Share this article

Direct commerce | Marketing

8 Best Practices of Direct Mail

image: posting a letter
Whether you're sending a glossy catalogue or a lead-generating letter, these rules will increase the effectiveness of your mail piece

Postcards, catalogues, self-mailers: If it's a marketing piece that's sent to a prospect or customer via the post, it's direct mail. And while each type of direct mail has its own specifications, features, and benefits, agency Jacobs & Clevenger contends they all are more effective when the following best practices are followed:




More is more—except when less is more.

Say what? In its white paper "Direct Mail Best Practices," the company states, "For lead generation, less can be more, while more information drives customers to a decision." So if your mail piece is reaching out to prospects at the very beginning of their purchase cycle, you don't want to overwhelm them with data. But for those deeper in the decision-making pipeline, "be sure to provide them with all the necessary information to say 'yes.'" For that reason, you might want to include multiple pieces in your direct mail package: a letter (which Jacobs & Clevenger says is typically the most-read part of a package) plus a brochure and/or a buck slip, postcard, or flyer.



Include a printed response device, among other response methods.

You might think the Internet has made printed response cards and forms obsolete. But while you should of course enable recipients to respond via email, phone, and your website as well, don't omit the paper response option: Jacobs & Clevenger estimates that 20%-25% of recipients will respond via mail.



Make the copy appealing to both readers and scanners.

And by scanners we mean people who skim rather than really read. So feature the most important information in both paragraph form and bulleted copy.



Include multiple calls to action as well as an expiration date.

"As a rule of thumb, the call to action should be included a minimum of three times within the letter alone."



Include a P.S.—and make it work hard.

It can be on the bottom of a direct mail letter or at the end of the president's letter on the inside front cover of a catalogue. Regardless, the postscript is the most-read portion of a letter, according to Jacobs & Clevenger. For that reason, "it is a best practice to include a primary message, a clear call to action, and a deadline in the P.S. line."



Target as effectively and as personally as possible.

This is a no-brainer but always worth reiterating. If you're a veterinarian, you wouldn't send a postcard featuring a dog to a client who owns two cats; you'd opt for a feline image instead, or at the very least one that shows dogs and cats. Likewise, if the majority of those who responded to a specific offer in the past were high-income men over the age of 50, sending that exact same offer exclusively to moderate-income women 25-34 years old would probably be a waste of funds. Targeting your recipients, whether via simple RFM modeling, more-complex persona modeling, or other methods, increases the likelihood of your mail pieces reaching the optimal audience. By the same token, personalising your direct mail—not just addressing the recipient by name but also tailoring the creative (as in the dogs vs. cats example above), the offer, and even the addition of a personal URL or QR code—in your piece will improve relevance and, with it, response.



Test, test, test.

Everything is testable: your offer, your creative, your copy. Never assume that a mail piece that worked fabulously once will do so again—or that it cannot be improved upon.



Measure the effectiveness of your campaign via matchbacks.

This is key to being able to fine-tune your future efforts. A mailing might have a response rate of 5%—but the response among prospects whose names you received via online marketing might be 10%, whereas response from names you rented could be 2%; response from recipients who fit profile A might be 20%, while that from recipients who fit profile B might be 1%. Department store founder John Wanamaker said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don't know which half." Had matchback analysis been around during the turn of the 20th century when Wanamaker was active, he might never have given us that quote.


author: Sherry Chiger

Sherry Chiger

The editorial director of Your Commerce, Sherry Chiger is an award-winning writer and editor. She was formerly editorial director of Multichannel Merchant and Catalogue e-business magazines.


Share this article