Direct mail is a marketing strategy that involves sending a physical letter, package, mailer, brochure, postcard, etc. to your prospects and/or current customers. It’s used in both B2C and B2B selling, although more commonly with consumers.
Everything old is new again. Although direct mail’s response rate has dropped over time, it’s still a valuable tool for marketers and salespeople. The Direct Marketing Association found direct mail’s response rate is 4.4% -- compared to 0.12% for email.
Direct mail advantages and disadvantages
Better response rates than email
Consumers enjoy getting mail
Email has better ROI
Direct mail can be expensive
Marketing services firm Epsilon found half of Americans prefer direct mail over email. According to the same study, 25% find it “more trustworthy.”
Buyers are currently bombarded with emails. People received 121 emails per day on average, meaning you have to work incredibly hard to cut through the noise and win a response.
On the flip side, email still offers better ROI than direct mail (probably because it’s far cheaper to send in bulk). Average email ROI is $28.50 compared to $7 for direct mail.
What is the average response rate for a direct mail campaign?
In 2016, direct mail received a 5.3% response rate for house lists and 2.9% for prospect lists. Oversized envelopes have the highest response rate (5%), followed by postcards (4.25%), dimensional mail, or anything more than 0.75 inches thick (4%) and catalogs (3.9%).
You might assume direct mail and inbound are inherently at odds. After all, the former involves sending unsolicited mail to someone’s house or office, while the latter is based on drawing them in with content and only following up with qualified leads.
But when used the right way, direct mail has a place in the inbound process. Direct mail also lets you add value through education. It also helps you catch your prospect’s attention.
Direct mail examples
Looking for inspiration for your direct mail campaign? Check out these ideas.
B2B direct mail ideas
Corporate direct mail campaigns should be far more targeted and customized. It can be highly effective to personalize each letter or package to the company or even recipient, depending on how many you’re sending.
Want to book appointments with your top prospects? Send them empty iPad boxes. Each box should include a note that says, “ We know your time is super valuable, but if you’d be willing to come have a conversation with us to solve XYZ problem that you already have, we’ll hand you the iPad that was in this box.”
This strategy has worked for Heinz Marketing.
“We’ve done this with a few companies, and we generate twice as many appointments as we give away iPads,” explains president Matt Heinz. “Half point-blank accept the offer, the other half are so impressed they end up stopping by the booth, meeting up with someone from the company for lunch or otherwise engaging in a conversation about the campaign.
Hire a freelancer on Upwork or Fiver to draw cartoons or portraits of your prospects. Put each in an envelope with this note:
Dear [prospect name],
I hope this drawing is a good addition to your desk art. Is the other thing staring you in the face [likely challenge/pain point[? If so, I have a few ideas that may help. I’ll follow up via [email, phone] to arrange a meeting.
Few people will throw away custom artwork, which means you’ll be front and center each and every day. It’s a great way to make an impression and show the buyer you’re not a typical salesperson.
Fake press release
Create a press release that looks like it’s from your prospect’s company. (Alternatively, you can generate a fake magazine article.) The press release or story should discuss the organization’s amazing results solving a particular challenge or capitalizing on a specific opportunity -- one that, you guessed it, is directly tied to your product.
For example, if you were using this idea for HubSpot Sales, your press release might read:
Sales for [prospect’s company] doubled this quarter, thanks to a major increase in sales productivity and …
Include a separate note that reads: “Interested in getting these results for real? Email me at [email address] or give me a call at [phone number.]
If you want to make your company name memorable, follow the lead of predictive marketing software company Radius and send a box of swag to an entire team, department, or division. It’s always fun to unpack a huge package of goodies, and even better, everyone on your target list will be walking around the office wearing your logo.
Put together printed versions of your most popular resources -- reports, blog posts, case studies, etc. -- and send them to the influencer or decision maker.
There’s something special about holding content in your hands rather than staring at in a screen. It helps your recipient actually engage with the ideas. As an added benefit, they can use it to help sell the other stakeholders.
Consumer direct mail ideas
Tiny business cards
By this point, everyone is used to the traditional “Happy holidays!” card from their local realtor, dentist, grocery store -- you get the drift. But what they’re not used to? Tiny cards. Shrink your holiday greeting card to miniature levels, like Dallas-based agency The Shop did, and make a much bigger impression than your competitors.
Coffee or hot chocolate
This campaign is perfect for fall or winter, as everyone wants something warm to drink. Send each potential customer a packet of instant coffee or hot chocolate with the note “Just add water.”
You should also include a postcard:
Wouldn’t it be nice if [buying health insurance, finding your next home, choosing a car] was as easy and quick as making instant coffee? Well, we can’t promise you it’ll be as simple, but [company] can definitely help with [X process]. Call one of our specialists at [phone number] or make an appointment on our website today.
Highly personalized brochures
Personalization is effective, whether you’re using it for email — or direct mail. RCI Financial Services, which partners with several auto manufacturers, sent its customers highly personalized brochures to encourage them to activate their online accounts.
The brochures were personalized with each recipient’s name, town, and car model.
The campaign achieved a 9.7% conversion rate.
Next time you’re designing a direct mail mailer, make sure a few details are customized to each customer.
Gimmicks can be highly effective, especially if they’re quirky or creative enough your recipients will want to keep them around. Land Rover sent tiny cars to its customers that they could use to replace the “Escape” key on their keyboard.
Now, every day people remember Land Rover -- and how the brand can help them live an adventurous, exciting life.
To borrow this idea, come up with a toy or tool related to your product or value prop. Maybe you sell homes; send out keychains with a note saying, “Put a new key on here.” Or let’s say you’re a dentist. Send singing toothbrushes with the explanation: “Going to the dentist -- about as fun as karaoke with people who can’t sing.”
Direct mail has a reputation for being spammy -- but as you can see, it can be creative, relevant, targeted, and engaging. Whether you’re a B2B or B2C business, try using it to kick off conversations with your prospects and customers in a way they won’t see coming.
Originally published Jan 12, 2018 7:30:00 AM, updated July 12 2019