Direct Mail Explained
According to USPS, 77% of American consumers sort through their physical mail immediately.
That is just one of the more-than-good-enough reasons to consider direct mail if you are looking for a way to attract new customers. This marketing method can be a great technique to reach potential customers who may not know about your business.
It’s also an effective reminder to current customers about your products and services. To get the most out of direct mail, it is important to create a strategic campaign.
This blog post will discuss tips (based on our trial-and-error experience) for achieving that objective. We’ll also provide examples of successful direct mail campaigns.
Let’s get started!
Why Direct Mail is a Good Idea for My Business
We were skeptical at first. After all, this is the digital age. Who even reads paper-based mail? But in the course of our research, we discovered these statistics:
- In the US, companies invest in direct mail on an average of $167 and earn an average of $2,095 per person, boasting a 62% conversion rate.
- US Data Corp. reports 39% of first-time customers come from direct mail.
- Response rates for direct mail are 5.3% for house lists and 2.9% for prospect lists compared to email’s 0.6%.
- 64% of direct mail recipients visit the senders’ websites, 54% engage in social media, and 47% visit their physical stores.
Clearly, direct mail is a fantastic choice for very targeted campaigns. And when implemented, we learned that our business benefitted most from sending messages to a particular area or even a particular person.
What Type of Business Should Consider Using Direct Mail
Most people (us included!) are familiar with direct mail marketing (thank you credit card companies!).
And while it does wonders for credit card companies, will this approach work for any business? Direct Marketing Association (DMA) statistics show a healthy revenue stream for direct mail campaigns for businesses of all sizes.
No matter what business you’re in, a segment of your customers will be best reached via snail mail.
Take our case as an example. As a brick-and-mortar retail store looking to connect with residents within an 8-mile radius of our location, sending postcards was an affordable and effective strategy.
Some businesses (think political campaigns) still rely on paper to communicate with potential customers. This is especially true for services such as our printing add-on for products that can be delivered through direct mail like blueprints, maps, and invoices.
How to Get Started with Sending Out Direct Mail Campaigns
Our first step was to determine who the communication was intended for—new or potential customers or current customers? The answer was the first group. Thus, we tailored the messaging and design elements in our postcard campaign.
How Direct Mail Works
The actual delivery of direct mail is through the bulk mail service by USPS (United States Postal Service). When considering sending postcards to local residents, using USPS’ bulk mail service was cheaper than if we had opted to send each postcard individually.
Creating a Mailing List
This step was perhaps the most complicated in the entire process. But it was also the most rewarding.
It was truly a wise investment of time and money!
First, we built a list of all our current customers to create a profile of our prospects. We then identified their important demographics, including age, gender, income level, employment status, and education level.
Depending on the type of your products or services, you would add other information, such as lifestyle, family size, and ownership of home, car, and pets.
This profile also serves as your guide on targeted marketing materials, such as coupons, catalogs, and newsletters.
Once we identified our ideal mail recipient, we rented a mailing list from our local credit card companies.
Other available sources you can tap are magazines, phone companies, and direct mail marketing firms.
When to Send
The ideal day to send your mails is when you schedule them to arrive at a time when your intended audience is primed to act on your offer.
For instance, customers who research for products and services intending to buy do so on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
You must also have a very good reason to send direct mailers to ensure a captive audience. Special occasions are one. We timed our first postcard campaign on our store’s first anniversary. And yes, we invited everyone to the event and even included a 20% discount coupon!
Because our postcards were a hit, we decided to continue. So, every Christmas, we’d print postcards with a scannable QR code that allowed our customers to choose their gift. They didn’t even have to visit our store. We automatically received the info and delivered the item to their doorstep.
Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Spring Day are other optimal seasons for direct mailing. Everyone is in a festive spirit and expectant of gifts. Thus, despite the deluge of promotional materials in their mailbox, your mail will surely get its deserved attention.
Catalogs are also best sent during holidays when consumers hunt for gifts. Coupons, too, are most welcome for families and friends on the lookout for group dining, shopping, and recreation offers.
Another tradition we’ve established is to send birthday postcards with discount coupons. They make our customers feel special.
What to Send
Again, this depends on your product or service. We opted for postcards because they represent our products and services and showcase our expertise.
Here are a few other examples:
- Letters for financial and educational institutions
- Postcards for lifestyle and travel
- Brochures and catalogs for apparel, makeup, and appliances
- Coupons for fast food restaurants
- Flyers for real estate and pharmacies
- Newsletters for nonprofits and advocacies
- Packages on your customer’s birthday
Tips and Tricks for Designing the Perfect Piece of Direct Mail
In the course of trying various techniques, we found that our mails got a higher chance of response when we did the following:
1. Used the recipient’s name.
Not just on the envelope or package label, but more importantly, on the piece itself. Research shows that such personal touches boost response rates by 135%.
2. Sent a clear and concise message.
In one campaign, we tried to combine information regarding a product launch, a summer event, and a sale day all in one postcard. Bad move. The resulting confusion taught us a very valuable lesson!
3. Unleashed our creativity.
Direct mail aims to entice readers and persuade them to follow through with what you ask. We found these design practices very effective:
- Ask yourself if every element present is absolutely necessary—then get rid of anything that isn’t. Some are obvious (such as a logo), while others might not stand out as much (address labels or smaller fonts).
- Be bold with colors that really pop off of the page or paper they’re printed on, such as reds, oranges, and yellows.
- Titillate the senses by experimenting with shapes and textures. You can even add scents and sounds.
How to Use Direct Mail to Increase Sales and Create a Loyal Customer Base
Here’s a quick list of some ideas we’ve tried, tested, and found beneficial:
- Offer discounts, coupons, or other freebies for those who haven’t yet bought from your brand. It gives them a reason to purchase from you and brings them back later down the line.
- Retain your loyal fans by rewarding them with occasional “just because” special gifts. You can even honor milestones like their 5th year of membership or 10th order.
- Connect. Each response—using a QR code, visiting your website, attending an event—deserves to be recognized by an email, text message, or phone call.
- Follow up. A majority of your recipients won’t respond on your first try. In fact, only around 2% of them will. Keep trying. That number increases to 3% the second time, 5% on the 3rd, 10% on the fourth, and 80% on the 5th to 12th.
In time, our business grew, and we added online services. So, we told our would-be customers how they could engage with us via social media.
The Difference Between “Junk” and “Direct” Mail - What You Should Be Sending Out
One word: Relevance.
This is why doing your homework is essential. It would make no sense for, say, a cat lover to receive mailers on dog care. And it will be a waste of resources to send seafood festival coupons to vegans.
Sending the same generic postcard repeatedly will also categorize your direct mail as junk. Twice should be enough.
Should I Buy a Mailing List?
If your business is available in several cities or states, then yes, it would be more cost-effective to purchase a list. The same goes if you can deliver way beyond the compass of your HQ.
Since our customers are located in one specific area, we found it best to use the Every Door Direct Mail tool at USPS.com.
Should I Use a Direct Mail Company or Do It Myself?
Again, this depends on the size of your business and the scale of your campaign. Startups or small businesses (like us in our first couple of years) should outsource only the creatives (copywriting and graphic design) and printing.
We hired a direct mail company to ensure efficiency and success when our enterprise grew.
The Best Way to Measure Success From Your Campaign
First, identify your campaign’s objective: brand awareness, customer acquisition, or customer retention?
Next, create your mailer accordingly. Brand awareness campaigns are usually in the form of newsletters, brochures, and catalogs. Acquiring new customers involves flyers, postcards, and brochures. And to retain existing customers, send discounts, exclusive promotions, and gifts.
Finally, place a “tracking device” on your direct mail. This can be a phone number they can call or text, a landing page on your website, or a scannable QR code. Now that our business has expanded, we use all three.
The idea is to dedicate a unique medium to a particular campaign. Then you can determine with accuracy whether the spike in sales, traffic, or engagement is attributed to that direct mail.
What are the Costs Involved in Using Direct Mail for Your Business?
There is no one-size-fits-all overall cost for any direct mail campaign. Even for our brand, it differs each time. But there are required elements you must factor in when drawing up your budget:
- Graphics and Copy
- Printing (generic or personalized)
- Type of Mail
- Dimensions, Weight, and Quality of Paper
- Mailing List (if purchased)
- Direct Mail Marketing Firm (when applicable)
Ways to Save Money on Postage with USPS Services
Bulk mail at USPS is called Marketing Mail. This category offers low rates to commercial mailers, plus further discounts to nonprofits. You can save even more on postage by:
- Having all the pieces identical, with the only difference being each recipient’s name and address
- Using Every Door Direct Mail where sorting and addressing is not required (USPS will place your mail in every mailbox of a specific area)
- Sending your bulk mail to USPS from a sorting center
- Sending your mails from major national distribution centers of USPS
- Using postal barcodes
Examples of Successful Companies Using Direct Mail
These brands have proven that it pays to invest in direct mail marketing:
- Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) product catalog
- Casper Mattress product booklets and shared mail
- Burger King mailer coupons
- Botanic Choice fliers
- Google coupons and informational mailers
- Amazon promotional letters
Although email has taken over as a primary form of communication for many people doesn’t mean that direct mail marketing is obsolete. It can still be an effective way to reach people who aren’t getting information through digital means. And if you’re trying to reach millennials or older adults, it might be your best bet.