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Marketers Guide to Direct Mail

Why Use Direct Mail?

Cut through the digital clutter. Direct Mail is a cost-effective way to reach your target market, engage them, and create new customers. Or use direct mail to take them through the buyer’s journey. So, we invite you to bookmark this guide as it is an evergreen resource we plan to update on a regular basis. Did you know a whopping 73% of American consumers say they prefer being contacted by brands via direct mail because they can read it whenever they want.

Marketers Guide to Direct Mail 2 Direct Mail Small Business Genius

Who Should Use Direct Mail? 
Anyone looking to grow their business or brand. Spread the word about a new location, coupon, business offering, grand opening and so much more. Here are some examples.

Business Owners 
Drive traffic to a physical location or web store.  Promote products and new servicesLaunching a new division or strategic partnership? Share the news with a direct mailer. The list goes on! 

Marketing Departments 
This is your secret weapon. Every marketing plan needs to be multi-faceted. The Rule of 7 states the consumer or prospect should see your marketing message seven times before they make a purchase. So, of course, leverage search engine optimization. Continue to host virtual events. Distribute an email newsletter. Just do not leave out direct mail. It is an underrated way to generate attention. 

It’s all about fundraising, right? Stay in front of your donors. Promote your value to the community. Keep your contributors engaged and connect with new members.  

Schools/Higher Education 
Direct mail is great for recruitment and alumni fundraising. Promote media coverage. Or share awards and recognition. 

Get new people to your concepts, order online, or promote your soft opening. Use coupons to drive new business or get customers you have not seen for a while to come back. The possibilities are endless.  

Reaching the Mailbox and Deliverability 
First class gets mailed first. Has priority and a guaranteed inhome dateThe standard is supposed to be one to four days in the continental United States. Note: the Covid pandemic is currently affecting delivery dates. We will be monitoring and continue to update this resource page as information becomes available. 

Marketing Mail
Most people know this as standard pre-sort. This is marketing mailFor pre-sort, there is an estimated delivery date and there are various levels to where you can drop this mailing off. It adds an extra step and time for your mail piece to get to the desired address. Since it is trucked to a local facility after it is printed.  

Make it Effective
Consider the 40/40/20 rule. It’s the dictum of direct mail you might say:

  • 40 percent is your copy  
  • 40 percent is your audience 
  • 20 percent is your creative

Marketers Guide to Direct Mail 3 Direct Mail Rule

Copy and Messaging
When we say copy, we are talking about the messaging on your mailer. The Art of Persuasion. Pepper your direct mailer with your sales pitch. Can you name your client pain pointsAddress how you solve them 

You are moving the customer to take an action. Why else would you be in touch? Consider the step you want them to take. For example: 

  • Get them to visit your website. 
  • Connect with your brand on social media  
  • Step inside your store.  
  • Make a purchase (instore or online)  

Direct mail is marketing not a “one and done” type of campaign outreach. Remember the Rule of 7: It can take an average of seven interactions before a consumer remembers your brand

Marketers Guide to Direct Mail 4 Rule Of Seven 1

You can A/B test. Try different messaging. No matter your goal, think about the type (s) of conversion rate are you looking for. What objectives are you trying to achieve? 

In the words of L.L. Cool J: Don’t call it a comeback: QR Codes never went away but the pandemic has certainly encouraged adoption.

Marketers Guide to Direct Mail 5 dont call it a comeback

The pros are there: QR codes are contactless and easy-to-use. Just need to have a phone. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 85% of Americans own a smartphone.  Chances are your customer would scan a QR code if it was listed on your direct mail. 

There are many QR code generators on the web. Some are free while others have a fee. We list a couple below:

Marketers Guide to Direct Mail 6 QR Code Monkey


Marketers Guide to Direct Mail 7 Shopify Logo


Target Audience
It is on the house, as in, what state of your house list? A house list includes existing customersThey are people who have reached out to your company in the past without making a purchase. Chances are you have a sizable list of people right now.  

List Procurement 
Don’t have a house list? Not a problem. Compiling one through a data provider is a terrific way to go. Think about your target customer. Who do you want to connect with? For example, is your offering only available to customers within a radius around your place of business? Consider mailing 1 – 3 miles around your location. Serve a broader region around your location? Perhaps try a 5 – 25-mile radius to reach that target market.

Other criteria to consider: 

  • What is the age range of your target demographic? 
  • What is their professional title? Or titles? For example, do you want to reach marketing directors only? Or anyone with the word marketing in their title. For example: marketing managers, marketing specialists, Chief Marketing Officer.
  • Trying to reach businesses and the professionals who work there? 
  • Or is your potential customer folks own their own their homes or renters?

Shameless plug: 
Consider the Riverside Graphics and Cushing team to help you here. We can make building a list painless. Riverside can print and fulfill as well!

Marketers Guide to Direct Mail 8 Riverside Graphics Logo

Tell us about your target audience and we can build one to get your promotion moving ahead. 

Every Door Direct Mail 
Or do you want to reach EVERYONE in a general area? Try EDDM (Every Door Direct Mail.This is more for the B2C (business to consumer) world. EDDM reaches your neighborhood, at large.
Some examples where EDDM could be a fit for you:

  • You own a pizza shop and want to connect with customers in the neighborhood.
  • Or a chiropractor that wants to reach a certain zip code.
  • Dry cleaner with 2 – 10 locations.
  • Dentists, dermatologists, gyms.
  • Tip: put an image of a map with your location on the mailer.

Are you selling general goods or services where anyone can be your clientBlanket an area – 50K pieces are 10 drops. Say hello to your neighborhoodIs EDDM right for you? Let us help you evaluate – targeted versus EDDM. There are limitations to both. 

Important to Note
This is not building a mailing list, with demographic information such as age and income. With EDDM, you do not receive a spreadsheet with prospect names, email addresses, and phone numbers for follow-up. You are reaching everyone within a certain radius around your locationHere is the EDDM map for reference. You can see the zones your mailer will reach. By carrier route, within a zip code.  Click the link to open the map in a new window.

Marketers Guide to Direct Mail 9 EDDM Map

Keep in mind: You must do a full carrier route because that makes it easier for the postal carrier to put it in every mailboxThis bypasses the main post office, we handle labor, and this keeps costs down. 

Size Restrictions
Must be a particular size, route, and a EDDM send to an entire carrier rout. Bonus: you save on postage because we sort the mail by carrier route. So the post office doesn’t have to. You can drop 5,000 pieces per day. If you want to do a 50K mailing you have to drop 5k a day for 10 business days. 

Typical Sizes are: 
8.5 x 11 
7.5” x 11
6.5″ x 9” is also a possibility

You can also use folded pieces but they must meet requirements. 11” x 17” as a folded mailer, work work, for example.

Don’t Forget the Creative
Bring your sales copy and hyper-targeted list together with an irresistible design that grabs attention. If your creative does not stand out, you are headed straight for the recycling bin

Sepia Studio Logo for new creative division in Chicago.

While there is no magic formula, here are some tips from lead creatives at Sepia Studio: 

Less is moreYou want creative to make that first impression count (you will need to stand out in a pack of mail.) enough to grab the reader’s attention and make them stay to read the message

The best way to do that is to keep it simple, with a minimal approach to make the impact. Remember, minimal does not equal boring – getting a message across can still use bold text and bright colors, but the message should be clear and easy to understand.  


Marketers Guide to Direct Mail 10 Amanda and Julia Brainstorm Design for Sepia Studio

Sepia Studio Works on a Design


Original Photography
Another way to stand out is to use original photography. While it’s hard to beat the price and convenience of stock imagery, commissioning custom photography will allow you to feature your staff, your customers, and your facilities in an authentic way that will have a much better chance of resonating with your audience. Consider searching on Wonderful Machine to find a photographer near you.

Marketers Guide to Direct Mail 11 Wonderful Machine Logo

They have highly-qualified commercial photographers around the world who you can connect with directly for a quote. And their staff is available for questions or recommendations.

Marketers Guide to Direct Mail 12 WonderfulMachine Mail Quote

More On Specifications and Dimensions
A lot of customers ask about the best to size to use. There really is not a one-size-fits-all approach. When you think about itthere is not one marketing approach that works across the spectrum: direct mail is just one cog in the larger marketing machine. And just like digital campaigns, experiment with different ideas and messagingAll that said, we put together some examples:

Bare Minimum
3” Inches x 5” Inches Postcard 
OK, we are listing this because we know someone will ask if there is a minimum size. There is and you can use it, but it just does not pack punch. Slightly bigger than a business card, your piece is going to get lost in the shuffle.  

Consistent Contact
4” Inches x 6” Inches Postcard 
This is great touch for lapsed clientsHave you not heard from a customer in 90 days (about 3 months) or – gulp – year? These are economic and easiest to get out there. And have a lot of room for images, a call to action and critical details such as your website and contact information. 

Make a large impression
5.75” x 11”   
This size is also efficient: it stays within the USPS size requirements, and we can run three on a 13 x 19 sheet (nerdy print speak alert.) 
Minimum aspect ratio: 1 to 1.3
max: 1 to 2.5 
You can also send a “flat” or larger 12 x 15  

Think about postage though! Larger pieces cost a bit more to mail. Put more time and effort into your message than direct mail sizes and shapes. You can have success with an envelope and a letter! 

Can we design it?
Yes, we can! Through our design division, Sepia StudioWe provide creative consultation, design, and print experience.

One Part of Your Outreach
Don’t forget your direct mail is one touch out of what should be a comprehensive plan. You should not expect miracles from a mailer. Have a plan to give your sales team a list for follow up.

Outbound Ideas

In closing, we share perspective from an award-winning marketing professional. Bre Bush received a Silver award for “Marketer of the Year” in the 2020 American Business Awards. Previously at Pareto Intelligence, Bre now directs marketing efforts at HealthMine, a technology-enabled member engagement and rewards company that partners with health plans to help empower their members to take the right actions to improve their health. Most of their consumer communications strategies include direct mail.

Healthmine Logo

 We caught up with Bre on why direct mail continues to be a part of her marketing mix:

“Over the last few years, I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for direct mail. For a while, people received so much mail—most of it junk—that it was hard to cut through the clutter. Nowadays, mailboxes are much less crowded while email inboxes are overflowing. A creatively designed mailer may be more effective at capturing attention, especially if you use unique printing. For example, clever folds, spot gloss, UV printing or foil for accenting, and the like.

Consumers are inundated with non-traditional marketing: email, social media, pay-per-click, retargeting, etc. Digital fatigue is real. Direct mail is an underrated method to reach your customers.”

Bre Bush, Marketing Director at Healthmine


Some of Bre’s direct mail tips:

  • Understand how your customer prefers to be reached and communicated with
  • Be unique and test different mail sizes and dimensions; work with your printing partner to understand what creative printing styles exist
  • Think strategically, be concise, use a simple and clear call to action
  • Set goals on (approximately) how many leads you expect to generate

Marketers Guide to Direct Mail 13 Bre Direct Mail Tips Website

A follow up to understanding communications preferences:

For HealthMine’s consumer-facing programs, we collect communications preferences from users when they join. During sign-up, users share how they prefer to receive communications: email, mail, or text message. This data increases the chance that our messaging will resonate and reduces abrasion from overcommunicating. By asking for preference before your outreach, you:

  • Save money, time, and resources
  • Show your audience that you respect their time, which builds trust
  • Increase ROI (return on investment) by reducing cost and increasing the likelihood of engagement

Bre shares practical “real-world” marketing case studies to make sure your mailer stands out from the competition.

Put yourself in your recipient’s shoes. Ask yourself, “how would I feel if I received this piece of mail?” We have previously sent direct mail “letters” to members, which are trifold 8.5 x 11 sheets in no. 10 window envelopes. They can look eerily like the most annoying health-related mail you get (you know: BILLS). My theory is we’ll see a significant uptick in engagement by switching to bifold self-mailers that don’t look like everything else in the mailbox. This is being tested right now and in the phase of collecting data.

Add the personal touch. People want to be communicated with, not communicated at. Personalization is a critical component of HealthMine’s technology solution, and that applies to our consumer communications. With the right data, you can do so much more than simply adding someone’s first name to the message (although you should do that at a bare minimum!). For example, we include a user-specific “to do” list of health-related activities a person needs to complete that is personalized to each recipient based on their health status and conditions. While this may require time to set up, it’s worth it to better connect with your audience to boost results.

Get creative to track results. Tracking for direct mail is challenging. We are currently bringing back QR codes for our mailers, which have become much more prevalent because of the pandemic.

We hope this guide to direct mail helps you make an impact in your own outreach! We are always here to answer questions or make recommendations.  Ready to get started?

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Jon Davis

Jon Davis is Cushing’s Marketing Manager. From blogging to online communications, Jon writes about client developments, environmental branding, and much more. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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