Direct Mail Marketing: A Step by Step Guide

There’s a historically-proven, effective and friendly way to market to new and existing customers, but many marketers are missing out on it. What’s more, the fact that so many marketers are missing out makes it that much more of a potentially successful option.

It's direct mail marketing: sending postcards, brochures, newsletters, catalogs and more to the mailboxes of your prospects and existing customers.

With direct mail marketing, one of the most time-tested marketing campaign tactics is hiding in plain sight. It worked for many years, but the boom in email and social media marketing distracts us from this fact. The truth is, a successful direct mail marketing campaign with direct mail postcards is still one of the most effective ways to generate and keep customers for your business. Even if you’re already effectively marketing through digital means, implementing a direct mail campaign works well in conjunction with digital marketing and can help you reach customers you might not otherwise reach. Whether it’s because they aren’t active on social media or because they’re sick of sorting through crowded email inboxes, there are customers out there who just are missing out on your business and brand.

Simply put, not knowing how to pull off a stellar direct mail marketing campaign (or not even trying to) puts your business behind the curve, but fear not: The steps aren’t hard to navigate, and this guide will ensure you understand each of them.

Much of the success of a direct mail marketing campaign happens before the campaign really begins. The planning of the campaign determines its success: the more you can account for variables and create a response to them, the more you increase the efficacy of your campaign. And it all starts with setting goals.

Setting Goals for Your Campaign

All good marketing campaigns strive to meet a combination of three goals: Building brand awareness, improving customer relationships and generating new leads. The first, building brand awareness, should be an integral part of all marketing campaigns. The second and third goals can vary in importance to specific campaigns, but one or the other will always be a core focus of a properly planned marketing campaign. Importantly, the most well-planned and effective campaigns can achieve all three, regardless of the core focus of the specific campaign.

There are, however, a few caveats to consider when shaping the goals of a marketing campaign. The first is to remember to be as specific as possible when outlining goals. Vague goals will inherently lead to vague planning, and it’s hard to track the results of these goals. Conversely, being specific will encourage creative thinking and a more nuanced approach. For example, it is more effective to set a goal of “Generate 10 new leads for a recently hired salesperson” or “Make contact with customers whom we haven’t sold to in 6 months, and generate a sale with at least 25 percent of those customers” than it is to say “Further build our brand” or “Increase sales” because the former goals are detailed and trackable, while the latter two goals are abstract and mean very little in a technical sense. Remember, aim for detailed goals with trackable effectiveness to ensure creative campaign planning and usable data to learn from after the campaign.

Creating Your Mailing List

The details of your planned campaign will determine the recipients of the mailing pieces you use. When you’ve decided who your campaign’s target audience is, you can then start shaping your mailing list. For broad-based campaigns based on generating new leads and boosting brand recognition amongst a large audience, you have a few options.

The first option is employing EDDM mailing services. This service doesn’t use a mailing list per se; it uses a specific ZIP code or carrier route and delivers your mailing piece to every household within that ZIP code or carrier route. It’s most effectively used for campaigns that seek to establish new customers from a broad, untapped base. EDDM is valued for its cost-effectiveness and convenience, but it requires mailing pieces that adhere to certain specifications. Its major drawback is that there is no way to tailor an EDDM mailing list; they’re all or nothing undertakings. You may find that because of this lack of specificity, an EDDM-based campaign casts too broad of a net to match your goals. This is usually the case for campaigns marketing niche products or services or seeking to reach out to existing customers. But if the broad net of EDDM mailing does fit your campaign, it’s the most cost-effective option.

Another option is the traditional purchased mailing list from an outside source that’s tailored to fit the needs of your campaign. These lists are designed to target a specific audience based on demographics like age, household size and income level. Like EDDM, they’re well-suited to finding leads and establishing new relationships amongst potential customers, but they’re much more specified in the audience they target. You should only invest in a mailing list like this after you’ve determined what demographic statistics most correspond with your marketing campaign. For your convenience, U.S. Press can help you find the mailing list that fits your campaign through our third-party mailing list providers.

Finally, you may choose to use an internal list. These are, of course, the most useful when reaching out to existing customers and strengthening those relationships. They should be treated like purchased mailing lists, however: Tailor the recipients of your mailing pieces to match the goals of your campaign.

Deciding What To Mail

At the same time, you’ll need to select which type of mailing piece you’d like to use. More common options include brochures, postcards and catalogs. Just like the type of mailing list you use, the type of mailing piece you select will depend on the specific goals of your marketing campaign.

Postcards work best in efforts to grab customer attention and deliver a quick, strong message. They’re easy and affordable to design, print and ship. Including a call to action increases their effectiveness and including codes, discounts or other redeemable benefits makes them good for tracking the effectiveness of your campaign (this will be addressed specifically in a later section of this guide). They’re also easy for customers to hold onto; when they’re designed well, they’ll wind up stuck on customers’ refrigerators or message boards to keep raising your brand awareness with passersby. Because of all of these reasons, postcards are likely to be the right choice for campaigns centered on reaching out to new customers and building a client base amongst them.

Brochures serve a similar purpose in that they recruit and promote your brand, but they’re oriented more towards delivering information than they are capturing attention. A brochure may sacrifice some of the visual design appeal of a postcard to afford itself more space for information. This doesn’t mean that brochures can’t be well-designed, attractive mailing pieces, however. Brochures are especially useful for more in-depth marketing. For example, an amusement park might send a postcard to notify customers of one specific event, like a concert or a new themed ride that’s opening up, but they’re afforded little more space than that. With a brochure, the same amusement park can tell customers what their hours are, how much tickets cost, details about all of their events and attractions and even driving directions. Brochures give you the elbow room to truly sell your business to customers.

Catalogs are often best sent to existing customers to promote purchasing and introduce them to new additions to product lines and inventory. Many companies routinely send out catalogs at one-year intervals to keep customers engaged and introduce them to new products. A well-designed catalog that engages customers will make them more likely to do business with your company.

Designing Your Mail Piece

In designing your piece, consider what the ultimate purpose is that this piece is to serve, just as you did in selecting your mailing list and your type of mailing piece. But in doing so, remember there are common themes of effective design that will apply to direct mail marketing pieces across the board, and they should be adhered to by designers.

Effective direct mail pieces are always attractive, unique standouts that set themselves apart without being too busy or effecting the clarity of the message they present. The design of the piece as a whole should be attractive and pleasing in order to create a memorable, lasting effect. Thus, making sure that your primary message is displayed in clean, clear text across the front of your mailing piece is a must. Something direct and bold will grab your customer or prospective customer’s attention and direct it towards the rest of the mailing piece’s message.

Additionally, make sure your company logo is visible on the piece so that viewers can readily associate your brand with the piece’s sharp design and its message. A good thing to remember when designing any marketing campaign is that this is your company’s primary means of making an impression with customers. This is true for existing customers, and it’s even more important to keep in mind when marketing to new or potential customers. The quality of your design is your chance to show them the overall level of quality they will come to associate with your company.

Include in your design space for any coupons or codes that customers can use for discounts or as loyalty rewards. This is a great means for encouraging purchases or building existing relationships, but it’s also where you track your campaign’s effectiveness through measuring the number of people who act on those codes or coupons, and it should be included in any direct mail marketing campaign.

Printing And Preparing For Mail

After you’ve finished with selection and design and have determined what your mailing list will look like, your campaign is ready for printing and mail prep. U.S. Press has printed and mailed direct marketing campaigns since 1981 and will be happy to produce yours for you. From mail list acquisition to design, printing, and mail services, we’ll do the heavy lifting for you.

If you’re using an EDDM mailing list for your campaign, the mailing process is already determined for you. Outside of this, you will need to be aware of postage classes, rates, mail panel design, and how these apply to your specific campaign. Check out our guide to make sure your campaign is ready for mail: Mailing Guidelines 101: Understanding USPS Regulations.

Before you move to mail your pieces, format your mailing list in an Excel spreadsheet with columns for each piece of information in the list. Column A for company name, Column B for contact name, and so on in this manner for address, street, city, state and ZIP code.

Measure Success Of Your Campaign

The last step of a direct mail marketing campaign isn’t at the post office. Once you’ve mailed out your marketing pieces, you’ll have to wait until after their delivery to test your campaign’s effectiveness. As mentioned before, this is where including coupons, redeemable codes and other rewards or incentives in your design comes in. The more activity you receive in direct response to your campaign, the more effective your campaign was. Minimal response may indicate a need for tweaking your design or revisiting the details of your mailing list in relation to your campaign’s goals.

Examples of how to do this include a creating a unique URL that’s attached to a specific page on your web site, a unique phone number or extension, or codes to be entered for discounts at purchase. Remember to make the reward for following the call to action a strong enough reward to incentivize the action. Another tracking strategy is using variable data to create differences in design or message to test their strength against one another. Measure and record the results of this campaign over time, and compare them to the results of past marketing campaigns.

After your campaign has been successfully completed, think about how you can best capitalize on its results. Reach out to new contacts and develop those relationships. Keep rewarding existing customers. Continue researching new markets to deliver your company’s message to, and then refer back to the beginning of this guide as needed.