11 Direct Mail Marketing Secrets

direct mail marketing secrets

Remember when getting a letter in the mail was exciting? So do we. But how do you recreate that feeling and get customers excited about your business when they’re facing a sea of junk mail, flyers and credit card offers?

We asked 11 members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) their top secrets for making direct mail marketing more appealing to the people who matter most — those opening the envelopes.

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“What is one way brands can make direct mail marketing more appealing to potential (and current) customers?”

Here’s what YEC community members had to say:

1. Make Mailers Useful

“Consumers use scrap paper every day for grocery and to-do lists, phone books and notepads. So, why should your promo, assuming it’s not immediately trashed, languish uselessly in a drawer somewhere? This year, we sent something people tend to keep — a New Year’s resolution sheet (with business info, of course). Brands should think of an additional use for their mailers; consumers sure could.” ~ Manpreet Singh, Seva Call

2. Open With a Proposition

“Consumers have short attention spans. Instead of building excitement toward your value proposition, just open with it. This will attract the recipient’s attention and force you, the sender, to see if your value proposition is worth sending to potential customers.” ~ Brett Farmiloe, Internet Marketing Company

3. Make It Lumpy

“The first goal of a direct mail campaign is to get your envelope opened. We’ve sent thousands of direct mail pieces to prospects, and we find mailers with a lumpy object inside of the envelope have a near 100 percent open rate. People are curious what’s inside, and the curiosity gets them to open it. Now your job is to make it personal, relevant and captivating to get your piece read.” ~ Charles Gaudet, Predictable Profits

4. Include Product Samples

“Paper direct mail can be a nuisance to most customers, but if you include a product sample, the direct mail instantly becomes more valuable as a trial tool. There are several companies that specialize in creating product samples, such as Arcade Marketing for the fragrance and makeup industries, and they often have interactive programs that aim to increase the ROI for your brand.” ~ Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.

5. Make Mailers Creative

“Direct mail can be very, very powerful. The key is what you send out. Last week, someone mailed me a message in a bottle. The message was about the company changes this business planned to instill in the new year, and the idea was so well put out that I called them immediately. Here’s the key: Send a more creative message to less people. It’s about quality, not quantity. ” ~ Joe Apfelbaum, Ajax Union

6. Include Something Useful

“People often only think of promotional products as items to give away during a tradeshow or to clients. But what about using them in direct mail campaigns? Along with your sales/marketing message, include something like a pen. Those who are on the receiving end are at least 50% more likely to keep the pen, and in doing so, you’ll remain in their house in the future, used or not. ” ~ Logan Lenz, Endagon

7. Tailor Content to the Consumer

“Invest in learning about your customer, and communicate with them accordingly. Leverage information on customer purchasing behavior and shopping preferences to segment and personalize marketing content and drive sales.” ~ Katie Finnegan, Hukkster

8. Use MailLift

“MailLift is basically an API for direct mail marketing. It allows you to integrate your CRM or customer service software directly into its messaging system. You can write out a message, and it will be transcribed as a handwritten letter and sent to your customer. It’s completely revolutionary because you can do mass mail customization efficiently for the first time.” ~ Liam Martin, Staff.com

9. Provide Value

“Most direct mail pieces deserve the moniker of “junk mail.” To make sure yours stands out from the crowd, you must deliver some kind of real value that transcends your brand message. There are so many creative things you can do that are cheap: Deliver curated content, use creative techniques (such as punch-outs or folds) to make something that consumers can use or write witty copy. Be boldly creative!” ~ Brittany Hodak, ZinePak

10. Partner Up

“Partner up with a complementary company to increase the value of the piece. By doing this you can create a more creative, useful piece. Tap into their customer base as well and use the piece both ways.” ~ Brooke Bergman, Allied Business Network Inc.

11. Use a Stamp

“Consumers can tell when something has been mass-mailed. If you make the envelope look like it came from a person rather than a machine, then the piece will more likely get opened. Try using stamps instead of metered mail, and use a font that looks like handwriting instead of typed text.” ~ Sarah Schupp, UniversityParent

Direct Mail Photo via Shutterstock 26 Comments ▼

The Young Entrepreneur Council The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

26 Reactions
  1. The product samples work for me, especially if on the outside of the envelope it mentions there’s one inside. I tend to also read the content too for those kind of direct mails.

    • Yes free promotional samples make one remember that brand, want to inquire about the product, and increase brand awareness for the brand itself. Products that are useful are also always a plus!

  2. #6 – Yes! I throw away virtually all direct mail pieces that I get, but the few who’ve sent me a useful something are still on my desk, wall, etc. That keeps them in front of me far longer than the 20 seconds it takes me to throw away a direct mail piece.

  3. I have always loved mails with samples. And unlike handouts that usually get thrown immediately, mail is usually kept especially if it is interesting.

  4. Direct mail is not dead! However you have to work harder than ever to make your marketing relevant, interesting and useful to be able to compete with the myriad of messages competing for your prospects attention.

    Like content marketing and so many other channels these days, a second rate marketing campaign just won’t cut it.

    • True. Simple text won’t cut it anymore. If they found that it came from some random company, they’ll most likely throw it unless it has something in it that’s worth keeping.

  5. We produce a plastic postcard that has a gift card pop out of it. High visual impact and people perceive plastic cards to have more value than a paper coupon. Great response rates and ROI with the right data and targeted market. Try a test sample and see for yourself.

  6. When consumers are exposed to nearly 3,000 messages a day, but only notice about 50 and remember just four, earning a spot in the “final four” is the goal. 96% of consumers report receiving mistargeted information or promotions. While that’s not anything new, many are so fed up that they are abandoning brands as a result – and many direct mail pieces are getting tossed immediately. So, the key to successful direct mail (that doesn’t get thrown in the trash) is personalization! Studies have shown that by leveraging known customer data to create highly personalized communications, resulting revenues can increase from 30 percent above average. And in some cases, businesses have attained higher than 25 percent annual growth due to personalization.
    Direct marketing campaigns that include personalization and relevancy strike me as some of the most effective uses of print marketing. The amount of variability you can automate into a printed piece is astounding. From tailored color schemes to unique headlines, marketers can create a piece so individualized that no one can tell it is automatically generated from a database. #7 on this list really stood out to me, but all of these tips and more prove that print marketing is still relevant and can thrive as long as it is personalized and adapts over time. – Shelley Sweeney, VP/GM Service Bureau/Direct Mail Sectors, Xerox

  7. Hi, really enjoyed this article and had a gimps down memory lane and all the Successful Mailing Campaigns that i have participated in over the years:-) Thanks
    #CanIMakeMoneyOnline? Is a G+ Community that empowers people to build their online or offline business with Free Consultation for either their online or offline business venture.

  8. Chris Kiadii - Rainmaker Marketing Strategies

    The more things change, the more they stay the same…

    40% List (“who”)
    40% offer (“message” – there will always be an offer)
    20% other (package, timing…etc)

  9. We are looking at testing postcard mailers for our training events. Any thoughts or suggestions on this? Or are postcards likely to just get lost in the shuffle?

    • Postcards can still be an effective medium if you use one of the oversized formats. One of our clients mails more than 2 million prospecting postcards a year and has had great success with an 11″ x 6″ size. This is just large enough to stand out from the rest of the mail and yet not so large that it incurrs additional postage. Obviously, good creative and a relevent message help tremendously, but from a pure format standpoint, this size has worked best for our clients.

      Hope that helps!

  10. Martin Lindeskog

    I look forward to smart snail mail…

  11. Thank you for compiling. This is a great list of suggestions and reminder for my clients. Additionally, we’ve found that the use of sound, lights and unique folds also help drive participation and engagement with the DM piece. With the right product, the inclusion of a QR code can also help recipients take action immediately and interact with the advertised brand.

  12. We make a plastic postcard that has a gift card detach from it. Although they are much more expensive than paper they have a tremendous return rate. If these are used as promotion they don’t need to comply with the PCI stored value gift card rules and regulations. It really comes down to the data files and target segment. Nothing beats good market intelligence and rewarding a good, repeat customer.

  13. #7 is very important. Narrowing down the target market to consumer specifics such as age, income or home value can help improve conversion rate from 2% to 50%. I see it far too often that companies just send random mailers to all addresses within a certain zip code. It’s totally ineffective and ends up being a waste of money. I recommend purchasing a list, it’s generally very cheap and greatly increases your chances of a successful direct mail advertising campaign.

  14. Catherine Marshall

    I really like the idea to make it multi-use so it doesn’t just become scrap. However, it’s important to remember that it’s not going to work for every age group. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Especially tip no. 2. You don’t have a lot of time to impress with Direct Mail Marketing. I believe in getting straight to the point, and offering an eye catching deal that a consumer can’t pass up. Then maybe they won’t use your mailer as scrap paper!

  16. I still enjoy getting real letters. Since there are fewer of them in my mailbox, the good ones really stand out.

  17. Make it lumpy! That really made me laugh because it 100% works on me! Great tips – I love make it useful. Making it useful will make the difference.


  18. Kairi Gainsborough

    It is a great idea to make mailers useful, so that people have a reason to keep them around. I know I would be likely to use a little calendar or notepad if I got one in the mail. This is a good suggestion for local businesses to let residents in the area know about their services and how to contact them.

  19. Alexandria Martinez

    I liked your advice to use a stamp for mass-mailing. That would be a great way to make something that is meant for a lot of people to feel more personable. This will be great for my fiance as he looks into mailer advertising.

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