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4 Steps to Creating Successful Direct Mail Campaigns

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4 Steps to Creating Successful Direct Mail Campaigns 

Step 1: Determine if direct mail is the best strategy for you

Before writing or designing anything, you need to determine if direct mail is right for you.

Direct mail is ideal when you have a specific group of people you want to advertise to and you have access to their contact information. A good example would be an event management company that has a defined target market (such as businesses that hold regular events) and could look up their addresses. On the other hand, this strategy is not ideal for a fast food company because their market is too broad (anyone looking for a quick, cheap meal at lunchtime) and it’s hard to find addresses without knowing customers’ names.

Before embarking on a direct mail campaign, consider the following:

  1. Work out your costs. This includes the cost of printing, envelopes, any marketing pieces you plan to put inside the envelopes (a.k.a Lumpy Mail), the cost of buying or acquiring a mailing list, and the postage.
  2. Know your margins. You need to know the net profit you make from anyone who buys your product or service. By understanding how much you actually make from each sale, you’ll be able to work out the percentage response required to make your campaign profitable.
  3. Lifetime value. Don’t view each new customer your campaign brings in as a one-off sale. The average business will need to sell to a client two times before it begins to make a profit from them.

Keep in mind that direct mail campaigns may have a low response rate (20-35% on average), but it’s not the ratio of responses that determines success — it’s the money earned in relation to what the campaign costs. For example, a real estate agency could mail 3,000 letters to past clients about a new property and only receive two phone calls as a result. However, if one of those prospective buyers actually buys the property, the campaign would be considered a success.

If you focus on strategies that bring customers back on a regular basis, any direct mail campaign that covers its cost initially will turn out to be profitable in the long term.

Step 2: Identify your target market

To avoid costly mistakes, you need to know who your potential customers are before you start mailing letters out. It is critical that you identify exactly who it is you’re trying to reach. Failure to narrow down your target market will cost you hundreds in wasted dollars and lead to a poor conversion rate. At the minimum, narrow down:

  • Age
  • Male/Female
  • Income
  • Geographic area

Knowing your target market will also enable you to write in a way that your prospects will relate to. Using terms and phrases that are commonly used by them will greatly increase the effectiveness of your letters.

Step 3: Gather a good mailing list

There are a few ways to acquire a direct mail list:

  1. Buy one from a broker. This a quick, but expensive, way to get a mailing list. Most brokers can provide you with lists that target certain geographic or demographic segments of the population.
  2. Download a free list. Many local libraries offer access to free lists. One example: ReferenceUSA
  3. Mail to someone else’s list. Find noncompetitive companies with similar target markets to yours, then ask if you could either mail to their list (you can offer to pay for postage), or if you could include your letter with one of their upcoming mail outs. This is sometimes referred to as Piggyback Mailing.
  4. Create your own. You can pull from your own database of past customers; join chambers, networking groups, and other associations to gain access to lists; sponsor a trade show; or even run a contest where people must submit their names and addresses. Be creative with how you build and continuously add to your list.

Step 4: Write a letter that works

More important than being a strong writer is knowing who you’re writing to and how to come up with a good offer. If your message is clear, quick, and well-targeted, your letter should work. Be sure you include:

  • A strong headline. Example: “Here’s how to make $4,500 extra income this month (just by sleeping in two hours later).”
  • A strong introduction. Example: “You don’t know it yet, but the next five paragraphs contain the secret to earning a fortune, without breaking your back.”
  • A strong, specific call to action. Give them precise instructions: Who to call, which number to call, when to call, and what to ask for.
  • An attention-grabbing P.S. The P.S. is often the most read part of the letter. List an extra special bonus if the offer is taken up in the next three days.
  • A gimmick (a.k.a. Lumpy Mail). Including something in the envelope will make your mail stand out and will make it memorable. For ideas, check out Lumpymail.com

Reminder: Test & Measure

It is essential that you test and measure every marketing activity that you do. A great deal of marketing is trial and error, so when you try something out, you must measure the results you get. A good place to start is a simple binder with examples of your marketing pieces and post-it notes that track the number of pieces you mail out and the results you get from each. If you’re not happy with the results, either fine-tune the idea or design something different.

Bonus tip: If you want to greatly increase your response rate, follow up with a phone call. Phone-mail-phone campaigns perform far better than mail campaigns as a stand-alone strategy. Call your prospect before you send them your mail piece, send the mail piece, then call to make sure they received it.  


Heather Yakes is an internationally recognized business coach and employee engagement expert ranking in the Top 10 in the U.S. & Top 100 worldwide. Heather is the recipient of the 2016 Business Excellence Awards Coach of the Year, the 2018 ActionMan Award for the Best Client Impact, and the 2018 Franchisee of the Year Award. She has 20+ years of experience working with Fortune 500 Companies and Big 4 Consulting.