Holiday Marketing with Direct Mail: The Surprising Holiday Marketing Tactic Retailers Should Try

The Surprising Holiday Marketing With Direct Mail Tactic Retailers Should Try

You’re getting your store ready for the holidays by putting out festive décor, developing an email marketing campaign, boosting your local search optimization and planning your social media attack. But one holiday marketing tactic that might not be on your radar could actually be highly effective: direct mail.

Direct mail influences holiday purchases for 77 percent of shoppers, a study by Epsilon reports. By comparison, just 41 percent of respondents say online banner ads influence their decisions.

Why the love for direct mail? Respondents say direct mail usually includes some kind of discount. They can take more time to review the offer than if it were online. Plenty of respondents enjoy looking at mailers in a leisurely fashion. And many say they simply get too many emails — direct mail cuts through the clutter.

Of course, you shouldn’t ignore digital marketing — 90 percent of respondents say they will go online or look at retailer emails as part of their holiday shopping. But the surprising popularity of direct mail means it deserves a second look.

Holiday Marketing with Direct Mail

Here are 10 tips for a successful direct mail campaign:

holiday marketing with direct mail

Use the Right Mailing List

holiday marketing with direct mail

If you have a mailing list of current customers, that’s the best place to start — you know they’re interested in what you have to offer. Want to target nearby residents? The U.S. Post Office’s Every Door Direct Mail program enables you to target recipients by ZIP code, income level and other demographic characteristics, and can simplify direct mail creation and distribution.

Enhance your direct mail campaign by meticulously curating your mailing list. Go beyond just existing customers and explore demographic targeting to reach potential new customers who are likely to be interested in your offerings. Utilize data analytics to refine your list for maximum impact.

Beyond just targeting existing customers, consider reaching out to community groups, clubs, or associations that align with your brand. This broadens your reach and connects with potential customers who share similar interests and values.

Include an offer

Three-fourths of survey respondents say they are likely to use coupons they received in the mail — even more than those who plan to use coupons received by email or found online.

Create a sense of urgency. Time-sensitive offers can get customers into your store during slower times of the week. For instance, hold a pre-Black Friday sale targeting customers who want to avoid the hectic crowds, a midweek sale or special deals available only from 9 to noon.

Introduce bundle deals exclusive to direct mail recipients. For example, “Buy two, get one free” on select products or special holiday bundles. This not only incentivizes purchases but also introduces customers to a wider range of products.

Include a clear call to action

holiday marketing with direct mail

Whether it’s “Free Gift Inside” or “Bring in this postcard for 40 percent off,” make it immediately clear what you want customers about how the direct mail piece benefits them and what you want them to do next.

Don’t forget the basics. I once got a postcard with an offer I was eager to act on, but I couldn’t find the business’s name anywhere on the piece! Hard to believe, but true. Make sure your direct mail piece includes your name, address (maybe even a little map), phone number, website URL and business hours.

Enhance your call to action by incorporating interactive elements like scratch-off areas revealing special discounts or QR codes leading to exclusive online holiday content. This adds an element of surprise and engagement to your direct mail.

Track responses

holiday marketing with direct mail

Asking customers to bring in the direct mail piece for a free gift or discount is a good way to track who responds. You can then invest more in mailers to those customers going forward.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Redemption Codes: Implement unique redemption codes on each direct mail piece. This way, when a customer redeems an offer or discount, you can trace it back to the specific mail campaign, allowing for precise tracking of its effectiveness.
  • Physical Mailer Return: Encourage customers to bring the actual mailer to the store in exchange for a promotion or gift. This tangible tracking method provides immediate feedback on engagement levels and helps in quantifying the response rate.
  • Digital Integration: Use QR codes or dedicated landing pages mentioned in the direct mail. When customers scan or visit, you can measure the digital engagement driven by your physical mail campaign, giving a holistic view of its impact.

Utilize advanced analytics tools to track customer engagement. Consider integrating your direct mail campaign with your CRM system to analyze customer responses and conversion rates, providing actionable insights for future campaigns.

Personalize Your Message

Personalization goes a long way in resonating with your audience. Using data insights, tailor your direct mail pieces to reflect the recipient’s name, purchase history, or personal interests. A personalized holiday greeting can make your customers feel valued and connected to your brand.

  • Recipient’s Name Integration: Including the customer’s name in your direct mail not only grabs their attention but also establishes an immediate personal connection. It’s a simple touch that can make a big difference.
  • Tailored Offers Based on Purchase History: By analyzing previous purchases, you can send offers that are directly relevant to each customer. This not only increases the likelihood of a sale but shows that you’re paying attention to their preferences.
  • Customized Content Reflecting Personal Interests: Go beyond just sales offers. If your data indicates a customer’s specific interest (like a particular product category or hobby), tailor your content to resonate with that. This added touch can transform your mail from generic to genuinely engaging.
  • Tailor your messages to reflect local events, traditions, or community activities. This localized approach demonstrates your commitment to the community and can resonate more strongly with recipients.

Use Festive Designs and Quality Materials

Reflect the holiday spirit in your direct mail designs. Opt for quality materials that evoke a sense of luxury and care. Unique textures, foiling, or even scents (like cinnamon or pine) can make your mail stand out and be memorable.

Eco-Friendly Options: Emphasize sustainability by using eco-friendly or recycled materials in your direct mail. This not only appeals to environmentally conscious consumers but also showcases your brand’s commitment to sustainability.

Share a Holiday Story or Anecdote

holiday marketing with direct mail

People connect with stories. Sharing a brief holiday story or anecdote about your business, how you’ve grown over the year, or how your customers have made a difference can create an emotional bond and deepen brand loyalty.

Customer Testimonials: Include testimonials or stories from customers about their previous holiday experiences with your store. This peer perspective can be a powerful tool in building trust and credibility.

Provide Value Beyond Sales

While offers and discounts are effective, also think about providing value in other ways. Consider including a small freebie, like a holiday recipe, DIY decoration instructions, or a branded calendar for the upcoming year. It’s a thoughtful gesture that can keep your brand in your customers’ minds beyond the holiday season.

Educational Content: Offer valuable information or tips related to your products or services. For example, a kitchenware store could include holiday recipes or cooking tips. This positions your brand as not just a seller but also a knowledgeable resource in your field.

What type of format should you use?

That’s partly determined by your brand image, but here are some alternatives:

  • A letter — Gift Card Enclosed or Gift Certificate Enclosed on the outside of an envelope will almost always get customers to open it. A gift card or certificate has a higher perceived value than a discount coupon — and customers will almost always spend more than the value of the gift card when they visit your store.
  • A card — Consumers are primed to open cards at the holidays, so a holiday greeting card or “thank you for your business” card (with a discount, gift certificate or other offer inside, of course) is sure to get opened.
  • A flyer — A colorful one-sheet flyer, tri-folded and addressed on the outside, can be surprisingly effective as well as inexpensive. If you use an attention-getting color, it will stand out from other mailers.
  • A postcard — Postcards can be a colorful way to stand out from the pack too. Bonus: They’re also cheaper to mail. Invest in quality stock and four-color printing, as well as attention-getting graphics.

Spring Marketing with Direct Mail Summary

Use the Right Mailing ListCurrent customers list?
U.S. Post Office’s Every Door Direct Mail program?
Target by ZIP code, income level, and other demographics?
Include an OfferCoupons or special discounts?
Ensure offer is better or on par with email/online offers?
Create a Sense of UrgencyTime-sensitive deals (e.g. midweek sales, 9 am to noon specials)?
Special events like pre-Black Friday sales?
Include a Clear Call to ActionExplicit instructions (e.g. “Bring in this postcard for 40% off”)?
Highlight benefits for the customer?
Don’t Forget the BasicsBusiness name?
Address (consider adding a small map)?
Phone number?
Website URL?
Business hours?
Track ResponsesOffer incentives for bringing the mail piece to the store?
Monitor and analyze responses for future campaigns?
Personalize Your MessageUse recipient's name?
Reflect purchase history or personal interests?
Special holiday greetings?
Use Festive Designs and Quality MaterialsIncorporate holiday-themed designs?
Use quality materials, textures, or foiling?
Consider scented papers (e.g. cinnamon, pine)?
Share a Holiday Story or AnecdoteShare a company milestone or memory from the year?
Highlight customer contributions or stories?
Provide Value Beyond SalesInclude small freebies (e.g. recipes, DIY instructions)?
Offer branded calendars or other items for the upcoming year?


Get more direct mail tips.


Holiday Mail Photo via Shutterstock

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Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.