How Does the Direct Mail Process Work?

Set up a direct mail campaign in 8 easy steps

how does the direct mail process work?

Are you a marketer that is interesting in getting your feet wet with direct mail marketing?

Are you familiar with the direct mail process?

Direct mail can be a powerful tool. But for those that have had limited experience with offline channels, direct mail processing can seem particularly daunting. Most people have never set up a direct mail campaign before.

However, with a little research and preparation, the direct mail process doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In this article, we’ll outline the eight required steps for building a powerful direct mail campaign

How to Launch a Direct Mail Campaign

This quick (3:30) video reviews the steps you should follow to launch a successful direct mail campaign.

This video is made using

The Blueprint for a Successful Direct Mail Campaign

Direct mail campaigns can fit seamlessly with digital activities, particularly when using modern tools to integrate channels and automate the direct mail process flow.

These steps are designed to walk you through the process of creating an effective direct mail marketing campaign, which is simpler than you might think when you use today’s latest technology.

By following this outline, you’ll be able to determine who the right audience is for your offer, the right message for delivering that offer, and use your experience to optimize and iterate campaigns moving forward. 

Step #1) Establish Objectives and Goals

set goals and objectives for the direct mail campaign

Before you can send out your direct mail campaign, you need to think long and hard about what you would like to accomplish from your campaign. 

For those that have never run direct mail marketing campaigns, this step can be a bit difficult. Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself to get the ball rolling:

  • What do you hope to achieve from your first direct mail marketing campaign? Is this campaign meant to generate sales? Build awareness among your target audience? Supplement a digital marketing campaign?
  • What do you want your direct mail marketing to do for you in six months? One year? Your long-term goals for direct mail marketing might be very different than the goals of your first campaign. Still, you should know where you want to go so that you can move in the right direction with each campaign that you launch. 
  • What skills or assets do you have that may be transferable to direct mail marketing? The foundations of a solid digital marketing campaign aren’t much different than in direct mail. Design assets, copy, and audiences may be able to be repurposed and tested in a new channel. 

Once you’ve answered these questions, your goals and objectives will become more clear. Be specific in your goal-setting. Attach your goals to data, and track your campaigns to optimize your messaging and processes as you become more familiar with the channel. 

Step #2) Understand Your Audience

understand your audience step 2 of the direct mail process

Next, it’s time to define your audience for your direct mail campaign. The more you define and clarify your audience, the better your campaign will deliver.

What are their needs? What are their problems? How does your offer position itself as a direct solution to those problems? You can’t define a great offer without first really understanding your audience

If you are mailing to your current customers or leads, there is a good chance that you already have detailed profiles and segments.  If these are new prospects, you may know less. Before sending out your campaign, you should dive into audience research so that you can craft an offer and messaging that is sure to resonate. 

Typically, audience data can be broken down into three specific categories

  • Demographic
  • Psychographic
  • Behavioral

Demographic data includes details like their gender, age, income, and marital status for consumers, or job title, company size, industry, etc for businesses. Psychographic information dives deeper and encompasses things like their hobbies, values, opinions, and attitudes. Behavioral data can include things like purchase history, website activity, email engagement and sales enagement.

Often, marketers combine demographic and psychographic data into detailed “Buyer Personas” that can identify common traits, problems and needs among the ideal buyers of a product or service. Buyer Persona work can be a great starting point for creating an understanding of your audience. 

Are you lacking data to help you develop a detailed understanding? Here are a few simple things that you can do to better understand your audience:

  • Survey current customers.
  • Read review sites to understand what they want out of solutions like yours. 
  • Check out social media accounts of customers and prospects

The better understanding that you have of your audience, the better your list will be, the better your creative will be, and the higher your campaign ROI will be. 

Step #3) Create Your Mailing List

direct mail process flow - create your mailing list

Next, you’ll need to put together your mailing list. There are typically two types of direct mail lists that you can use in your campaigns — house lists and purchased lists.

Learn more about mailing list selection and testing

House lists are names and addresses that you have already collected from existing customers or prospects. Any company with a customer base should be collecting this information. You probably store customer data in a CRM or Marketing Automation tool, so that it can be used across all of your marketing and sales efforts.

Your house list will be by far your most valuable direct mail list. These are customers that are already familiar with your brand and product. Many will have already purchased from you. They don’t need as much time for nurturing or awareness-building like other prospects might. 

Modern direct mail automation tools make it easy to import house lists from CRM and Marketing Automation systems, where you can centralize your data collection and segmentation efforts. 

Check Out Direct Mail/CRM Integrations  

Purchased lists can be a bit more tricky. High-quality purchased direct mail lists enable marketers to select very precise audiences with a high degree of deliverability.

The quality of purchased lists can vary, so it is important that you vet and evaluate mailing list providers. You don’t want to send to a high percentage of bad addresses.

Step #4) Develop a Compelling  Offer and Call To Action

you need a strong call to action in a direct mail campaign

The offer and call to action (CTA) are very important to the success of your direct mail process.

They can make your campaign soar, or make it blend into the background. This is why there are professional copywriters that have great careers by crafting offers that stand out. 

Your audience doesn’t think about your products or services all day long like you do. So, at a minimum, your offer needs to clearly tell them:

  • What your selling 
  • Why it will help them
  • How to get it 

It doesn’t matter if you’re campaign is selling a consumer product to millennials or offering an educational content piece to business executives, your offer and CTA’s must be clear and to the point.

But “at a minimum” isn’t enough to help your direct mail campaign outperform. You want your offer to be attractive and compelling to your audience. If it is, more of your audience will say “Yes”. 

Here are a few things you can do to make sure your offer gives you the best chance of success.

Make The Offer Beneficial

Your direct mail offer needs to be beneficial - like healthy food

You know your product is great and that it helps your customers. That’s why you’re in business. 

Your audience does not know this…Yet. 

You need to communicate a strong benefit, otherwise your offer will be ignored. If you’re using a postcard, pick 1-3 benefits and focus on them with clear, to the point language. If you’re using a letter format, you’ve got room to expand on more benefits (depending on how many pages you use). 

Regardless of the format, if your offer doesn’t clearly communicate a benefit, your offer will be ignored.

Appeal To Emotions First, Then Logic

happy emotion - a good direct mail offer goal

It is much easier to get someone to take action when they believe they will be getting something they want vs something that they need

We all do things we think we need to do, but we do them when we have time. We procrastinate. We rarely have time.

When we’re presented with something that we think we want, we’re more willing to act now. Our inner, animal instincts kick in, and we forget to procrastinate, and don’t care about time.

Imagine you’re trying to get your audience to sign up for a webinar to get a demo of your B2B marketing software. Pretty dry stuff. Here are a couple of ways to describe it.

  • This webinar will help you understand the top 3 ways you can achieve your campaign goals.
  • This webinar will let you in on the secrets that the top marketers use to crush their competition.

I want to be let in on secrets. I want to crush my competitors. I need to achieve my campaign goals. Emotion wins

Create Urgency or Scarcity

create urgency in your direct mail call to action

People are busy. Crazy busy. 

And so they procrastinate. 

If you catch their eye with an offer that won’t let them procrastinate, they need to make a decision. You’re more likely to get someone to act if they feel as if they might miss out by not acting.

Urgency and scarcity are the two most common ways to create that feeling. People hate to miss out

Let’s look at another offer and compare two options.

  • “Get the coverage you need with the quality of service you expect – all at a fair price.”
  • We have a few vouchers left to save $250 on your premium. Login by 7/27 to claim one.”

While I definitely need good insurance coverage at a fair price, there’s nothing to prompt me to focus on this now, while I am probably dealing with more urgent matters, such as posting a picture of my recent vacation on Instagram.. 

I definitely want to save $250 on my premium. And if I don’t act I will miss out. I’ll delay my urgent Instagram post to make sure I get that money. 

Whatever you do with your direct mail campaign, focus on your offer. A little bit of time and creativity will go a long way. 

Step #5) Decide on a Format

step 5 of the direct mail process - choose a format

Next, you’ll have to have to decide what mail format would be best for your campaign. While standard postcards are the most common mail format for marketing campaigns, you have several viable options to choose from. 

  • Regular Postcards. The 4×6 (inches) First Class mail postcard is the most common format because it is affordable and easy for customers to hang on to. Recipients don’t need to open an envelope to receive a postcard and it’s more likely that your offer will catch their eye. 
  • Large, Oversized Postcards. Larger postcards (6×9 and 6×11 inch) are becoming more popular because they combine the ease of use of a postcard with more real estate to display bold images and large headlines. Marketers like them because they stand out more when being sorted by recipients.
  • Letters. Direct mail letters can be a great way to provide a professional and personal experience to your recipients. Highly targeted customers tend to respond well to direct mail letters. They provide you with more space to spell out your offer, more opportunities for meaningful personalization in your message and are great for driving emotional decisions. 

These are just a few of the many different formats that direct mail campaigns can take. We recommend that you focus your direct mail production process on these common formats that are well understood by both consumer and business audiences.

Get Exact USPS Postcard And Letter Specifications

Step #6) Design Your Mailpiece

This step of the direct mail process is what many clients want to focus on first. We get it, it’s the fun step, and the part of the mailer that most people think about as most important.

Why do we list the design creative as step 6?

Because you can’t really develop a powerful design without establishing goals for the campaign, developing a deep understanding of the audience, gathering a list that represents your selected audience, creating a compelling offer and CTA, and then choosing your format. 

When you’ve done this work first, the design process becomes a whole lot easier. And it usually results in a design that resonates with your target audience and that highlights your offer and CTA.

Here are a few tips for designing effective direct mail marketing materials and collateral:

  • Use a modern direct mail templating system so that you can easily re-use, copy and edit your creative.
  • Make your Call To Action the visual focal point of the design – don’t bury it.
  • Don’t overstuff your mailpieces. Don’t put too much on a single page. Give your messages room to breath with some dead space around them. 
  • Use clear fonts that are easy to read. 
  • Use an effective headline that stands out at the top of the mailpiece
  • Break up blocks of text with bullets and lists. 
  • Try to keep your design limited to two to three complementary colors
  • Know your audience and craft a design and message that will resonate with them based on your research. 

Get The Full Guide To  Direct Mail Design Best Practices

How To Find Good Designers

it is hard to find a good designer - needle in a haystack

Companies that have an in-house design team have a leg up and can work with them to perfect their messaging and imagery in any campaign that they send. 

If you don’t have access to in-house designers, you may need to outsource the design work. Freelance graphic designers typically charge an average of $65-$75 per hour, although more experienced designers may charge more.

There are a lot of great agencies, freelancers and resources that you can find online that have experience with direct mail and can help you create a professional design. Here’s a list of a few:

At Postalytics, we work with several professional freelance designers that have successfully helped clients launch great campaigns. If you’d like to connect with them

Contact Postalytics

Want to try to design your piece yourself?

Postalytics  has a built-in editor with free professional templates that you can use to design your campaign. If you can design a good HTML email, you should be able to design a good direct mail piece using our editor. 

Try out the postcard and letter editors for free!

Postalytics Postcard Editor

Postalytics Letter Editor

Step #7) Combine Direct Mail Processing With Digital Channels

A multi-channel approach is so critical in modern marketing. Digital marketing channels like web, email, display and social have become easy to combine into integrated campaigns.

Traditionally, offline channels like direct mail were painfully disconnected from digital efforts.

You want to provide a complete and seamless experience to customers, regardless of how they reach your business. Every step in their journey should be consistent and complementary. To achieve that, you’ll need a direct mail marketing system that is able to easily work with web and email and track your visitors across channels. 

The numbers back up this assumption. When you combine direct mail with web and email marketing, response rates skyrocket:

Source: MobileCause

Modern direct mail marketing systems provide several tools for integrating and tracking your campaigns across channels. 

To start, your direct mail solution needs to be able to track delivery and response

Delivery tracking is needed so that you know which mailers are delivered, and when, so that you can use other channels to remarket to the same audience. 

Response tracking tells you exactly who has responded to your offer online, and when. This is important for both multi-channel follow up as well as attribution tracking. 

There’s no need to guess anymore with the availability of modern campaign dashboards that tell you where your mail is in the delivery cycle and who in your audience has responded. 

Delivery tracking uses scan data that the USPS captures with their Intelligent Mail Barcode system. You’ll know what mail is delivered and when, and also what mail isn’t delivered (when you choose First Class postage). 

Postlaytics is able to track online response and integrate direct mail marketing campaigns with digital using personalized URLs. This means that every mailer you send has a unique URL for each customer so that you can track each individual piece that you send out and identify which prospects engaged with your offering, even if they don’t end up buying or sending you additional details. 

That level of personalization can go even farther, too. The website that you send them to could be personalized with their information including their name, address, or any other data that you have on hand for your prospects. Only 22% of consumers are satisfied with the level of personalization that they receive from brands. 

Creating a seamless omnichannel approach is easier said than done. It’s not something that happens immediately on your first campaign. But over time, you’ll be able to build out a complete, fully integrated approach that nurtures prospects and guides them down their path to purchase. 

Step #8) Print, Postage and Mailing

commercial digital printer

This is the step of the direct mail process that many marketers find painful, at least when sending direct mail the traditional way. 

Mail merging your creative with your mailing list requires special software (unless you want to hand address each piece yourself). 

Getting high-quality print requires knowledge of paper and ink, and access to expensive digital printing presses.

Finally, your direct mail campaign could qualify for significant postage discounts. If (and only if) you follow precise requirements such as:

  • The minimum number of pieces
  • An Intelligent Mail Barcode
  • An address list that has been CASS-certified within the last 180 days
  • Correct addressing standards
  • Specific sizes, weights and shapes

Check out the USPS specifications for automation discounts

This is pretty complicated, and we don’t recommend trying it yourself.

As a result, most companies will work with a direct mail processor or a print & mail shop to handle the printing, postage, and sending of their direct mail campaigns. The cost is typically priced per piece, with minimum sized runs and personalization in your campaigns costing more money. 

Postalytics is a direct mail processor that does all of the hard work for you. There are no minimum runs, meaning you can send one piece or 100,000 pieces. There’s no extra charges for personalization, color, or any of the fees that get tacked on to traditional direct mail campaigns. 

Once you have your campaign created and the list loaded into our system, we will handle the printing, postage, and shipping to the USPS for you. All you have to do is wait for your mail to be delivered and track your campaign’s effectiveness using our in-depth analytics. 

Direct Mail Advertising in a Nutshell

Direct Mail Advertising is one of the most effective tools businesses can use to get their message across. Businesses know that direct-mail advertising has many benefits, including its strong pinpoint targeting capabilities.

With Postalytics, your direct mail campaign can ship to your prospects at any time of day or night, according to one of many triggers available. Retarget, remarket or send a physical message to leave something tangible in your ideal customer’s hands.

Learn, Optimize And Iterate The Direct Mail Process

If your first direct mail campaign is able to accomplish your goals and objectives, you’re off to a great start. If it doesn’t, don’t worry! Like any other marketing channel, direct mail takes time, experience, and practice to improve over time. 

With each new campaign, use your results as a learning experience. Find what is working, what isn’t, and identify areas for improvement. Over time, you’ll find innovative ways to integrate direct mail marketing into your multi-channel approach, stand out from your competition, and generate an excellent ROI. 

With Postalytics direct mail automation, our system does most of the heavy lifting for you. We’ll help you build a mailing list, design your postcards, print, ship, and track your campaign for you.

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