4 Direct Mail Mistakes That Could Cost Your Business Big-Time

Direct mail may seem like a traditional, even outdated, marketing strategy in today’s digital age. But don’t underestimate its power. 

If executed correctly, direct mail can offer a high engagement rate and boost the visibility of your brand. However, things can go wrong. You, as a marketing professional or small business owner, need to be aware of the pitfalls that can hinder the success of a direct mail campaign. This article will guide you through the most serious mistakes and provide you with actionable insights to avoid them. 

Unlike campaigns administered through the Postalytics platform, direct mail projects you handle on your own have lots of moving parts and feature a roster of independent entities you must coordinate. Marketers have plenty of opportunities to make errors that waste money or diminish the effectiveness of the campaign. We described a lengthy list of those pitfalls in a previously published article: Common Mistakes to Avoid for Highly Effective Direct Mail Campaigns

Today, we’re going to focus on four devastating errors that can derail your direct mail efforts and suggest actions you can take to avoid or fix them.

Poor Planning

Marketers, especially amateurs for whom marketing isn’t their prime responsibility, tend to jump into direct mail projects with insufficient preparation. They’ve got other high-priority tasks to accomplish, and they focus on the mechanics of getting the direct mail project done. This may seem expeditious at first, but a haphazard approach to project planning can derail a direct mail campaign later.

By crafting a well-thought-out strategy before you dive headfirst into the campaign planning, you can sidestep most of the common mistakes that try the patience of direct mail marketers. 

The cornerstone of your plan? A specific and measurable goal A fuzzy notion like “generating more sales” won’t cut it. Sure, you might stumble onto more sales by sheer luck or gain a smidgen of value from brand recognition, but you’ll miss the bullseye on your desired results. Sadly, businesses with no clear vision of the end goal kick off direct mail campaigns every single day. 

Imagine a goal like this: “Increase direct sales of widget #1 to suburban middle-income families in the tri-state area by 15% over last quarter”. Sounds more powerful, doesn’t it? 

See the power of a specific goal? It pinpoints the product to push, outlines the target audience, states the sales method, and sets a measurable objective. Now, you can weigh every decision you make regarding your direct mail campaign against this goal. Does your action support the goal or not?

Notice that a well-defined goal also sets the stage for analyzing campaign results. Identifying where you’re going is a big help in determining if you really got there.

Preventative Measures to Take

Avoid the temptation to work on the details of a direct mail campaign before you establish a clearly identified goal. Your efforts, and those of your team and partners, are meaningless until everyone understands the “why” behind the project. You wouldn’t call on a prospect without first doing your research on the buyer and developing a clear vision of your desired outcome. A direct mail campaign is no different.

Without a defined goal, how can you craft a call-to-action, choose the written copy and the artwork, or define the follow-up mechanism? You can’t! You must know exactly what you want prospects to do once they receive your mailpiece, who those people are, and what is likely to grab their attention.

Don’t forget about what happens after you’ve pulled the trigger and executed a direct mail campaign. That’s part of the planning process as well. Many marketers attempt to analyze their direct mail projects only to discover they failed to include a critical element in the outbound mailpiece and they can’t examine the results as they would like.

Measuring the success of your project is crucial. Measurement allows you to understand what’s working and what needs fine-tuning for next time.

Response Rate 

The simplest and most direct way to measure direct mail campaign success is through the response rate. You can calculate this rate by dividing the total number of responses by the number of mail pieces sent out. Response rate is a straightforward metric that is easy to compile. 

Conversion Rate 

Looking at response rates alone can be misleading. It’s equally important to look at conversions. A conversion happens when a response results in a desired action, like making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter. People who respond, such as visiting a landing page but don’t take further action don’t count as conversions.

Conversions don’t have to be sales. You may consider any action that advances a prospect along the sales path as a conversion.

Return on Investment (ROI) 

At the end of the day, it’s all about return on investment. To calculate ROI, subtract your campaign costs from your gross profit, then divide it by your campaign costs. If you see a positive number, you’re in the black. If the result is negative, it may be time to rethink your strategy.

Not every mail campaign generates direct sales. In these cases, you’ll need to assign value to a successful conversion, such as downloading a white paper, following your company on social media, or entering a contest. Then, do the ROI calculation.

Customer Retention 

Finally, don’t overlook customer retention. How many customers from your direct mail campaign made repeat purchases? How many might have bought from a competitor were it not for your marketing efforts? Repeat sales and reduced customer churn are strong indicators of success, signaling that your message resonated and fostered customer loyalty. 

Positive Preparation Enables Meaningful Metrics

Response rates, conversion rates, and ROI calculations are influenced by the three direct mail project elements discussed below. Poorly targeted mailing lists, shabby or incomplete data, or mail preparation errors that affect delivery will skew your campaign performance metrics. You can’t evaluate the success of your direct mail campaign or determine future strategies if problems with targeting, data, or mailing caused a meaningful percentage of mailpieces to miss the mark.

If you intend to track the actions of your prospects individually, your direct mail campaign plan must include the ability to identify customers when they respond. Use personalized QR codes, unique response codes, or personal URLs (pURLs) on your mail piece to enable personalized post-campaign follow-up.

Unfiltered Targeting

Ever wonder why your direct mail marketing pieces end up in the wrong hands?

There could be three culprits: 

  1. You’ve neglected to nail down your buyer profiles
  2. Your data isn’t robust enough to weed out improbable prospects 
  3. You did not invest time in filtering the list 

Falling into any of these traps can be costly. Every piece in your direct mail campaign carries a price tag – paper, ink, handling, and postage. Money spent marketing to the wrong people is 100% waste.

Failing to filter out obvious non-buyers will impact your campaign’s ROI, potentially harming your career or making it more difficult to secure management approval for future projects. Don’t incur unnecessary expenses by mailing to someone with a zero (or near-zero) likelihood of responding.

Applying filters can be straightforward if you make decisions based on the common characteristics of your target customers. If you’re selling women’s shoes, the men in your mailing list will probably ignore your offer. Are you promoting Medicare Advantage Plans? Trim young people from the file. You can easily remove unlikely prospects from your list because they cannot or will not buy from you. The deceased do not buy exercise equipment, and prison inmates are unlikely to attend retirement planning seminars. Why spend money on marketing pieces that are almost guaranteed to yield no results? Strip unlikely prospects from your list.

In other cases, the filtering is a bit more sophisticated. Don’t send offers for add-on accessories that won’t work with the product customers just bought from you, for instance, or pitch kitchen cabinet replacements to apartment dwellers. Besides being a total waste of money, these mistakes make it seem that you don’t know (or don’t care about) your own customers—something sure to irritate anyone who might otherwise be a fan.

What to Do About It

Direct mail marketing isn’t just about sending out materials—it’s about connecting with your audience on a personal level. By sending your materials to the people most likely to respond, your chances for campaign success improve. If your mailing lists lack the data you need for filtering and targeting, seek help from companies that can enhance the data by appending information to your records.

Understand Your Target Audience 

Before you compile a mailing list, you need to understand your target audience. Who are the people you’re trying to reach with your direct mail? What are their interests, their needs, their demographics? By understanding your audience, you can tailor your mailing list to better reach them. The more precise the profile, the better.

The best way to identify your future customers is to analyze your past buyers. Look at age, gender, estimated income, geographic location, home ownership, credit rating, and any other criteria that stand out as a trait that influenced their decision to buy from you.

Choose a Reliable Mailing List Provider 

Not all mailing list providers are created equal. Some may offer lists that are outdated or inaccurate, while others may not include the specific demographic information that you need. Do your research and choose a provider that is reliable, reputable, and has a proven track record.

We compile Postalytics address lists from premium data taken from multiple companies giving you instant access to over 2 million American-based consumers. The data is refreshed every 30 days from multiple sources to ensure accuracy, including recent address changes. You’ll have data that is always up to date.

Segment Your Mailing List 

Once you build or acquire your mailing list, don’t make the mistake of treating all recipients the same. Segment your list based on demographics, purchase history, and other relevant factors. This will allow you to tailor your direct mail to each segment, making it more likely to resonate with recipients and achieve your marketing goals. 

Segmented mailing lists combined with variable data printing make it easy to match the offer, images, and text in your direct mail pieces to the portion of your audience to which it most closely applies.

Dirty Data

Next on our list of things that can go wrong with direct mail is poor data quality. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of data quality. You might think a few wrong addresses here and there won’t make a huge difference. But even a small percentage of errors can translate into a significant amount of wasted budget. Do you really have extra dollars to spend on mail that the intended recipients will never see? 

Data is sort of a two-edged sword. On one hand, the amount of data available on your prospects is immense. Never have marketers had access to more information about the individual lives of their potential customers. Unfortunately, all that data comes from multiple sources. The data is collected with different methods, stored in different formats, and may or may not be verified.

What Causes Dirty Data?

We list five leading causes of data errors below. Large corporations establish entire departments that manage the organization’s data and keep the information as clean and updated as possible. For smaller firms, this luxury does not exist. With little or no control over the data they will use to drive their direct mail campaigns, the quality of their data is questionable.

How to Fix It? 

To deal with this issue efficiently, clean and update your mailing lists regularly. Additionally, you should always verify the information you receive from third-party data providers, as their accuracy may vary. If you manage your direct mail campaign through Postalytics, we’ll take care of much of the address data cleanup for you.

Doing some cleanup on your mailing list is a must. Here’s what you can do: 

  • Regularly update your lists with recent customer information
  • Verify addresses and names before sending out mail (CASS and NCOA)
  • Remove any duplicate entries
  • Consider using a professional data cleaning service if your list is large

Postal Blunders

Failing to adhere to postal regulations can lead to a spike in your postage costs or additional fees. In some cases, the USPS might even reject your mailings, sending them back for correction. If you’re partnering with Postalytics, the platform will protect you against mailing blunders. You can avoid last-minute surprises that delay your project, cost you money that was never in the budget, or both.

If you are managing direct mail projects on your own, you should be aware of some of the common errors that can trip you up.

What Are the Regulations?

The US Postal Service has lots of regulations, many to list here. They publish the regulations in a massive reference source called the Domestic Mail Manual (DMM). It’s not a light read! But if you can avoid the most common DIY marketer errors, your campaigns won’t be in peril.

Mailpiece Dimensions

The USPS publishes minimum and maximum allowable dimensions for letters, postcards, self-mailers, and flats. If your mailpiece falls outside these standards, it doesn’t mean it is un-mailable. But the USPS might bump your mailing from one category to the next, such as turning what you designed as a letter into what the Postal Service considers a flat. The accompanying increase in postage rates can blow your budget.

Associated with the minimum and maximum dimension standards are aspect ratios. Many mailers have been dismayed to find out that an extra eighth of an inch in one dimension can trigger expensive surcharges for every piece in the mailing. Divide the length of your mailpiece by the width. To avoid extra charges, the result must be between 1.3 and 2.5. Note that the aspect ratio of a square piece is 1.0 and falls outside the specifications.

Address Format and Placement

One of the most important elements of any mailpiece is the delivery address. The delivery network is automated and depends on accurately processing delivery addresses. The USPS uses sophisticated scanning and sorting equipment to read addresses and direct the mail to its destination, but the system has its limits. Positioning the address beyond the capture range of the equipment will cause problems. Likewise, placing extraneous text in the reserved address zone will delay your mailing.

The scanning equipment can read and interpret many fonts you might use for the delivery address, but not all of them. Avoid typefaces that feature characters that touch each other or are otherwise difficult to read.

By the way, the orientation of the address is important. The USPS defines the length of a piece as the side parallel to the address. If you print your address in a vertically oriented piece, the aspect ratio (see above) will be less than one and you will be assessed a surcharge.

Ancillary Services

Ancillary Service Endorsements allow senders to receive an addressee’s new address or the reason for non-delivery. If your mail doesn’t reach its intended destination, these endorsements can help you uncover the reasons. The actions of ancillary service endorsements, and some costs connected with using them, vary according to the mailing class.

Mailers invoke ancillary services with printed endorsements on the mailpiece and service codes in the Intelligent Mail barcode. Use these services with caution. An old mailing list that hasn’t been updated could include many undeliverable addresses. Make sure the value of the information the USPS provides is worth the price.

How to Avoid the Problem

The US Postal Service publishes quick service guides that cover many aspects of mailpiece dimensions, designs, addressing standards, and other topics. They also provide experts called Mailpiece Design Analysts who will review your proposed mailpieces and provide feedback regarding regulatory compliance. Take advantage of these free resources while your project is still in the design phase. This is the point where you can make adjustments that will ensure your mail meets all the postal specifications without incurring extra costs to re-submit the mail or even reprint the pieces.

Success Strategy

Direct mail marketing, with its unique potential, stands in stark contrast to the crowded digital landscape. However, direct mail is not without challenges. Improper preparation and lack of knowledge can bring your campaign crashing down. 

Whether you’re just getting started with direct mail or looking to sharpen your approach, a platform like Postalytics can be your secret weapon. The software takes care of the minutiae, allowing businesses to venture into direct mail without getting tangled in the web of intricate details that could derail your efforts. 

Armed with knowledge, strategic planning, an eye for detail, stringent quality checks, and a robust software platform to navigate the complexities, you can shield your direct mail investment from pitfalls and substantially amplify your campaign’s success.