How to Create a Winning Direct Mail Marketing Strategy

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2021 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness as of September 2022.

You can achieve success with a great direct mail marketing strategy. In a world with many marketing channels and options, direct mail can play a vital role in reaching prospects and creating customers. But before doing anything else, you must focus on your strategy – what you are trying to do. This will help you figure out what specific tactics work best.

In this article, we’re going to break down the ins and outs of direct mail marketing strategy.

What is Direct Mail Marketing?

Direct mail marketing is the process of sending physical promotional and advertising materials through the postal system to prospects, customers, and donors. It includes several important tasks, such as:

  • Setting goals and a strategy
  • Defining an audience
  • Building a data set
  • Copywriting and design
  • Printing
  • Mailing
  • Tracking results

Why Does Direct Mail Work in the Digital Age?

Your direct mail marketing strategy is more important today because in this digital age, mail is a channel that gives you many unique options. Its many advantages mean that you can plan how to use it as an integral part of your overall marketing mix.

Here are just a few reasons why direct mail works:

  • Highly Interactive – Mail is tactile; your touch creates an experience of the feel of paper, its weight, shape, texture, finish, as well as visual appeal
  • It’s Memorable – Call it nostalgia, but mail has a way of being more personal than just another email, banner ad or social media post
  • Bigger Reach – Not everyone uses every digital channel, but everyone gets some mail
  • Less Competition – With so many dollars spent now on digital marketing ads, mailboxes are less crowded

Why Direct Mail Marketing Strategy Matters

Direct Mail is Highly Effective

It can’t be said often enough: direct mail works.

How do we know? Check out these direct mail statistics:

  • According to the ANA Response Report, house lists produced a 9% response rate with direct mail, while prospect lists achieved a 5% return.
  • Direct mail requires 21% less cognitive effort to process than digital media, says a study by market research firm True Impact. Therefore, it’s easier to understand and more memorable.
  • In 2021, only 11.9% of fundraising came from online donations, according to data in the most recent Blackbaud Institute Charitable Giving Report. This means that 88% of giving comes from offline sources – like mail.

How to Build a Direct Mail Marketing Strategy That Works

Let’s face it: you just can’t jump into marketing campaigns without knowing many (or all) of the most important details that will ensure that your resources (people, money, time) aren’t going to be wasted.


To use direct mail in your campaign, you must come up with a plan and then put it into practice. Every part of your plan should demonstrate a complete understanding of your intended audience – which should include existing customers as well as potential customers, the product or service being promoted, and the specific message of the campaign.

Establish Your Objectives

What is the goal of your campaign? Sometimes there may be more than one answer. But your basic choices are:

  • Acquire new customers
  • Generate or convert leads
  • Sell to existing or past customers
  • Cross-sell to customers

Depending on your objective, you may have different audiences. Or you may opt for a mass or saturation mailing that targets everyone.

But it’s more likely that you’ll want to target specific groups of people who have something in common, like geography, demographics, behavior, and lifestyle. With a segmentation strategy, you improve your direct mail response by tailoring your offers, copy, and more with a personal touch for better engagement.

Prepare Your Data

What mailing list will you use? Along with the offer, that’s the most crucial factor in the success of your direct mail marketing strategy.

The direct mail data you use is vital in targeting segments or customers on a 1-to-1 basis. So you need to ensure that it:

  • Has been de-duped
  • Was updated through USPS NCOA (National Change of Address) in the last 90 days
  • Is CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System)-certified to include only correct addresses

Find the Right Direct Mail Service Provider

Can just any company out there take care of everything you need in the production process? No, not really.

You have questions – hopefully lots of them – so consult a checklist of what to look for in direct mail services to find the right fit. Getting these crucial details settled frees up your time to focus on strategy and tactics.


After you have firmed up a campaign plan for your direct mail marketing strategy, it’s time to make some big decisions that put it in action.

Create Your Offer

Do you have a strong offer? It’s a really important question. Because even a beautiful mail piece sent to the perfect audience will fail unless the offer is right.

The basic requirement of a direct mail offer is to successfully answer “What’s in it for me?” There are dozens, if not hundreds, of proven offers, such as:

  • Free trial
  • Money-back guarantee
  • Free gift
  • Introductory price
  • Early-bird discount
  • Mystery discount
  • Free sample
  • Limited-time offer
  • Buy one, get one free
  • Free shipping

Choose the Right Format

Is the design of your mail piece easy for your prospects to understand and act on? Each of the three main direct mail formats brings unique strengths to any discussion when planning.

  • Postcards – Economical, focus recipient on simple message
  • Folded Self-Mailers – Versatile and visually-engaging with more room for offers and information
  • Envelopes – Hold several components to support the offer; can be more personal as well as protect data and offer confidentiality

Maximize Your Reach

Are you doing everything you can to reach your right audience? Under perfect conditions, such as a generous marketing budget, you’d be able to mail to whatever segments or individuals you wish.

In the real world, however, you need to think about tradeoffs among factors that may expand your campaign’s reach. For example:

  • Postage – Moving from First Class to Standard Mail (USPS Marketing Mail) saves money, allowing you to expand your target audience
  • Frequency – Segmenting your audience using RFM analysis helps you mail more often to profitable customers
  • Channels – Increasing your impact by using QR codes, PURLs, Facebook, and other digital media to be visible to your targets wherever they are


After your campaign has rolled out, you should start to see results. If your campaign generates incredible ROI and success beyond your wildest expectations – that’s great!

Otherwise, consider all of the factors that went into it. Use them as models and tweak them until you get them operating at optimum profitability.

Invest in Automation

At a basic level, automation improves on the usual manual process to send direct mail campaigns. You simply make any changes to an existing template or upload a new mailer to a completely automated CRM system, just as you would with an email marketing campaign.

However, at a more advanced level, automation operates across channels by sending direct mail based on event- or behavior-based triggers. Data flows from point-of-capture (e.g., website visits, abandoned carts) into your CRM for printing and entry into the USPS mailstream.

With automation, your mail can be more economical, targeted, faster, and relevant.

Improve Your Data

Getting the most from your data is an ongoing challenge and process. Besides the steps mentioned above, additional steps can be taken that improve efficiency, increase accuracy, and drive down your postage and printing costs.

You should:

  • Examine your direct mail campaign response – Who is responding and where?
  • Pre-sort your mail – This saves the post office (and you) time and money
  • Personalize addressee names, images, and offers with VDP to make the more relevant and improve response

Lower Your Direct Mail Costs

To make sure your direct mail campaign is in top form, add up all of the expenses, such as:

  • creative (writing and design)
  • printing
  • postage
  • marketing
  • programming
  • list rentals

This gives you a starting point for deciding what options you have. Depending on the complexity of the piece, the audience, the USPS mail class, and many other factors, your results can vary widely. And by the way, testing many of these factors may reveal a way to reduce costs while not harming either response or ROI.

Examples of Direct Mail Marketing Strategy in Action

Experience means a lot when it comes to developing a direct mail marketing strategy for leading national companies in their verticals. To significantly improve results for a client’s program is just part of a relationship that provides end-to-end support and solutions.

Case Study #1

The partner: A high-volume marketing agency, needed our support to create and execute a production cycle for test vs. control mailings. They also needed response analytics support to help them make the right decisions.

Their goal (and ours): Test 2 formats, choose a winner, and run the full campaign in 4 weeks.

Our collaborative solution involved:

  • Partner providing all campaign elements, testing analytics, and quick approvals of tests
  • Streamlined prepress and printing schedules to meet client deadline
  • Mailing list and variable data analytics and verifications
  • Daily coordination among sales, production, and scheduling teams, and with partner to meet mail drop date

The results:

  • Tens of thousands of qualified leads for the client
  • Top-of-the-funnel leads beat plan by 14%
  • Full campaign printed and mailed in 3-½ weeks
  • Twenty million pieces mailed in 1 year

Thanks to close teamwork with the partner agency, their goals for the campaign were exceeded and a deeper relationship supporting high-volume direct mail has been established.

Case Study #2

The partner: A national medical practice marketing agency with over 700 active in-network locations wanted to improve production efficiencies to increase use of direct mail newsletters for customer retention

Their goal (and ours): Improve their clients’ customer retention through increased direct mail newsletters

Our collaborative solution involved:

  • Partner restructuring client data to align with new client ordering process
  • Developing easy-to-use custom ordering website
  • Establishing more seamless production flow and product cycle
  • Automating project update process at 4 key milestones
  • Producing postage savings to ensure discounts are maximized on a continuous basis
  • Assisting partner secure postage permit to manage costs and billing

The results:

  • Direct mail newsletter now an established part of agency’s marketing program
  • First-year postage savings of 14%
  • Production cycle reduced by 4 days; data accuracy increased by 98%
  • Tripled number of available format choices
  • Newsletters mailed increased by 5 times to over 5 million per year

We changed how our partner promotes this solution to their clients, as well as their ordering and billing processes. As a result, their efficiency, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness have dramatically improved, leading to more choices and more newsletters for their clients.

Wrapping it up

Developing a direct mail marketing strategy certainly presents challenges.

But remember – you don’t have to go it alone. The direct mail data and mailing services experts at can help you develop the strategies right for you and your mail. Please contact us to set up a consultation. We’d love to hear from you!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2021 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness as of September 2022.

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