What Is Direct Mail Marketing And Is It Effective?

by Ty Collins on June 26, 2019 in Articles

Silly Question: What is Direct Mail?

Not silly at all. We forget most of the “letters” that show up in our mailbox are marketing collateral. Direct mail is promotional content sent to people via postal mail. The restaurant flyers, real estate postcards and local business circulars that arrive on a daily basis are all forms of direct mail. These different items are collectively referred to as mailers.

If you have a company and you sell goods or services, spreading the word about your business is top of mind. And direct mail is an effective, albeit expensive, way to do that. Choosing the right tactics isn’t always easy — there are countless ways to interact with your customers — so you need to fill your arsenal with useful tools.

Could direct mail marketing help you conquer outreach and keep people coming back for more? Here’s what you need to know about appealing to audiences via this time-honored medium.

What Are Some Direct Mail Marketing Strategies?

There are two main ways to get your direct mail advertising out to people: targeting and saturation. Each strategy has its pros and cons, so it’s important to pick one that complements your business model.

Targeted Direct Mail: Talking to Individuals

Targeted direct mail lets you strike up conversations with people who might be more open to hearing your message. Say you’re selling car insurance. You probably only want to send policy ads to people who actually own cars, so you might create a campaign targeting addresses that you purchased from a DMV mailing list.

Saturation Direct Mail: Addressing an Audience

If you rely on saturation mailing, then the goal is to saturate, or flood, an entire area with mailers. For instance, imagine that you decided to open up shop in a new ZIP code or city. Using a bulk saturation mailing campaign would let you connect with as many people as possible.

How Do I Get Started With Saturation or Targeted Direct Mailing?

The United States Postal Service, or USPS, offers a saturation mail marketing program known as USPS Marketing Mail. It’s restricted to items that are lightweight and don’t need First Class status. You’ll need to mail a minimum of 200 pieces or 50 pounds of mail, but it’s cheap.

Another saturation option is the USPS Every Door Direct Mail, or EDDM, service. You can send mail to audiences based on factors like their incomes, household sizes and ages. It also lets you visually map out your chosen carrier routes and ZIP codes online.

Finding a Mail Partner

The USPS accommodates targeted direct mail with its regular First Class and Priority mail programs. Or, you can run targeted campaigns by using the Marketing Mail product selectively. Also, the USPS maintains a list of mailing and printing services that can help kickstart your outreach.

Other Options

It’s also possible to adopt a kind of hybridized direct mail strategy. For instance, you might use a small targeted campaign to prompt responses from your audiences and learn more about what typical consumers prefer. From there, you could attempt more extensive outreach efforts to penetrate a broader area without making as many mistakes along the way.

Some companies use FedEx, DHL, UPS and other independent carriers to distribute their direct mail. While these options aren’t as popular as simply going with the USPS, they do come with a broad range of service perks that might appeal to business decision-makers.

What Kinds of Mailers Should I Use?

Your mailers are the focal points of your outreach campaigns. Since they act as the primary points of contact between you and your recipients, it pays to think about the nuances of different options as you attempt to advertise sustainably.

Shared vs. Standalone Mail

Shared, or marriage, mail is direct mail that combines multiple advertisements per printed item. For example, a local coupon circular might include promotions for a dentist’s office, supermarket and home goods store all on the same page.

Standalone mail is direct mail that doesn’t force advertisers to compete for visual real estate. For instance, the dentist’s office from the previous example might send holiday postcards to its clients to remind them to book check-ups.

Which Is Best for My Next Campaign?

Shared and standalone direct mail each have their purposes. Although the standalone format is more expensive because you have to pay for the cost of the entire mailer, you get to engage people on a more intimate level. For instance, you might target people based on their inclusion in a mailing list or send them personalized messages.

Standalone mail gives you complete control over formatting because you don’t have to adhere to style guidelines or strict space constraints. If you’re struggling to fund your marketing campaign, however, then jumping on the bulk shared mail bandwagon might be the answer. These outreach efforts are inexpensive and good at creating widespread generic appeal.

How Can I Pick an Effective Mailer?

One of the coolest things about direct mail is that it comes in so many varieties. Apart from the size limits, there aren’t too many restrictions, so it’s easy to create a custom campaign that really appeals to people. Here are some common mailer options that might help.

Card Mailers

Convenient, attractive and friendly, cards and postcards are great tools for sending a resounding marketing greeting. They’re easy to customize and affordable, so they work well for reminding people of your presence.

Cards have an undeniable personal touch. For instance, it doesn’t take much effort to include handwritten notes, and some services will even simulate handwriting for you. Cards are especially effective when combined with market segmentation tools that break your audience up by demographic.

Catalog Mailers

Bound catalogs are excellent for reaching out to loyal customers who’ve already expressed interest in your products. They don’t need envelopes, and you can pick your choice of sizes, printing styles and content.

This is a bit thicker form of reading material, so it carries higher production costs. In other words, it’s best-suited to those amenable to browsing through your offerings. Although first-time prospects probably won’t mind receiving catalogs, they might not make purchases that offset the postage costs.

Dimensional Mailers

These mailers include parcels, 3-D box-like items, tubes and other exciting package shapes. They’re very good at standing out from other direct mail, which may improve the odds that someone will open them.

As you might expect, dimensional mailers are among the most costly types of direct mail, so use them appropriately. Before diving into a campaign, identify the core fans and leads that are the most likely to help you get a return on your marketing investment. It’s also smart to come up with some out-there creative marketing content that’s worthy of the fancy packaging.

Circular Mailers

Circulars, wraps, inserts and coupon clippers are all good choices for putting your brand on even footing with your competitors. They’re cheap and often combined with newspapers and other media, which might help your ads gain a sense of legitimacy.

Circulars are some of the most cost-effective direct mail marketing tools for limited-time offers and promotions. Advertising agencies or publishers typically manage them, so you can take advantage of existing saturation networks with ease.


Like magazines, these mailers can travel without being stuffed in envelopes first. Since they consist of folded paper that’s optionally sealed shut, they let you appeal to people who simply like the experience of opening mail — If you make the right design choices, your recipient will get a pleasant little surprise when they open your mailer.

Self-mailing menus, flyers and brochures power direct marketing in fields like the service and hospitality industry. They’re perfect when you want to send out a bunch of coupons or ads with personalized inner content that makes people feel invested in your brand. Since you don’t have to share space, there’s more room to explain your deals and promotions.

Sealed Envelope Mailers

Sending an envelope mailer is the only option for direct marketing that includes private information. If you’re sending letter-format advertisements to people in the hopes that they’ll open up credit card accounts, for example, then these mailers will let you get in touch without exposing them to fraud.

Envelopes are also suitable for nurturing existing leads. Since they can include multiple items, like coupons, payment cards and return envelopes, they make it easy to solicit responses and get people to interact.

What Defines Direct Mail Marketing Strategy Success?

Successful direct mail campaigns aren’t as tricky to master as they seem. It’s important to bear in mind, however, that you’ll probably need to tweak things as you go.

Some campaigns may require you to make contact multiple times before being rewarded with new customers. In other cases, you’ll have to rework your mailers a few times before creating the perfect design. Even if you completely saturate a particular ZIP code or get leads to answer back, you’ll still need to drive conversions with sustainable value propositions.

What do all of these factors mean? In short, your strategy’s success depends on how well you manage your campaign expenditures and perform follow-up actions.

Stay Flexible: Campaign Costs Aren’t Set in Stone

In addition to the reduced per-item rates that most carriers already offer for bulk mailers, you may be able to lower your postage costs even further. By sticking to the guidelines and making your lots easy to process, you can qualify for special discounts.

  • Always presort your mail according to ZIP code or work with a printing company that groups mailers in presorted lots.

Coding Accuracy Support SystemNational Change of Address

  • Cut back on wasteful no-response mailers by checking your addresses first: Only pull records from up-to-date mailing lists, verify all addresses with software that has USPS Coding Accuracy Support System, or CASS, certification, and make sure that none of your contacts are in the National Change of Address, or NCOA, database.

Intelligent Mail Barcodes

  • Help the robots takeover: Add Intelligent Mail Barcodes to your items to facilitate automated sorting and fast delivery. As a bonus, you’ll get enhanced tracking power.

formatting and sizing rules

  • Pay attention to the formatting and sizing rules. The USPS will cut you price breaks if your mail is easily handleable and sortable.

Make Segmentation Your Friend

Marketing segmentation research is essential even if you’re trying to saturate a market. For instance, you probably wouldn’t get very far by sending ads for senior care services to students in a college town.

Being prepared is everything, and market segmentation lets you explore your target audiences before trying to engage them. In addition to giving you the power to decide precisely who you want to reach, it helps you discover who might be out there wishing someone would fulfill their consumer needs.

Digital marketers commonly use these tactics, but they’re just as impactful with physical mailers, so don’t miss out. For example, tools like Mailchimp’s lookalike audience finder make it easy to identify a target audience based on ideal traits and then contact actual people who fit the bill.

Keep Campaigns Comprehensive

Direct mail is just one aspect of an effective outreach strategy. For instance, your mailer graphics will probably include logos, taglines and product imagery drawn from your other marketing materials. Keep things somewhat consistent as you cross the digital divide into the real world. This is a vital tactic for helping people remember your brand.

When planning an outreach drive, it’s best to start with intensive data analysis and track the results as you move forward. Tools like Mailchimp make it simple to create Facebook, Instagram and other social media ads to coincide with your direct mail campaign for more impact. By combining your approaches, you’ll increase the chances of sparking a conversation that results in lucrative gains.