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Direct Mail Marketing Guide: Strategy, Cost, Examples & Why It Still Works

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For entrepreneurs, the promise of new marketing technologies is tempting as they prove effective in connecting with the right audiences in a much quicker fashion. But for romantics, the traditional mail still has some advantages over modern tools. Let’s face it, some of us still find writing letters more intimate as it harbors the human element. Thus, direct mail marketing persists in this world where automation has become the new order.

So what is a direct mail? Direct mail is the traditional method of handing out promotional letters and printouts to both prospects and existing customers. The practice that virtually dates back to the time of the pharaohs and other ancients can still go toe to toe with modern marketing methods such as the use of marketing tools. Many retail empires would fondly recall how they were built upon and thrived in the practice.

In this guide, we’ll give you a rundown of why direct mail marketing still works, how much it costs and why it is still a reliable marketing model while providing strategies and examples.

direct mail marketing guide

Direct mail: when death reports are overly exaggerated

First off, what is the difference between direct mail and email?

What separates the two is that the former involves sending customer tangible items. Now, you might ask, “Is direct mail better than email?” According to current stats, the answer is yes, a response that can be derived from the fact that direct mail has that distinct effect on consumers and tend to make consumers aware of brands. However, digital marketing has taken over the driver seat, with digital advertising overtaking TV back in ’17 in terms of spending.

Companies' Total Mail Volume Used for Direct Mail Campaign Types

Retention Acquisition Advocacy/Referral Win-back
Retention (31.2) Acquisition (30) Advocacy/Referral (19.9) Win-back (18.9)

Source:, 2019

Designed by

Contrary to what many think, digital marketing is not without its problems. Marketers have had to contend with their marketing emails ending up in spam folders. This could be attributed to the fact that most corporate inboxes are disorganized, in ways you wouldn’t believe. So it’s not surprising if your intended targets miss out on your offers.

And then there are the usual snags that affect digital marketing, such as social media use. Facebook, for instance, has been losing users–big time. A report has revealed that 1 in 4 US Facebook users have uninstalled the app from their phones in 2018. 

As you can see from the above facts, direct mail marketing is far from dead. This marketing channel is still capable of filling your coffers. If you look at the latest direct mail marketing statistics, you’ll find that this marketing method has been beating email in terms of response rates.

And it still hits revenue marks

More specifically, a Direct Marketing Association study has found that direct mail has a response rate of 4.4% compared to email’s 0.12%. This alone makes direct mail marketing a channel worth exploring.

Now that you know how valuable direct mail marketing is to many companies, you may very well be interested in starting a campaign of your own. For those who do not have the slightest idea where to begin, we have compiled some of the most effective direct mail marketing strategies to date. Consider using this guide and you’ll be on your way to creating a robust direct mail campaign.

Direct Marketing Strategies

Direct mail marketing strategies abound with creativity playing a key role. You can adopt any of several strategies, but you should consider what it is you want to achieve with your campaign. Some strategies come at a low cost and yet are quite effective. You should likewise learn to prioritize specific areas of your campaign by prioritizing more important factors. By using the right direct mail marketing strategy, you should be able to come up with a campaign that will successfully get your message to intended recipients. But for those who prefer face-to-face engagements, looking at key experiential marketing statistics may also do the trick.


Postcards never fail to put a smile on any recipient’s lips. They’re not only beautiful to look at, but they also add that personal tone to your campaign. This timeless direct mail method still outperforms all other media. Hard to believe? Ask the DMA, who has found out that postcards receive an average response rate of 42%. This fact means only one thing for your business–higher returns-on-investments from your direct mail marketing campaigns.

The 40/40/20 Rule

Have you ever heard of the 40/40/20 rule? It’s a marketing concept that defines a  campaign’s elements, namely audience (40%), offer (40%), and creative (20%). To simplify, a marketing campaign’s success rests on targeting the proper audience, coming up with great offers and the quality and creativity of your materials. Sadly, this is not always the case as most marketers focus on the creative part. To fill in these factors, you may want to make a list of potential clients and consider discount offers. Only after accomplishing the first two should you start getting your creative juices flowing.

Channel Effectiveness in Reaching Target Audiences



Integrated, branded, personalized direct mail


Search marketing/PPC


Outbound BDR/SDR




Display advertising/remarketing


Content syndiction


Direct mail


Social media



Designed by

Personalize Your Mailing Materials

As with the use of postcards, making your materials personalized would increase the likelihood of them being read. And guess what? Materials that get read get responses in return. Remember impersonal messages are most likely to end up in the bin. Try to reach out to your audience in a personal manner and get the results that you want.

3D Direct Mailers

If you have been sending up mails by the hundreds and still has yet to get the results that you want, you might want to give three-dimensional (3D) mail a go. You see, 3D mail, like traditional letters and postcards, is a physical item. But what sets it apart is the fact that it has dimensions and depth far beyond traditional mail. It’s likewise highly-interactive and therefore, has a greater chance of being opened and read by customers. Studies have revealed that 3D direct mailers are 200% better than traditional mediums in terms of performance, not to mention it’s not as pricey as you’d think. The usual 3D formats that 3D direct mailers use are tubes and boxes that come with outside teasers to catch recipients’attention.

Better Envelopes for Better Results

Let’s face it, the right packaging does not only work for products, but they also give your messages that added appeal, not to mention mystery. OK, you might say “envelopes are mere letter containers.” So, what’s the big deal with investing in better envelopes? By themselves, envelopes may not do the trick. But if you put marketing messages on them, now that’s a different story. So consider investing in better envelopes and you’ll see the difference.

Offer Discounts/Freebies

As you’re average consumer, I’m also a sucker for freebies and discounts. And so are millions of others out there. You can capitalize on this truth by recognizing the need to incentivize customers. Incentives do not only get your mail read, but they also encourage prospects and customers to call you and even visit your stores. Popular incentives include product/service discounts, freebies, promotional items, loyalty cards and deals for new customers. Make no mistake, these small investments can boost your profits.

How Much Does Direct Mail Marketing Cost?

The cost of direct mail marketing depends largely on what you want to accomplish. Is it to increase brand awareness or promote a new product? It is in this light that you should first set your goals before diving into a direct marketing campaign. If you are planning to launch a campaign but has no idea how much money you’ll be spending, here’s a rundown of the usual direct mail marketing costs that come with such campaigns.

Design Costs

Direct Mail Marketing Costs

For 1 Recipient (In US Dollars)




Mailing Lists



Designed by

Depending on whether you have an in-house designer or not, the cost of direct mail design may vary. If you do not have a full-time designer, you’ll most probably need to enlist the help of a design agency or professional. In this case, you’ll have to spend anywhere from $150 to $2,000. This price range depends on how much time the designer would spend on the job, revision times and the software to be used.

If you lack the cash flow to finances such a campaign, you can opt to design your mail on your own using free leaflet and postcard templates. Paid templates are also available for around $10 if you choose to use them. And then there are those template builders, which allow you to design your own. Using such tools, you can play with colors and fonts and even upload your images.


The success of your campaign rests on being able to get your message across. And to do this, you need to use the right words. These can come in the form of creative catchphrases that you can write yourself. But if you’re not into writing, you will need to hire a professional copywriter. Copywriting cost will depend largely on the copywriter’s experience level and the length of your copy.

Design Print

After you’ve completed your direct mail comes the printing part. Costs associated with design print depend on several things like ink color, quantity, paper size, and type and quantity, to name a few. Your direct mail’s format also plays a role in pricing. Larger formats have higher price tags. So, it’s entirely up to you, but ideally, the format depends on your message.

Mailing List

The mailing list that you choose will determine your campaign’s response rate. Some mailing lists come for free but if you want professionals to handle it for you, some firms sell or rent out mailing lists. Different brokers charge differently, with prices ranging from $0.03 to $1 per record. Prices depend on contacts quality and how many times a list will be used.


You’re gonna be needing postage to send out your direct mail. Postage cost depends on rates, quantity, mail size, and weight and destination. Many businesses offer mailing licenses from USPS, which are notoriously expensive. A cheaper alternative will be to use the US Postal Service, which charges only 35 cents per postcard.

Examples of Effective Direct Mail Marketing Campaigns

The success of your direct mail marketing effort rests on the uniqueness of your campaign. The more eye-catching and interactive your campaigns are, the better the results. Now, you need to be creative when drafting a campaign (but don’t forget the 40/40/20 rule). Determine your target audience and device ways to get their attention through the mail. So, what are the types of direct marketing? Here, we present examples of some of the most effective direct marketing campaigns ever conceived. These are real-life direct mail marketing examples that proved that direct mail still works.

Google’s 3D Hologram Prism

Yes, direct mail works for large online companies too. Originally conceived to push Google Partner agencies to new frontiers, Google’s launched a campaign that involved sending out a build-your-own holographic prism kit. Upon completing the holographic prism, targeted consumers were told to watch a specific video on YouTube and place the prism over the screen of their mobile devices. The video, it turned out, came with hidden mobile tips. This campaign resulted in a high number of views and social media shares.

Candle Box Campaign from Earth Hour

Earth Hour is an avid supporter of environmental awareness. To encourage companies to switch off their lights to mark Earth Hour, the organization launched a campaign where yellow candles in boxes resembling buildings were sent out to corporate leaders. Removing the candle from the box emulated switching off lights. This direct mail marketing campaign was a huge success, as reflected by the 260% increase in support for the “switch off.”

Heinz Marketing’s iPad campaign

Heinz Marketing was seeking to book appointments with its high-value leads when a brillant direct mail marketing idea presented itself. The campaign involved sending prospects iPad boxes that had nothing in them. The boxes came with notes tellng the recipients that the company will give them the iPads that the boxes contained if they would just book an appointment with them. Yes, the iPads were costing the company but the bookings that it made from the campaign more than made up for the expense.

World Water Day Campaign from Athens Business Group

Athens Business Group’s direct mail marketing campaign promoting World Water Day is quite nifty. To highlight the importance of water resources, the company sent out direct mail messages to the press. Here’s the nifty part, recipients can only read the message if they hold it underwater. The campaign was widely received by Internet users and shared through social media, helping it realize its goals.

Nike’s Stadium Shoe Box

A great example of creativity in direct mail marketing is Nike’s campaign promoting athletics among children. This low-cost campaign involved sending out Nike shoeboxes to target customers. The insides of the boxes were designed to look like stadiums. Recipients of the boxes were treated to a stadium scene complete with stadium sounds. 

Why Direct Mail Marketing Still Works

Does direct mail marketing still work? Contrary to what many believe, the Internet failed to kill direct mail marketing. The channel is not only very much alive but has been beating other marketing methods on all fronts. Here, we will discuss the reasons why direct mail marketing continues to thrive and how you can use the channel to work for your business. So, how effective is direct mail marketing? Read on to find out how direct mail marketing can help your business.

Still Leads in Response Rates

Direct mail marketing remains as a viable channel despite the notable decline in consumer response rates. According to the DMA, response rates to direct mail are between 10 to 30 times higher than those of digital channels. This can be traced to the problem of inboxes being full of unsolicited emails. Consumers, as a result, tend to be more accommodating towards direct mail. However, if you are in short supply of ideas for a campaign, you can use free marketing templates to jumpstart your campaign.

Direct Mail Marketing Guide:

Millennials Like Direct Mail

Despite growing up with all sorts of gadgets and devices, Millennials, surprisingly, turn out to be receptive to direct mail. A report by Gallup has revealed that around 95% of consumers aged 18 to 29 years old respond positively to receiving letters and personal cards. Additionally, 36% of people below 30 look forward to checking their boxes daily. The best part, however, is that Accenture predicts that this age group will have a total spending power of $1.4 trillion by the year 2020.

Direct Mail Influences Purchase Decisions

The continued efficacy of direct mail marketing is likewise attributed to its influence on people. A study that measured the emotional engagement from both direct mail and digital advertisements has revealed that people who see physical ads tend to undergo increased excitement. Engagement from both ad types proved to be similar, but individuals exposed to physical advertisements displayed greater desire to purchase advertised products.

It Blends Well with Digital Marketing

It’s a fact that most of today’s companies who use direct mail marketing tend to stick to the channel. However, exploring other channels such as digital marketing could enhance direct mail marketing efforts. Combining digital with direct mail marketing has been proven to improve customer loyalty. This involves the use of data capture codes and hashtags, which effectively link the two channels together. A variety of media can be used to get the message across, such as video in this case.

This hybrid marketing method can be used to send important messages to consumers, who can be better informed through the addition of digital technology to the marketing mix. Adding a digital element to your direct mail makes your message more personalized. It likewise better entices recipients, who are often inclined to participate in the activity involved in a campaign. One way to do this is to leverage marketing software benefits in conjunction with direct mail marketing. 

One great tool to use with your direct mail marketing program is HubSpot. The software’s direct mail integration allows you to use triggered letters and postcards, allowing you to improve customer engagement.

Its Postalytics let you monitor individual mails by tracking both parcels and online visitors. Personalized landing pages are also automatically created by the system. All you need to do is drop tracking codes in the pages and HubSpot Pages takes care of the rest.

The vendor offers a comprehensive free trial to get you up to speed with the features. You can check the solution closely when you sign up for HubSpot free trial here

hubspot direct mail workflow

Going old-school: Postalytics in HubSpot

Direct Mail Raises Brand Awareness

Unlike digital marketing channels, direct mail is physical, and the fact that most people do not just throw away mail means it stays longer in the recipients’ possession. This, in turn, amounts to your audience being aware of your brand. Companies that offer free coupons with their direct mail commonly benefit from this concept. You see, consumers tend to keep mail that come with freebies. 

And since most businesses include their logos and products/services information in their direct mail, chances are recipients have caught a glimpse of their brands and would commit to memory (whether they like it or not) their offerings. The important thing here is to inform your audience of your brand, which is much better than them being unaware of your existence.

Are you ready to go the way of direct mail?

And that’s a wrap. By now you should be able to identify specific direct mail marketing benefits that will suit your company. Keep in mind that direct mail marketing benefits are worth their weight in gold. Such is evident from the way direct mail has overtaken other marketing channels in terms of response rates. But direct mail marketing does not have to be pricey if you know what you want to accomplish. Plus, direct mail offers huge ROIs to those who do it right.

Direct mail marketing has yet to croak, but instead continue to be adopted by more organizations. Even large technology-based companies have been using direct mail to reach out to their customers, so why shouldn’t you? It doesn’t matter if you own a brick-and-mortar shop or a Fortune 500 company, direct marketing can work for you. However, if you are a small player who wants to explore the use of technology to market your products, you can check out small business marketing software benefits and see if they’ll fit your business.

By Jenny Chang

Senior writer at FinancesOnline who writes about a wide range of SaaS and B2B products, including trends and issues on e-commerce, accounting and customer service software. She’s also covered a wide range of topics in business, science, and technology for websites in the U.S., Australia and Singapore, keeping tabs on edge tech like 3D printed health monitoring tattoos and SpaceX’s exploration plans.

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