentureStack struggled to stand out from the competition in acquiring new home-selling clients with its direct mail campaigns.

VentureStack began using Lob in its new customer acquisition campaigns. It found near immediate success with a two-page letter. On the first page of its direct mail piece, VentureStack introduces its services and benefits. The second page provides the company's qualifications and the properties it purchased in the area. Lastly, it includes a trackable link to its website and an image of the person the prospect would be working with to give it a personal, human touch.

VentureStack direct mail piece letter example showing personalization

VentureStack has also successfully used direct mail postcards. Its postcard includes a QR code to drive traffic to its website, leading prospects to fill out a form. It then uses a Facebook pixel and pixels on its website to retarget and capture leads.

VentureStack direct mail piece postcard example with QR code
“In our industry, companies normally target a 4 to 5 times return to be a viable, sustainable marketing channel. We have an 8.3 return on ad spend from direct mail, so we're blowing that out of the water.”- Tim McGarvey, Co-founder

Read VentureStack’s full case study

Direct mail pieces are valuable for marketers who want to drive results

Direct mail campaigns are a valuable resource in your marketing toolkit. Whether your aim is to enhance brand recognition or drive revenue, direct mail can yield impressive results. Embracing this tactile marketing strategy allows you to take advantage of a channel with which consumers engage and take action. 

In a marketing landscape rich with diverse approaches, direct mail marketing offers a tangible and cost-effective way to deliver your message in a way that complements your digital marketing efforts to make a strong impression on your target audience. 

Additional Resources

For more insights, tools, and tips on direct mail pieces, check out our additional resources:

The Direct Mail Marketing Blog

Direct Mail Marketing Master Class

The Lobcast Podcast: Mixers & Marketing 

Direct Mail Marketing Resource Center

About Lob

Lob is the only direct mail automation platform for the digital age. Lob's platform automates the direct mail execution process for enterprises at any scale - from creation, printing, postage, delivery, and sustainability with end-to-end analytics and campaign attribution. Over 12,000 businesses trust Lob to transform their direct mail into intelligent mail.

Founded in 2013 and based in San Francisco, Lob is venture-backed by Y Combinator, Polaris Partners, Floodgate, and First Round Capital.

Find out more about Lob’s automated direct mail marketing at: https://lob.com.

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