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Jon DavisJun 14, 2021 12:28:00 AM16 min read

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

Table of Contents

What is the best way to reach your target market in today’s business environment? 

Statistics business & brand managers need to know:

• Campaigns that incorporate personalization can see a 135% increase in engagement • A whopping 73% of American consumers say they prefer being contacted by brands via direct mail because they can read it whenever they want. • A 4-component (email, phone, social + One) marketing campaign that includes direct mail improves response rate by 17% (KPMG) • A study by Print in the Mix, found that 56% of respondents cited print as the most trustworthy of media channels.”

Let’s Get Started Cut through the digital clutter. Direct Mail is a cost-effective tool to:

  • Reach your target market and create new customers.
  • Engage remote employees and team members
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Personalize the marketing experience

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

Direct Mail is an underrated method to connect with an audience one-on-one. Campaigns that incorporate personalization can see a 135% increase in engagement  So, we invite you to bookmark this guide as it is an evergreen resource we’ll 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.

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

Old School Approach. New Spin. Direct Mail Works: Here’s Why

It’s for 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 services. Launching a new division or strategic partnership? Share the news with a direct mailer. The list goes on!

Non-Profits NFP’s have a dramatic increase in contributions when combining their outreach with a compelling, personalized mail piece. Timing is crucial for this type of ask, and a mailer stays on the desk for many days and weeks, until that proper moment hits. Perhaps after the alum sees their team on TV, or hears a compelling news story about their alma mater. Stay in front of your donors. Promote your value to the community. Keep your contributors engaged and connect with new members.

Here’s a very unique example from a Chicago area Chamber of Commerce. We opened this guide discussing the benefits of direct mail personalization. The Andersonville Chamber of Commerce does a great job of helping their members facilitate connections, using, you guessed it, good old fashioned mail.

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

Director of Business Services and District Manager, David Oakes, shares why they encourage their small businesses to leverage this medium.

“As a Chamber of Commerce it is important to be able to provide resources for our members that have a big impact. That’s why we offer folks the mailing addresses of fellow members once per calendar year. It is a great way to celebrate the holidays or celebrate a business milestone. Mindful connections using direct mail is just one of the many points of contact to connect with folks.”

Your Starter Guide to Direct MailBusiness Services and District Manager, David Oakes Andersonville Chamber of Commerce


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. Host virtual events. Distribute an email newsletter. Just don’t leave out direct mail. It is an underrated way to generate attention.

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 in a while to come back. The restaurants who did survive COVID often experienced their best years, and have re-written the rules of survival. Carry out services became a “must” and online tools lead the way. Most restaurants are able to put a “string around” their top 80% of clients, using a map. Access to detailed lists, by population traits, income level, and geography is incredibly accessible, and VERY affordable.  Possibilities are endless.

Hot Take: Your Employer Brand Needs Direct Mail Too.

Direct mail does not only need to be used to generate customers. Given that the number one concern for corporate CEO’s in the US, post 2020 lockdown is: retaining and recruiting top talent, we have taken this one step further and recommend that internal marketing is JUST as CRUCIAL as external under the circumstances.

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

STOP! Real Life Application Coming Up Next:
The pandemic has created situations where employees feel disconnected, no matter how many Zoom calls they attend.  While some stats we share don’t cover direct mail outreach, they deserve attention for companies challenged to retain team members. While there are many benefits to working remote, address digital fatigue to make a human approach with teams that need to telecommute. Sending a mailer, card or a branded company item is thoughtful and keeps them engaged.

Given that the Number one concern for corporate CEO’s in the US, post 2020 lockdown is: retaining and recruiting top talent, we have taken this one step further and recommend that internal marketing is JUST as CRUCIAL as external under the circumstances.

Realities of Working remotely
• A Gartner poll showed that 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19 versus 30% before the pandemic. • Contingent worker expansion 32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure. • Research indicates the risk for depression among U.S. workers has risen by 102% as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 43% of Canadians aged 18 to 34 reported higher anxiety, compared with 27% of those aged 55 and older. Canadians with children at home were 41% more likely to report feelings of anxiety.

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail• Disengaged workers cause 60% more errors and defects in work performance. • A Gallup study showed that highly engaged workplaces demonstrated 41% lower absenteeism. • 73% of actively disengaged employees are on the lookout for new jobs or opportunities. Source: the Conference Board, Sirota-Mercer, Deloitte

More remote workers means companies need to work harder to keep employees engaged and productive. Send corporate swag, using branded packaging to the homes of employees. Everyone loves personal mail, special packaging, items coming in a package increase open rates 400%. Our team: Sepia Studio (creative), Riverside Graphics and Cushing can deliver on a turn-key Employee Engagement Packages to your employees in their remote work sites. Re-build brand attachment with fun, engaging, personal outreach to your team, starting with a mailer to their doorstep.

Tie it in with an interactive web page ( Not a Zoom call ), but tie it in with graphics of creative, interactive space in your office that will help rebuild their attachment with your brand, corporate values and renewed interest in the company progress as it will certainly take on a new course

76% of leaders say that current business models will be unrecognizable in the next 5 years.

A Down and Dirty Guide to Effective Direct Mail Campaigns

Reaching the Mailbox and Deliverability
First class gets mailed first. Has priority and a guaranteed “in–home” date. The 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 mail. For 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.

Your Starter Guide to Direct MailCopy 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 points? Address 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

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

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.

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

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:

QR Code Monkey




Target Audience
It is on the house, as in, what state of your house list? A house list includes existing customers. They 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? Try a 5 – 25-mile radius to reach that target market. Consider mailing targets by profession, title, proximity, household makeup, income levels…

i.e.: households with couples age 40-50 with two or more kids, within 5 miles, with an interest in fitness… these lists are available now.

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!

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

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. Or 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 client? Blanket an area – 50K pieces are 10 drops. Say hello to your neighborhood! Is EDDM right for you? Let us help you evaluate – targeted versus EDDM. There are limitations to both. 

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

Important to Note
This is not building a mailing list, with demographic information such as age and income. With EDDM, there is no spreadsheet with prospect names, email addresses, and phone numbers for follow-up. You reach everyone within a certain radius around your location. Here is the EDDM map for reference. You can see the zones your mailer will reach. By carrier route, within a zip code.  Click the map link to play around with mail routes.

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

Keep in mind: You must do a full carrier route as that makes it easier for the postal carrier to put it in each mailbox. It bypasses the main post office, we handle labor, and 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. You can also use folded pieces but they must meet requirements. 11” x 17” as a folded mailer, work work, for example.

Expert Insights for Direct Mail That Won’t be Ignored

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. Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

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

Less is more: You 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.  

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail
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.

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

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.

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

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 it, there is not one marketing approach that works across the spectrum either: direct mail is just one cog in the larger marketing machine. And just like digital campaigns, experiment with different ideas and messaging. To help guide you, here are some sizes to consider:

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

One Part of Your Outreach
Don’t forget your direct mail is one touch in of a multi-touch plan. You should not expect miracles from a mailer.  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.  We caught up with Bre on why direct mail continues to be a part of her marketing mix:

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

“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/dimensions; work with your printing partner to understand which 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

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

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.


Trust and Fun!Before we go, we caught up with our friends at Mohawk Paper have covered this topic too.

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail

Chances are it you are looking to build your brand, you’ll need to foster trust. Using direct mail is a cost-effective way do this, and with such powerful stats to support it, why not add it to your mix of campaigns? We love some of the data they include too:

“Print elicits feelings of trust. For many, there is real power in the printed word.  A study by Print in the Mix found that 56% of respondents cited print as the most trustworthy of media channels.” Content Courtesy of Mohawk Paper. Statistics Courtesy of PrintintheMix

Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail


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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Your Starter Guide to Direct Mail



Jon Davis

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