Direct mail

Because it’s tangible, direct mail can convey a personal touch not as easily achievable via online campaigns. This tangibility can give direct mail an edge as it informs prospects that you value them enough to take the time to craft, print, sign, stuff and send a personal message just for them.

Despite this, direct mail can yield low conversion rates, so consider using it in combination with other tactics like eDM and telemarketing.

Purpose is important

The benefits of developing a successful direct mail campaign for small to medium businesses are:

  • It's a great sales medium for acquiring new leads
  • It helps to build the brand
  • It can strengthen existing relationships
  • It has a longer shelf life
  • It can increase demand of your product or service.
  • It can make a huge impact coupled with other media mediums like social media.
  • There's less competition
  • It's Personal
  • More trustworthy
  • Higher delivery and open rate

It's all well and good listing the benefits of a successful direct mail campaign but what are the best practices.

7 Steps to successfully leveraging direct mail

  1. State the objective
    You need to ask yourself whether your trying to generate leads, nurture leads, or cross-sell to exisiting clients? One objective is best per mailing and should be the first thing you do.
  2. Quality mailing list
    Businesses need to first of all comply a list. Consult our wiki on list acquisition and management to learn how to generate quality lists.
  3. Know your audience
    This is essential in formulating a quality mailing list and crafting content that is valuable to your reader. By identifying the buyer progression your trying to achieve you can align then towards the progression your trying to achieve (thought leadership event) by using a call to action.
  4. The DM package; design and content
    Your content and design is your greatest tactic to enhancing your response rate. It has to be creative, appealing to the eye and have purpose.
  5. Make it easy to respond
    It's best to include three forms to response and is a great opportunity to combined both digital with print communication responses.
  6. Maintain continuity
    Have a follow up procedure set up after your direct mail has been mailed to clients.
  7. Measure
    There are a number of strategies you'll need to put in play to determine how many sales or leads you generated from your direct mail campaign.

TEST! Continuously

Please scroll further to understand how direct mail can be leveraged successfully according to the 7 steps.

State the Objective

Generally, one objective per mailing is best and should be the first thing you do. You need to ask yourself whether you’re trying to generate leads, nurture leads, or cross-sell to existing customers?

This purpose will be reflected in your reason for contacting the client, it will be your VBR when creating your content.

Quality Mailing list

Consult our wiki on list acquisition and management to learn how to generate quality lists.

If you've already generated a mailing list make sure your data is clean, meaning there's no spelling mistakes and client information has been updated.

Know your audience


Businesses can cut costs by targeting clients of interest that meet their target criteria (think about demographics). The goal is fewer packages and achieve a greater response.

The direct mail package; design and content

Do your homework!

Initially, it would be beneficial to collect direct mail examples aimed at your audience. This will allow you to analyse what the senders intentions were, the calls to action and the graphics, before starting to create content and designing.

Design and presentation

Ask yourself;

How does your direct mail format correlate with what you are selling?

The most suitable direct mail format for you will depend on the industry you operate in. For instance, a fun, glitzy piece will work well for a cosmetic or fashion company however, not in the legal sector.

It also may be a good idea to look at previous design formats used for other communication campaigns such as email or social media because this is what your audience recognises and expects from your company.

Best practices of effective Direct mail designs:

  • Postcards
  • 3D or dimensional mailing
  • Paper -cut campaigns
  • Article Magazines
  • Using a video-in-a-card (a personalised TV-style news show in a miniature, self-playing video pack)
  • Envelope
  • Tube mailing
  • higher grade of paper stock

Integrating digital technologies

Using mobile and new digital technologies is guaranteed to boost the ROI of a direct mail campaign. Here’s an example of where AR, QR codes and direct mail can work together:

Bliippar Blippar is an augmented-reality mobile app and advertising platform that connects brands with a highly targeted consumer. Blippar can transform an everyday product into a 3D real-life interactive experience that guarantees a reaction from your client. Since it aims to engage behavior and gives content to people who want it so they can share that content. Blippar created a app called Blipparbuilder for small businesses to harness this power. It allows them to upload their own content, images and video creating their own interactive experiences.

QR codes

QR codes are very successful for B2C companies but B2B marketers are stil experimenting with it. Direct mail can be unexciting however with QR codes it’s a new way of directing your recipients to your interactive marketing material. It ‘s great because codes can link to specific pages and are never out of date. If you update your marketing material the code will lead people to the updated material. Here are some examples of how QR codes can be used:

  • Put a contact QR Code behind your business card so your details can be saved in a clients phone without typing.
  • Print the code on your direct mail piece to lead people to download your case studies and testimonials.
  • Use the code to network via social media for instance directing people to your Twitter or LinkedIn account so they can instantly connect with you.
  • Print a QR code allowing people to download an e-book or video etc (any marketing materials)
  • Print a calendar event QR Codes on your direct mail invitation. Once the recipient has scanned the code it adds the following event or even a reminder to their calendar.

Create compelling content

Method and style

Direct mail can provide a personal touch, but only if it is executed well:

  • Personalise your mail by personally addressing the reader (eg. Dear <First Name>), and concluding with your signature (preferably hand-written), your name, title and the company name.
  • Your headline should be short, lively and clearly identify the topic of your letter.
  • Ensure each sentence of the letter compels the reader to keep reading.
  • Keep letters visually simple with easy-to-read fonts and lots of white space.
  • Length of copy is dependant on the purpose of the letter and there is no established best practice. If it is too long prospects may not read it, but if it is too short you may fail to make a compelling case. Thorough testing in this regard is advised.
  • If mailing a small audience, hand written envelopes should lead to a higher open rate
  • Use plain envelopes (ie. no company logo) to avoid your letter being mistaken for spam
  • Affixing a real stamp supports the intimate character of the piece and says, ‘I took the time and effort to actually mail this to you’.

The letter should be presented in two formats to ensure your catering for reader differences. Some may prefer to scan read whilst others maybe prefer to read in detail. There are two versions businesses can choose from.

Version 1- Is a detailed letter with the key point in bold. Version 2- Is the detailed letter on the right with the key information extracted in bullet form in a column on the right.

Writing Font

The best font for addressing your envelope is Cursive due to the handwriting style projecting an image of personalisation. The best font for printed text is Serified fonts since its more readable than Sans-Serif fonts. Why? Serif type has thick and thin lines with horizontal serifs that pull your eye across the page making it easier to comprehend. This use of font is great for denser copy such as books, brochure, ads and magazines.

However, San-Serif is ideal for headlines, subheads and smaller pieces of copy such as callouts or captions.

It’s important to note that the smallest point you should use is 12 and longer letters have a higher response rate than shorter letters

Tip to remember: Direct mail enjoys a longer shelf life than email, so it might be profitable to ensure your landing pages and offers are still good after a few weeks or ensure you communicate a deadline.

Make it easy to respond

The key to the success of any direct mail program is providing 3 forms of response for clients. These are:

  • Mail-Back form
  • Phone number
  • Website or URL

These are great forms of encouraging response however, combining digital and direct mail communication will improve response further. Direct mail achieves the personal touch, making customers feel valued and what digital allows for is a quicker and convenient response at no added cost. It’s important to accommodate for both traditional and modern audiences. So here are some effective tips making it easier for your audience to respond:

  • Personalise your URL so that it makes it easier for clients to remember, especially since they can’t cut and paste. An example of this is www.mathmarketing/Hugh.Macfarlane.
  • Allow clients to respond via their mobile phone by including a barcode in your direct mail. Clients can scan this barcode with their mobile and gain direct access to the material your advertising e.g. eBook, leaflet, and online newsletter.

Maintain Continuity

To make a higher impact it’s worth analysing your client’s customer journey as they go through the funnel. Once clients have responded to your direct mail and taken action, it’s worth following up with a phone call to qualify them as a quality lead for the future or reestablish a relationship.

Measure and Improve

Measuring your response rate is key to assessing the effectiveness of your direct mail campaigns. Track who responds to your call to action, and via which channel (eg. website, phone, fax, email). Here are example of strategies you could implement:

  • If your marketing material has a call to action to claim a free e-book, you can attach a promotional code or source code to be entered at the registration stage. This will identify where they became aware of the e-book.
  • You can customise a URL dedicated to your direct mail campaign to measure how many were encouraged to take action.
  • If you’re incorporating a blippar campaign into your direct mail, the app has its own back end features to help you understand how your client engaged.
  • On arrival to your website the user could be greeted with a pop-up box asking how they came about visiting your website.
  • A dedicated phone number where your staff will have the appropriate resources to track and record the response of clients.
  • A campaign will always need a time frame to analyse the results so be realistic! To choose the best possible timing consider seasonality and create deadlines with your call to actions.

In addition to your primary call to action, you should also track other responses – like requests for more information. Also ensure that any opportunities created show your campaign as the lead source.


Continuous testing is the key to a higher response rate. By following the 7 steps a business can develop a great direct mail campaign which elements can be tested and improved. A fundamental problem for B2B marketer is that they have small sample sizes preventing them from being able to generalise and they focus too heavily on the design element.

There are two methods small businesses can adopt these are A/B Testing and wave Testing. But these methods can be lengthy and costly so here are some tips on the best ways to do it the first time around.

What we know

  • Paper stock- When they’re going to the CEO use the high quality paper and when you’re doing a low cost, one step sale use the lowest priced stock to cut costs.
  • Paper colour- There is no response difference between ivory, gray and white paper.
  • Use a standard readable typeface
  • Personalisation vs Non personalization- The market is consistent that personalised packages pull higher responses than non-personalised. So do it!
  • If a business used postcards- 5’’x7’’ does little to inspire active engagement. So anything smaller or larger in size is best.

To put power in your campaign, keep testing these things:

  • Content- Let your audience tell you what matters to them. What are their concerns? Or even educate them on what they should be worried about; you are the experts and thought leaders in your field.
  • Package design- Change the outer envelope first, it’s easier and can make a powerful difference. If you are using envelopes, you already know that the only purpose of the “outer” is to make sure the envelope gets opened and the contents read. Take the time to test the messaging on the outers. Tweak the wording or rephrase altogether to see if one version pulls better than another. And test “blind” outers as well; they often pull better than teasers because they don’t notify recipients that they are opening direct mail
  • Offer structure – Find the offer presentation that gives you the right combination of response and sales for the highest ROI. For example, suggesting to schedule a time to talk about your concerns and problems within your business.

Here’s a breakdown of the success of a direct marketing project governed by a time-tested principle:

  • 30% of success depends on lists
  • 30% of success depends on offer
  • 20% of success depends on package cost
  • 20% of success depends on creative execution.

solving the sample size problem

Here are some idea's on how a marketer can use digital and other means of communication to test their message, offer and mailing list before sending the direct mail out to the larger sample size.

  • A Marketer can use a combination of outbound telephone call and email to test a message and the quality mailing list.
  • Other methods for testing engagement of a message are through social platforms.
  • Focus groups, interviews and Lunch-ins with clients or business meetings anyway that works for you getting feedback from your clients.
  • Online surveys are a low cost method for achieving feedback but make sure your including an incentive.

Testing methods

There are two methods of testing that b2b business can take advantage of whom have small sample sizes. These are:

Multi-Wave Mailing

Multi-Wave mailing is sending a 2nd or possibly a third letter to the same person approximately 1-4 weeks apart. It’s a great testing opportunity for those businesses with a smaller target audience who can’t segment their audience for testing. Some marketers would say this method could be seen as intrusive since your bombarding your audience with mail they may not wish to receive every few weeks. However, a general rule of advertising is that people do not really see and/or internally comprehend a marketing message the first time around. Using this rule of thumb, it might take your target market 2-3 “viewings” to open, comprehend and internalize your message enough to buy your product/service. A/B testing

A/B Testing

A/B Testing is the still the best method for determining which of your direct mail elements attracted your clients and resulted in a positive response. The key is creating a perfect direct mail campaign following the 6 steps and test against it. Making sure you change one variable at a time while keeping the others exactly the same.

So keeping in mind the breakdown of how much time you should be spending on your direct mail campaign, you should first test the variables Offer (purpose) and Copy (content) in waves of a 1-4 week period.

For example:

Offer A with Copy X (Wave 1) Offer B with Copy X (Wave 2) Offer A with Copy Z (Wave 3) Offer B with Copy Z (Wave 4)

Once, your business has the best combination of Offer (purpose) and Copy (Content), you can then test differences in package cost and the design and presentation of your direct mail. A variable may also be your list or sending time, it can be an educated guess on what you think is affecting your response rate.

Benefits of continuous testing:

  • Your efforts become more and more profitable.
  • You learn a lot about the market and gain unexpected insights.
  • Your competition has no idea what you’re up to since they can’t determine what’s the controlled or tested variable.

Response Rate

Our initial thought when thinking of direct mail and response rate is 1%- 1.5%. These thoughts need to change because according to a recent project ‘internet and American life project, 2013’ the average response rate for direct mail is now 4.4% for both B2C and B2B mailing. The growth in email has meant there’s less mail in people’s mailboxes so the mail that stands out amongst the bills is likely to be read. Everyone needs time out from those long hours staring at a computer. So mailing personalised, relevant content to those targeted clients will potentially get you a better response.