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What Is Direct Mail Advertising?

Direct mail advertising sends physical, print material right to the mailboxes of potential or existing customers. It's a tried-and-true approach to marketing and advertising that's been around long before the digital era.

Direct mail advertising sends physical, print material right to the mailboxes of potential or existing customers. It's a tried-and-true approach to marketing and advertising that's been around long before the digital era.

Being OG hasn't done anything to slow direct mail down, either. Learn more about direct mail marketing and advertising in this guide, including how powerful it is and how to maximize your ROI when you use it.


Table of Contents

What is direct mail marketing?

Direct mail marketing is a form of advertising that involves sending your target audience paper mail pieces. Direct mailers often take the form of flyers, letters, postcards, or catalogs. They can be sent to huge swaths of your audience or targeted to only a few consumers depending on the goals of your campaign. Today's savvy marketers tend to stay away from old-school spray and pray methods and have adopted more robust, automated direct mail that can be personalized, customized, targeted, tracked and sent at scale.

The staying power of direct mail marketing

Digital channels enable you to send marketing messages instantly, a press of your button letting loose a cascade of ads, emails, or social posts. And, while digital marketing is powerful when you combine it with direct mail, it becomes supercharged.

Physical mail has less competition than email

The average person gets 100 or more emails a day. But the average household only gets around 450 direct mailers a year, according to the USPS.

That means your direct mail advertising is likely to arrive in a mailbox without a lot of competition clamoring for the recipient's attention. This is probably why physical mailers have a much higher open rate than email.

Open rates for direct mail can be an impressive 90 percent. Compare that with some of the email open rates published by leading email service providers:

  • Mail Chimp: 21 percent
  • Campaign Monitor: 18 percent
  • HubSpot: 21 percent
  • Constant Contact: 16 percent
  • Get Response: 22 percent

Well-targeted direct mail campaigns have high conversion rates

Response rates for direct mail campaigns can range from five to 9 percent on average, which is much higher than the two to three percent average conversion rates associated with landing pages. People who receive direct mailers are also more likely to buy more than people who did not receive the same direct mail.

People check and read their mail quickly

According to the United States Postal Service, 98 percent of consumers get their mail from the mailbox daily, and more than 70 percent say they get the mail as soon as possible. More than 75 percent go a step further and sort their mail immediately upon receiving it.

These numbers speak to consumer belief in the importance of physical mail and an actual desire to receive it. More than half of consumers describe finding mail in the mailbox as a "real pleasure" or say they look forward to getting mail.

Coupling direct mail with your other marketing efforts can help you build a strong relationship with consumers.

People want direct mail

You might think the statistics pointing to a consumer delight in mail wouldn't extend to direct mailers. After all, people often grumble about "junk mail."

But the reality is that most consumers don't consider well-targeted direct mail advertising to be junk. The USPS survey indicates that people spend an average of around 30 minutes reading their mail. Direct mail gets an average of 25 minutes of the consumer's time on any given mail-reading occasion.

That's a lot of time for someone to spend on unwanted junk. People like to get direct mail from businesses they trust or are interested in, especially if the information within can help them browse for new products and services, manage their homes, or better manage finances.

Actionable tips for successful direct mail campaigns

Not all direct mail advertising drives average or above-average results, though. It takes a bit of forethought and effort to ensure your direct mailings are successful. Get some actionable tips for more successful direct mail marketing below.

Use audience segmentation

What works for one section of your audience may not work as well for another. And even if you have a decent approach to messaging your entire audience as a whole, segmenting lets you dig deeper into what specific people might need or want from you.

Consider this simple example: A company that sells clothing for preschoolers has a target audience that consists of parents and guardians of children. These are the people predominantly shopping for kid's clothing items.

But there's a potential secondary audience of friends and relatives, such as grandparents, aunts, and uncles. These people may also occasionally shop for children's clothing as gifts. But where parents may be motivated by considerations such as functionality, cost savings, and practicality, gift-givers may be looking for something unique, fun, or especially cute.

Segmenting the audience lets you send direct mailers that speak specifically to these potential buying motivations.

Personalize for higher open and engagement rates

Adding names and otherwise personalizing marketing messages almost always drives better results. That's not surprising, as consumers are used to receiving highly customized messages and services. Consider just a few examples:

  • Someone can turn on Netflix and get a completely curated selection of television shows and movies within seconds.
  • Most eCommerce sites can deliver personalized recommendations too — it's no longer a tactic limited to Amazon.
  • People can curate to their heart's desire on their own social media pages, ensuring they get a constant stream of the type of content they're interested in.

At the very least, ensure you're putting names on your direct mail pieces instead of using something generic like "Dear Resident" or "To Current Addressee."

With the right amount of data and dynamic templates, you can also customize other elements of your mailer. For example, a retail store with a website might use abandoned cart information to send mailers that picture the items people almost bought but didn't. Or a lawyer's office that offers both family law and estate planning might send mailers that emphasize one or the other service depending on the demographics of the recipient.

Integrate direct mail into omnichannel marketing strategies

Direct mail doesn't exist on your marketing budget in competition with digital. It should exist as a partner to your other channels. But that only works when you integrate it into an omnichannel marketing strategy. Some ways of doing that include:

  • Launch mailers on demand just as you might launch email. Lob's platform makes it easy to manage direct mail campaigns in much the same way, and you can send small or large campaigns to meet your needs. So, if someone signs up for your online newsletter, consider sending a welcome postcard in the mail, too. Or, if a customer reaches a purchasing milestone (such as 10 purchases or $100 spent), send a direct mailer thanking them for their loyalty and offering a promo code for their next purchase.
  • Make it easy for consumers to take the next step. Write strong calls to action so people know exactly what you're inviting them to do. Use QR codes so people can easily scan them with their mobile devices to get to your online offer.
  • Align mailers with other campaigns. Familiarity breeds trust, so ensure your mailers align with your other marketing content. If your website is purple and shades of grey and your social media profiles follow similar color schemes, a direct mailer that makes use of conservative blues may confuse consumers. When someone gets a mailer from you, if they're familiar with your brand, they should be able to know it's you without looking for your business name or logo. Use branding to your advantage.

Get creative and smart about design

Design is critical to the success of your mailers.

Something as simple as the size of your mailing can drive up (or down) your response rate. You may want to avoid designs that fit and are sent in a standard size 10 envelope, for example, if you are sending a marketing offer.  First, because that's the most common size for mail, so your advertising won't stand out in the mailbox. Second, because size 10 envelopes often contain bills or other administrative content, they don't tend to elicit goodwill feelings. You don't want to bring down the excitement level even before your mailer gets opened.

Other aspects of design to pay attention to include:

  • White space. Ensure your direct mail isn't so chock full of content that it's difficult or encumbering to read. Make it scannable and easy to digest.
  • Color and images. As previously mentioned, ensure your mailers align with your branding and messaging. Include images when possible to better engage consumers and draw attention to your mailer.
  • Fonts. Always choose legibility over hard-to-read fonts in your mail pieces.

Remember that direct mail copy is as important as the design. They should complement each other to help the reader get the full impact of your message.

Test mailers before a full launch

Before you send a mailer to 10,000 people, test it on a random selection of 500 or 1,000. If you get no response (or a much lower response than normal), you know you may need to do some more work on the campaign and testing saved you the expense of sending 9,000 or so mailers.

The ability to send direct mail on-demand with Lob makes it easy to send test campaigns before launching mailers to your entire list.

Create a tracking process to measure the success of digital mailer campaigns

To run tests or understand whether efforts are successful, you need a way to track and analyze performance. Lob offers unparalleled access to insights about your direct mail campaigns, but you also need to plan to capture information. Here are a few ideas:

  • Use a custom link to a landing page that's only published via that mail campaign. When people type the URL to their computer or scan the QR code with their device, you'll know exactly where they came from.
  • Do the same with custom phone numbers. When people call the number, you can count them as a response on your direct mailer.
  • Ask people how they heard of your service or product. Include a drop-down on shopping cart pages or train staff to ask in person or on the phone. You can find out how many people are responding based on your mailer.
  • Print a unique coupon or promo code on your direct mailer. When people use it, you can track how effective that marketing effort was. Even if people are sharing the code, that's still reach that's due to your mailer.

Not getting the kind of results you expect out of direct mail or worried that people aren't excited to receive your mailers? Whatever obstacle is standing between you and direct mail advertising success, Lob can help you overcome it. Create a free account today to start using our API-powered automated direct mail platform to drive growth and success for your business.


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