Direct Mail Marketing is Not Dead. It Never Was.

By Phase 3
July 14, 2023



As a child, do you remember how exciting it was to receive mail addressed to you? Maybe it was an invitation to a friend's birthday party or a magazine. But it was for you, no one else. Bliss! As a kid, getting mail opened up our world. For many of us, that feeling has never really gone away, even when our mailboxes are clogged with junk mail. According to the United States Postage Service (USPS), 71% of all consumers are excited to discover what the mail brings every day.


Despite the influx of multiple digital marketing channels competing for consumer attention, direct mail marketing is not dead. It never was. Here are some important statistics to know.


  • A 2021 study by the Direct Marketing Association found that 73% of consumers prefer direct mail for brand communications because it feels more tangible than digital ads.
  • 72% of consumers read direct mail immediately, or the same day they receive it.
  • 62% of consumers reported taking action after reading a direct mail piece.
  • 51% of consumers sometimes or often share direct mail with friends and family.


But does that mean direct mail is worth the expense? There's data to back that up too. A recent 2023 study reports that 74% of marketers think that direct mail delivers the best ROI of any channel. That is an increase from 67% in 2022. Also, according to the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), direct mail has a response rate of 9% to an in-house list and 5% to a purchased list, compared to the average response rate for email of 1%. The evidence is clear. All of this to say, when done right, direct mail marketing is a lucrative strategy for engaging consumers, driving brand awareness, and building revenue.


What is Direct Mail Marketing Done Right?


The "done right" part is crucial. We are not talking about junk mail. Merriam-Webster defines junk mail as mass-produced mail sent to a vast mailing list based on the most generic segmentation, usually location. Junk mail gives direct mail marketing a bad reputation. Research shows that 44% percent of direct mail is never opened because it is perceived as junk mail. Therefore, it’s critical to personalize and target every direct mail campaign so that recipients recognize your brand and are interested in opening it.


Strategic direct mail marketing is a marketing strategy brands use when they mail a physical letter, postcard, package, catalog, mailer, or brochure to targeted prospects and/or current customers. The message in the mailer could be promotional, educational, or informative. Common goals and tactics for a direct mail marketing strategy could be to launch a new product or service with a free sample, encourage repeat purchases through an offer or coupon, or drive new leads. Direct mail is applicable to target customers or leads in almost every sector, B2B, B2C, nonprofit and more.


Part of an Omnichannel Experience


Don't think of direct mail as a stand-alone marketing tactic. Direct mail is best utilized when it is used to enhance an omnichannel marketing campaign. An omnichannel campaign offers an integrated and cohesive customer experience no matter how or where a customer interacts with a brand. Think of direct mail as a form of experiential marketing. Receiving a personally addressed and high-quality envelope or package can be an event that elevates your brand in a very tangible manner for the recipient. You're creating an authentic and personal unboxing experience, just like you had when you opened that birthday party invitation.

Then, to extend the experience, include a strong and straightforward call to action in the mailer that allows the recipient to experience your brand through your other marketing channels, both digital and brick-and-mortar. For example, include a QR code that links to a landing page with an exclusive offer or a video of your product. Or the mailer may be an invitation to attend a VIP shopping event at your nearby retail location. An omnichannel campaign means all messages and channels are connected and offer the same customer experience.

When your direct mail piece is integrated into a 360-degree omnichannel marketing strategy, you can leverage the power of a personalized mail piece even further. You'll have a greater impact on your target audience and drive brand awareness and customer engagement.


Customization is Essential


Direct mail will not work if you try to appeal to everyone. Even when a brand has multiple target audiences, the most impactful messaging to those audiences is probably different enough to warrant different campaigns. You’ll get better results by fully customizing each campaign message to each unique target audience.

Direct mail allows you to customize your message to specific target audiences within your market area using sales, demographic, and location data. Marketers can focus on certain characteristics of the target audience, such as gender, occupation, job title, income level, or lifestyle interests. This makes it possible to reach people most likely to respond favorably to the marketing piece. The goal of direct mail marketing is always to inspire the receiver to take action, whether buying your product, registering for an event, or calling for more information.

To customize a direct mail campaign, here are some elements to consider:

  1. Identify your target audience and the call to action for your direct mail piece.
  2. Choose the right direct mail format based on your target audience's preferences, timeline, budget, and campaign goals.
  3. Identify how you will customize each piece using variable data printing. Including the recipient's full name is a must, but what else can you do? Can you mention their last purchase? Are there personal details that you could use to create a connection (without being creepy)? For example, a pet supply company may send a letter to the customer's dog or cat instead of the owner's name. They can even customize the image on the letter to be a dog for a dog owner and a cat for a cat owner. The more relevant the printed piece is, the more engaging it will be for the customer.
  4. Design a direct mail piece with eye-catching visuals (cute cats or dogs!) and clear messaging to grab attention and effectively convey your message. Remember to consider how the recipient will experience receiving and opening the mailer.

Customizing direct mail allows you to create a more personalized and compelling marketing message that resonates with your target audience and leads to increased response rates and ROI.


Segmenting the Mailing List


Sending a mass mailing to a non-segmented list can be expensive and ineffective. You'll optimize your budget and maximize your success by fully customizing each campaign. It’s shocking just how many "mailboxes" are in a zip code or radius of one location. That's why segmenting your target list is essential

For a purchased mailing list, a reputable direct mail partner can generate a list in a multitude of segments, including location, demographics, type of home, occupation, industry, SIC codes, interests, charitable involvement, etc. They will need some guidance from you to know where to get started. For an owned list, consider segmenting it by the most relevant customer characteristics for the mail piece. For example, a mailer promoting a conference for executives should be sent to customers with C-suite titles. You could also segment the list to include customers who attended similar events in the past.


Planning a Direct Mail Campaign


Repetition and consistency are key components of a successful direct mail campaign. Our Phase 3 team recommends that mailings are most effective with continued drops. One mailing may not bring the results you expect.

When planning your mailing timeline, it's important to know that "drop dates" are not when the end user will receive the mail. Drop dates are when the mailing pieces are delivered to the post office. You must work backward from the date you want your mailer to be in mailboxes and consider what type of mailing service you use. It could be first-class stamped, first-class metered, first-class pre-sort, pre-sort standard, EDDM, or bulk mail. Each has a unique timeline for sorting and delivery once at the post office. The speed of mail delivery at the USPS is also based on the volume of mail they have at that given time. The slowest mail delivery days are the weeks before Mother's Day and Christmas. Also, if you are sending a time-bound promotional piece, keep in mind any deadlines or expiration dates involved.


Budgeting a Direct Mail Campaign


For any direct mail marketing campaign, the printed piece itself is generally much less expensive than the postage. Even at pre-sorted rates, the amount of money a brand can pay on postage is substantial. To build your postage budget, the direct mail team at Phase 3 recommends targeting a mailing list (in-house or purchased) in one of these two ways.

  1. Set a total budget for the mailing and then work from there to maximize the dollars, starting with a highly targeted list and expanding until the number of addresses reaches that budget target.
  2. Start with a complete list and work backward by whittling down the zip codes or locations that might not have many people in your target audience.

The Benefits of Working with a Full-Service Direct Mail Provider


Working with a marketing services firm that has a "mail house" under its roof makes your direct mail campaigns simpler to manage. There will be less opportunity for mistakes and you’ll have complete control over the entire timeline and process from ideation to execution.

Phase 3's tenured mailing staff understands the steps required by the USPS for all kinds of mailings, so you won't need to worry that your mailing won't be done correctly. The team can also provide same-day reports to clients with information showing drop time/date/counts, so clients can stay on top of each mailing. Phase 3 also offers return service documentation for clients to do list cleanup after completing their projects.

With a full-service marketing services firm as your partner, each campaign tactic, including direct mail, will be integrated into an overall marketing strategy, and supported by an expert team of designers, technicians, and subject matter experts. Results will be measured at the micro and macro levels so you can see how each tactic performed, and our experts will work with you to refine future marketing campaigns.


Contact our team today if you'd like to explore how direct mail can enhance your digital marketing campaigns.