New to Direct Mail? Follow These 6 Simple Guidelines to Get Started


So you've decided to do a direct mail campaign for the first time. Perhaps your digital marketing strategy just isn’t getting the response you had hoped for or you’ve been reading that direct mail response rates are consistently higher than email. Whatever the reason, you ran the idea up the flagpole and received approval to proceed with a mailing campaign.

Now what? How do you design an effective direct mail piece? Sending a mailing without thinking it through can be disappointing and costly, so we’ve compiled a few tips for people who are new to direct mail or anyone who needs a refresher.

1. Set a Goal

First and foremost, consider why you are doing a mailing and what you hope to get out of it. Is it to build brand awareness? Are you hoping to drive people to your booth at an event? Are you looking for the recipients to respond to an offer? Understanding what you want to accomplish is the first step and should be used to determine your direct mail format.

2. Define Your Audience

Who is your audience? There has been a lot of discussion lately of giving your ideal buyer a persona, and for good reason. Personas help marketers better understand the buying behavior, interests, and motivations of their target audience. Even if you aren’t willing or able to flesh out an entire persona, at a minimum, spend some time researching who you are trying to reach. How old are they? Where do they live? Where do they work? What are their interests? Try to understand what will get their attention.

3. Build Your List

Don't skimp on this part. Your list may be the most important determining factor of the results your campaign achieves. Make sure your list is targeted and specific. "Spray and pray" marketing will have much lower returns than a focused message to a narrowed target list of key buyers.

4. Determine Your Call to Action

Every good marketing piece should have a call to action, and direct mail is no exception. What is it that you want the recipient to do after reading your mailer? Do you want them to go to a landing page, make a phone call, return a reply card or visit a store? Once you identify what your call to action is, make sure it is clearly stated and stands out.

In some cases, it may make sense to incentivize the call to action to increase your response rate. Some examples may be:

  • Bring this mailer to our store for a discount.
  • Register for a chance to win a free iPad.
  • Schedule a meeting and get a $25 gift card.

5. Experiment With Design

Determine if you will be doing a package, a postcard, a letter or a self-mailer, and design your piece carefully to increase the likelihood of it being read by the recipient. Consider trying one of these methods to get your mailer opened:

  • Apply creative uses of color, images and typography.
  • Design an unusually sized piece (just be sure to check that it is mailable before printing).
  • Create a teaser on the outside of an envelope.
  • Personalize mail when possible – it’s an affordable option and increases response rates.
  • Try printing your name within the images for a different way to stand out.

Also, remember that postage is often the largest cost to a direct mail campaign. You can save money by sending a postcard, but you may not always be able to achieve your objective and capture the recipient’s attention in a 4 1/4” x 6” space.

A good rule of thumb is don’t try to say everything on your mailer – just what is pertinent and will get read. Sometimes less is more. Make sure your message doesn’t get buried in a bunch of clutter.

6. Measure Results

Finally, be sure that you can measure the ROI of direct mail. Have a way to track responses and quantify your spend. A committed, experienced marketer will use A/B direct mail tests to compare different formats or offers and continually optimize the design and message to increase ROI. Response rates vary based on the industry, the quality of the mailing list, and the degree the mailing is on target, among other things. Set a baseline for your response rate on the first mailing and always try to improve upon that.

A final thought before closing: Reach out to your printer/mailer before you get too far into the design. Your print partner can help you understand what a mailing costs and steer you in the right direction, all while keeping your goals in mind to ensure you receive the most value from your campaign. They will be able to confirm your mailing meets postal regulations and will likely have a mailing permit you can use to save on postage costs. Investigating the details before you are ready to send final files can save potential issues down the road.

Learn more about Direct Mail with Suttle-Straus 

About the author

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Maeghan Nicholson

Maeghan Nicholson

Maeghan is the Director of Marketing at Suttle-Straus. A journalist at heart, she has used her writing skills to develop corporate thought leadership campaigns designed to make business-to-business connections. In her role, she manages all aspects of marketing and advertising, from website updates and content creation to conferences and events.
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Topics: Direct Mail