Small Business Guide to Direct Mail Marketing (2024)

Today’s marketing channels are primarily digital, with email marketing and social media marketing growing in popularity because of their ease, reach and low cost. However, physical advertising can have a significant positive impact on your customers and bottom line.

Integrating direct mail marketing with your other marketing channels can provide your customers with a unique, personalized experience that helps your business stand out from the crowd. We’ll explore direct mail for business and share how you can create a successful, impactful direct mail campaign.

What is direct mail marketing?

Direct mail marketing is any physical correspondence you send to customers via mail to gain their business. If you’re sending mail to customers, you should include the following details:

  • Something that identifies your business (like a logo or business name)
  • A call to action (CTA)
  • A way for customers to contact you (e.g., phone number, email address, website)


Incorporate QR codes on direct mail pieces so recipients can immediately access your contact data or website’s landing page.

Is direct mail marketing still useful?

While it may seem that the entire world has gone digital, traditional mail still has a solid place in marketing. According to a 2020 MarketingCharts survey, direct mail can increase your return on investment (ROI) when combined with other marketing channels. Among survey respondents, 59% said that adding direct mail into a multichannel approach resulted in a good ROI. Another 7% said their ROI was very good.

The same was also true of target customer response rates. Among survey respondents, 69% said that adding direct mail resulted in a good response rate. Another 8% said their response rate was very good with direct mail marketing in the mix.

The direct mail marketing service Jet Mail has also reported that its customers continue to see high engagement rates. In its 2021 analysis of the direct mail marketing space, Jet Mail noted that some campaigns involving 2,500 mailers yielded a 30% response rate – 750 responses.

By comparison, according to GetResponse’s 2022 email marketing benchmarks, North American marketing email open and click-through rates are 23.53% and 3.86%. These numbers are certainly lower than 30%. Clearly, direct mail can still be valuable.

Direct mail advantages

Direct mail marketing performs well for several reasons. Here are some key advantages to incorporating direct mail into your marketing strategy.

  • Direct mail is interactive. One of the reasons direct mail is still used and performs so well is that it is interactive. Customers receive a physical item in the mail. Including a promotional offer or CTA that requires the customer to do something with the mail, such as bringing it into your store, makes the customer much more likely to keep it and read it.
  • Direct mail is memorable. Receiving something in the mail can bring up nostalgic feelings about a time when physical mail was the norm, sparking an emotional response. To increase this connection, add personal touches to your marketing materials, like the customer’s name or a handwritten signature.
  • Direct mail has a wide demographic. Depending on your target audience, direct mail can have a bigger reach than digital marketing. If your audience is not on social media or email (though you can target older demographics with social media marketing), direct mail can reach many more customers you may have missed with electronic marketing.
  • Direct mail is creative. Direct mail doesn’t lock you into analog advertising. There are endless ways to combine direct mail with digital marketing to expand your target audience and attract new customers. Direct mail’s physical nature lets you engage your customers in more ways than purely digital marketing.
  • There’s less competition with direct mail. More companies are abandoning their physical marketing efforts in favor of digital methods, resulting in a smaller playing field and more chances for your business to stand out. People are surprised by physical mail these days, so an eye-catching, thoughtfully designed mailer can go a long way in advertising your business.

Take advantage of USPS promotions that can save your business money when sending out direct mail marketing campaigns.

Direct mail drawbacks

Direct mail provides numerous advantages, but you should also review its downsides before planning a campaign. Here are some disadvantages of adding a direct mail marketing campaign to your advertising budget.

  • Direct mail can be expensive. Cost is often the primary disadvantage of direct mail advertisem*nts. Direct mail incurs costs for ad design, printing, postage, contact lists and more. Postage is one of the highest costs because the price is set and not negotiable. As postage costs rise, a single direct mail campaign can cost thousands of dollars. (See more on direct mail costs below.)
  • Direct mail results are hard to measure. Collecting insights from digital advertisem*nts, including click views and conversion tracking data, is easy. With direct mail, you won’t know how many customers read the mailer and how many throw it into the recycling bin.
  • Direct mail isn’t editable. Direct mailers can’t be changed once you send them. After you finalize the proof copy, your ad is out of your hands. If the direct mailer isn’t performing well, you can’t make changes on the fly like you can with digital ads. You won’t even know how the ad is doing for a while; mail is slow, and your ads won’t reach the intended audience immediately.
  • Mailing lists can be inaccurate. Address lists may have multiple errors. Incorrect ZIP codes and city names could result in undelivered mail. Each mailer that doesn’t get delivered is a waste of your budget.

How much does direct mail marketing cost?

Direct mail campaign prices depend on various factors, including the following.

  • Mail type, numbers and packaging: Oversized mailers and catalogs typically cost more – around $10 – because of their weight, while standard postcards generally cost 44 cents per card. How many pieces you mail will also affect pricing.
  • Ad design: You may also need to pay for ad design if you’re not a graphic designer. While you can create something basic in Microsoft Word for free, you may need to purchase templates or hire a professional for more design-intensive mailers.
  • Printing: Generally, printing costs range from three cents to $2 per piece. However, prices vary widely depending on paper quality, paper size, if your piece is one-sided or two-sided, the number of pieces you need to print, and whether you’re printing in black-and-white or color.
  • Mailing: Distribution costs vary based on current postage rates and how much mail you have to send. You can expect to spend between 25 cents and $2 per piece of mail.

How does direct mail marketing work?

Launching a direct mail marketing campaign is similar to the digital process; the only difference is the distribution method. Follow these seven steps to create your direct mail marketing campaign.

1. Define your direct mail marketing campaign goals.

Consider what you want to achieve through your mail campaign. Do you want to generate more leads? Bring more traffic to your store or website? Tell customers about a new service or product? Having a clear goal at the beginning of your campaign makes it easier to make decisions later in the process.

2. Know your direct mail audience.

For a campaign to be successful, ensure it will entice your audience to engage. Consider their needs and how your goal fits into those needs. How can you marry the two?

If you’ve sent out marketing campaigns before, you likely have analytics on your customer base that can provide information on your audience demographics, likes and dislikes, and behavior. Use this data to inform your campaign.

3. Create your direct mailing list.

These are the two primary mailing list types to use in your direct mail campaigns.

  • House lists: House lists are names and addresses you have already collected from existing customers or prospects.
  • Purchased lists: Purchased lists are high-quality lists of precisely selected audiences with high deliverability rates.

Focus your efforts on your house list since those customers are already familiar with your brand; purchased lists can be of questionable quality.

4. Decide on a CTA for your direct mail campaign.

Your CTA is crucial; it’s why determining your goal first is so essential. Tell the customer why you took the time to send them this piece of mail and what you want them to do with it.

A good CTA is attention-grabbing and memorable. Take your time crafting one, or consider using a copywriter to help.

5. Decide on a direct mail format.

Next, choose a format for your mailer. Direct mailers come in all shapes and sizes. Your budget and marketing goals will dictate the type of mailer you need for your campaign. Below are some of the standard mailer types.

  • Postcards: Standard postcards (4 x 6 inches) are a common type of direct mail piece. They’re used for quick announcements or event promotions. Postcards are a cost-effective way to announce grand openings, real estate transactions, or a new product or service. Oversized postcards (6 x 9 or 6 x 11 inches) are also an option.
  • Letters: Letters are also known as “the classic package.” The mailer usually includes a letter and a response form with an envelope. These mailers are typically used for fundraisers and surveys.
  • Self-mailers: Self-mailers are similar to letters, but don’t have an envelope. The ad is folded before the address and postage are applied. Self-mailers are used for product or service announcements and special sales events. Newsletters may also be sent as a self-mailer.
  • Brochures and catalogs: Catalogs are a way for companies to showcase their entire or partial product lines. A catalog may include special offers and sales announcements. Brochures and booklets also fall into this category.
  • Inserts and wraps: Inserts and wraps are included within other mailers, such as catalogs and magazines. Similar to postcards, they are used to highlight special sales and events.
  • Dimensional mailers: Dimensional mailers are the most expensive – and they stand out the most. These mailers use pop-ups and other 3D elements in the design. Targeted ad campaigns are the most common purpose for dimensional mailers.

6. Design your direct mail marketing piece.

When designing your mail, make your goal and CTA its focus. Don’t bury your CTA in busy graphics or too much text. Consider using a modern direct mail template system that makes it easy to move components around and customize your design.

7. Send your mail.

Many businesses find mailing challenging; printing and sending large volumes of mail to hundreds (or thousands) of different addresses can be a logistical nightmare. Most businesses work directly with a direct mail processor, print and mail shop, or other direct mail solution to handle the direct mail campaign’s printing, postage and mailing.

Did You Know?

When deciding on mailing solutions, consider how often you send direct mail. If you send direct mail campaigns frequently, you may need to invest in shipping software, letter openers and folding machines.

Examples of successful direct mail marketing campaigns

Check out a few successful direct mail marketing campaigns to get inspired about your own direct mail efforts.

World Water Day

Small Business Guide to Direct Mail Marketing (1)

Source: Athens Business Group

To celebrate World Water Day, this company got creative and clever with its direct mail campaign in Belgium. To emphasize the importance of water, the mailers were a blank blue until recipients held them underwater to make the message appear.

Candle Box

Small Business Guide to Direct Mail Marketing (2)

Source: Ads of the World

In an effort to encourage large companies to conserve electricity and shut off their lights, Earth Hour sent yellow candles in boxes designed to look like buildings to CEOs and industry leaders. The act of pulling the candle out of the box signified turning off the lights.

Recyclable helmet

Small Business Guide to Direct Mail Marketing (3)

Source: D&AD

To promote its new range of environmentally friendly e-bikes, Smart sent customers a helmet kit made from recycled cardboard for recipients to assemble themselves.

Misfortune cookies

Small Business Guide to Direct Mail Marketing (4)

Source: Ads of the World

In a great example of knowing your brand, Hell Pizza sent out fortune cookies to their customers with a dark twist on the messages inside. Instead of optimistic fortunes, Hell Pizza included lines like decade-old expiration dates and joke calls for help.

Direct mail marketing best practices

There are many ways to succeed in direct mail marketing, since it’s an open-ended and creative space. However, here are a few tips on using direct mail for business to help ensure your campaigns’ success.

  • Keep your direct mail piece focused and clear of clutter.
  • Use clear, easy-to-read fonts.
  • Make your CTA the focal point of the mailer.
  • Know your audience and tailor your message to them.
  • Run tests before sending out your entire campaign.
  • Proofread your marketing material multiple times.
  • Send follow-up messages.
  • Drive traffic to your website by including a link or scannable QR code.

Reaching your target audience where they are

Direct mail arrives where your customers live or work. When they open their mailboxes, they’ll come face-to-face with what you’ve sent them. If your mailers look compelling and include clear information, you might find yourself in a great position to move customers down your sales funnel. With direct mail’s high potential, you have an excellent chance of success.

Max Freedman contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.

As an expert in marketing strategies and practices, I can affirm that the integration of various marketing channels is crucial for a comprehensive and effective approach to reaching target audiences. The article rightly emphasizes the significance of direct mail marketing in today's predominantly digital landscape, shedding light on both its advantages and drawbacks. Let's delve into the key concepts discussed in the article:

  1. Direct Mail Marketing Definition:

    • Direct mail marketing refers to any physical correspondence sent to customers via mail with the aim of gaining their business.
  2. Components of Direct Mail:

    • Identification of business (logo or business name)
    • Call to Action (CTA)
    • Contact information (phone number, email address, website)
    • Recommendation to incorporate QR codes for immediate access to contact data or landing pages.
  3. Effectiveness of Direct Mail:

    • Despite the prevalence of digital channels, direct mail can enhance return on investment (ROI) when combined with other marketing channels.
    • Survey results indicate positive ROI and response rates when incorporating direct mail into a multichannel approach.
  4. Statistics Supporting Direct Mail:

    • Jet Mail's 2021 analysis reported a 30% response rate for some direct mail campaigns, contrasting with lower email marketing open and click-through rates.
    • Notable disparities in engagement rates showcase the continued value of direct mail.
  5. Advantages of Direct Mail Marketing:

    • Interactivity: Physical nature encourages customer interaction.
    • Memorability: Elicits emotional responses and nostalgia.
    • Wide Demographic Reach: Effective for audiences not engaged in digital platforms.
    • Creativity: Allows innovative combinations with digital marketing.
    • Lower Competition: Decline in physical marketing provides opportunities for businesses to stand out.
  6. Drawbacks of Direct Mail Marketing:

    • Cost: Direct mail can be expensive, encompassing design, printing, postage, and contact lists.
    • Measurement Challenges: Tracking and measuring results is more challenging compared to digital advertising.
    • Lack of Editability: Once sent, direct mail cannot be easily modified.
    • Inaccurate Mailing Lists: Errors in address lists may result in undelivered mail, impacting the budget.
  7. Cost Factors in Direct Mail Marketing:

    • Mail type, numbers, and packaging.
    • Ad design.
    • Printing costs.
    • Mailing distribution costs.
  8. Steps in Direct Mail Marketing Campaign:

    • Define campaign goals.
    • Understand the target audience.
    • Create mailing lists (house lists, purchased lists).
    • Develop a compelling CTA.
    • Choose a suitable mailer format.
    • Design the marketing piece.
    • Utilize mailing solutions for distribution.
  9. Examples of Successful Direct Mail Campaigns:

    • World Water Day: Innovative use of color-changing mailers.
    • Candle Box: Encouraging energy conservation with creative packaging.
    • Recyclable Helmet: Environmental promotion through a self-assembled cardboard helmet.
    • Misfortune Cookies: Unique and brand-relevant fortune cookies for a pizza company.
  10. Best Practices for Direct Mail Marketing:

    • Keep the message focused and clutter-free.
    • Use clear, easy-to-read fonts.
    • Make the CTA prominent.
    • Tailor the message to the audience.
    • Conduct tests before a full-scale campaign.
    • Proofread thoroughly.
    • Include follow-up messages.
    • Drive online traffic with links or QR codes.

In conclusion, the article provides a comprehensive overview of direct mail marketing, acknowledging its continued relevance and effectiveness in the evolving marketing landscape. The integration of direct mail with digital strategies is highlighted as a key approach for businesses seeking a competitive edge in reaching and engaging their target audience.

Small Business Guide to Direct Mail Marketing (2024)


Is direct mail good for small business? ›

Direct mail performs very well, particularly when integrated into your multi-channel marketing strategy. Not only does it foster high response rates, but it can also be highly cost-effective, providing a solid return on investment (ROI).

What is a good ROI for direct mail marketing? ›

Using the return on investment model alongside the direct mail response rate may provide you with an even deeper understanding of the value of your direct mail marketing campaign. In general, direct mail marketing statistics show that the average ROI for direct mail campaigns ranges between 18 percent to 20 percent.

Is direct mail marketing still effective? ›

Direct mail is still effective — not despite digital ads, but because of them. Unlike the fleeting nature of an email or an online ad, direct mail establishes a tangible connection. Literally, since your audience is putting hands on your ad.

What is a major disadvantage of direct mail? ›

Time: One of the biggest drawbacks of direct mail is that it can take a long time to plan and execute a campaign. This is because you have to design the materials, print them and then physically mail them out. Email, on the other hand, can be sent out almost instantly.

What are two disadvantages of direct marketing? ›

Challenges of direct marketing
  • Intrusive: Many people find direct marketing annoying and intrusive. ...
  • Environment: Using leafleting or paper-heavy direct mail campaigns can be bad for the environment. ...
  • Low response rates: direct marketing response rates tend to be around 1% to 3%.

How often should I do direct mail marketing? ›

According to top Google search results, you should send a piece of direct mail to the same audience three times, with 21 days in between each drop for the highest response rates. Contrary to this popular rule of thumb, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for a successful direct mail campaign.

Is direct mail profitable? ›

84% of marketers say direct mail delivers the best response rate, conversion, and ROI. The Lob State of Direct Mail Report 2024 noted that this statistic was up from 74% in 2023, and 67% in 2022. 75% of marketers who use an automated direct mail platform can accurately measure the ROI of their campaigns.

What is considered a good response rate for direct mail? ›

In trying to project response rates for a business plan, 2% could be considered an average response rate (although 1% is safer and more realistic). However, there are applications and situations in which 2% (or 1%) should not be part of your projections.

How do I get people to open my direct mail? ›

1. No copy on the outer envelope. The humble plain envelope suggests to the reader that the contents are personal. I have tested this over a long time, and it has performed better than a mailer with a message because the recipient is curious to know who it's from or what it's all about.

How to run a successful direct mail campaign? ›

Top 7 Tips for Running a Successful Direct Mail Marketing...
  1. Plan in Advance. ...
  2. Define Your Target Audience. ...
  3. Craft a Compelling Message. ...
  4. Personalise Your Mailings. ...
  5. Design Eye-Catching Materials. ...
  6. Include a Clear Call-to-Action. ...
  7. Track, Measure, and Optimise.

What is the best day to send direct mail? ›

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday Work Best: Midweek days are often considered optimal for sending direct mail. Recipients are typically settled into their workweek routines, making it more likely that they'll engage with and open their mail.

Is direct mail on the decline? ›

In fact, direct mail volumes dropped by 13.4% last year to under 63 (62.94) billion, with the year-over-year decline of almost 10 billion pieces marking “the largest pullback since the 2009 recession,” per the analysis.

Is direct mail still effective in 2024? ›

Our 2024 State of Direct Mail report also shows that 84% of marketers agree direct mail provides the highest ROI of any channel they use. But, we can't beat around the bush, direct mail is not the most affordable channel. There are paper, postage, printing, and delivery costs to consider.

What is the future of direct mail? ›

A future trend for direct mail is hyper-targeting, which entails an even more targeted approach to campaigns, creating content and mailers that are highly relevant and specific to each recipient or audience segment.

What is the best mail service for small business? ›

Best Email Services For Small Businesses In 2024
  • Google Workspace. Gmail, a widely used email solution with 1.8 billion active global users, leads the pack. ...
  • Microsoft 365. ...
  • Zoho Workplace. ...
  • IONOS Email Services. ...
  • Bluehost Email Services. ...
  • Amazon WorkMail. ...
  • Titan. ...
  • Fastmail.
Feb 13, 2024

What is the success rate of direct mail? ›

Normal Rates of Return on Direct Mail Campaigns

Direct mail can be used for many different purposes, so your rate of return will depend on what kind of response you're looking for. According to JWM Business Services, a . 5 to 2% return rate is about average for a direct mail marketing campaign.

Which mail service is best for business? ›

The Best Email Hosting Services of 2024
  • DreamHost: Best for usability.
  • SiteGround: Best for resellers and service providers.
  • A2 Hosting: Best for security.
  • Zoho Mail: Best for flexibility.
  • Google Workspace: Best all-in-one platform.
Mar 21, 2024

How successful is direct mail? ›

Marketers who were surveyed by the ANA for its Response Report said that the average direct mail response rate was 9%. That's for house lists, the mailings sent to customers you already have data on. For prospect lists, the figure isn't quite as high, about 5%.


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