Neil Patel

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How (and When) You Actually Should Use Direct Mail

direct mail

I once knew a real estate investor who spent $10,000 on his direct-mail campaigns. For a year, he sent postcard after postcard.

But it didn’t work like he had hoped.

Instead of pulling in leads, his direct-mail campaigns did nothing but stagnate.

His real estate buddies told him he just needed to invest more money in the campaigns. So he did.

Month after month, he poured money into his direct-mail campaigns.

And still, he gained no leads.

In the end, he spent $10,000 with nothing to show for it.

Roughly 64% of people have visited a website because of direct mail they received.

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So, in the case of my friend, what gives?

Why do some direct-mail marketing campaigns succeed, and others fail?

There’s a two-part answer to this conundrum.

First, the timing of the direct mail is sometimes wrong. You shouldn’t always use direct mail unless it fits your industry.

There’s a time to send and a time not to send.

Second, the way you send direct mail changes its effectiveness.

If you send the same postcard year round, that might be a horrible marketing tactic, or it might be brilliant. It just depends on how often you send postal mail and who your recipients are.

Some 47% of people have visited a store because of a direct-mail campaign.

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But sometimes people don’t take action because the direct mail’s timing and method are off.

The mail doesn’t connect with the audience, and it definitely doesn’t encourage the audience to take action.

And you want your audience to take action. You want your direct mail to generate leads, encourage brand sharing, and enhance brand awareness.

But to do so, you need to send direct mail at the right time and in the right way.

Here’s when and how to send effective direct mail.

Send during the holidays

People are receptive to marketing during the holidays.


They’re expecting to receive gifts. But they aren’t just anticipating gifts. They’re also expecting to get cards in the mail.

During the holidays, letters from grandparents, gifts from relatives, and offers from businesses flood mailboxes around the world.

And most people love every second of it.

They love the gifts from family, the letters offering “Happy Holidays,” and the discounts and coupons all the same.

That makes the holidays a ripe time for you to send direct mail to prospects.

A few days before Mother’s Day, Shari’s Berries sent out this direct-mail piece.

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In it, they show a picture of their chocolate-, peanut-, and frosting-covered strawberry selection.

Then, on the right, they urge their prospects to use these berries to celebrate Mother’s Day.

Think of all the times, right before a holiday, that you forgot to get a gift for someone.

When you receive something like this, with a 25% discount, that difficult gift decision becomes an easy one.

Most people want to buy gifts for the holidays, but the decision process is grueling.

You can take the guesswork out of someone’s day by offering them an appealing product and an easy system for purchasing.

Consider this holiday direct-mail piece from REI.

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REI is a store known for focusing on the experience of their products rather than the products themselves.

In line with their marketing message, they ran this direct-mail campaign during the winter holidays. They used this card to encourage families to get outside together.

Some families want to sit indoors and open gifts during the holidays. But others want to go out and do something together.

By offering an experience and (indirectly) a product, REI caters to those in the second category.

Depending on your audience, consider whether you should sell the product or the experience of your product.

Here’s another direct-mail piece from Mercedes-Benz.

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Mercedes-Benz is the maker of the well-known, electrically powered Smart Car. But the Smart Car isn’t only known for its efficiency. It’s also known for its size.

As one of the smallest modern cars, the Smart Car’s compactness is partly what contributes to its efficiency. More so, however, its size bolsters its brand image.

As a way to embrace that image and have fun with its customers, Mercedes-Benz sent out the above mailer. It contained tiny ornaments, candy canes, and other holiday decorations.

You can be sure that recipients won’t soon forget this piece of direct mail. And they’ll likely share it with their friends, further spreading the Smart Car brand.

Send on customers’ birthdays

Similar to the holidays, most people are open to receiving all kinds of direct mail on their birthdays.

They already receive a lot from family members and extended relatives, so if you play your marketing cards right, you’ll be a welcome addition to their mailbox.

But what should you send prospects, customers, and clients on their birthdays?

Well, everyone else is sending them a gift. You should, too.

If you do, they’ll think of you in the same way they think of their family: as generous and kind.

That positions your brand perfectly for future marketing endeavors.

Here’s a birthday campaign from Target.

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Only people who wear eyeglasses were sent this direct-mail piece, making the campaign that much more personal.

By keeping track of not only their customers’ birthdays but also their needs, Target was able to send focused direct mail to its list.

Also, consider the fact that a 30% discount is a generous number.

It’s not so low as to be insignificant to the consumer, but it’s also not so high as to bankrupt your company. It’s a comfortable middle ground that will appeal to most people.

Similarly, Paninos sent out this birthday mailer.

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If a sandwich shop can celebrate its customers’ birthdays, so can you.

By offering a free small sandwich, they don’t only appear generous, but they also increase the possibility of sales.

Think about it. If someone receives this mailer, they probably won’t go to the restaurant alone. They’ll invite a family member or a friend to go with them.

That person doesn’t have a coupon for a free sandwich, so Paninos just made an extra sale.

Using the same psychology, Starbucks sent out this birthday piece.

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On the inside of the card was this.

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This mail piece is simple. The fact that Starbucks took the time to mail it to someone on their birthday sends a meaningful message.

And the free drink they offer appears generous.

Further, the fact that humans are community-based creatures means the birthday person will bring a friend. Again, Starbucks made an extra sale.

People are open to receiving direct mail on their birthdays, and they’re surprised when they receive it from seemingly impersonal businesses.

It’s an easy way to market your brand and impress your audience.

Send to reach a variety of demographics

Different groups of people use different technologies.

It’s no secret that older audiences are less likely to view social media ads or respond to private messages. It’s not because they’re incapable, but because they simply spend less time on the Internet.

However, it’s also no secret that young people are less likely to respond to sales calls and, in some cases, emails.

If you’re trying to reach all demographics, or at least a larger portion of people, direct mail is the solution.

About 79% of consumers consider reading mail to be more convenient than going online.

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That might surprise you but think about it this way. Practically everyone has a mailbox. And practically everyone checks their mailbox on a daily basis.

If you want to market to a variety of age groups, ethnicities, and genders, direct mail is your ticket.

And if you think younger people are uninterested in direct mail, you’re wrong.

Around 42% of those surveyed between the ages of 25 and 34 said they read mail immediately and often find it useful.

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And 92% of young people actually prefer direct mail when making a purchasing decision.

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That’s a lot of interest in direct mail from the younger demographic.

Luckily for your business, people don’t just find direct mail useful. They also make purchases because of it.

In fact, 58% of households that make over $65,000 per year have bought a product because of a direct-mail campaign.

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If you run an email marketing campaign, you’ll reach a certain demographic. The same is true if you run Facebook Ads or Instagram Ads or Paid Search or AdWords.

Direct mail is powerful partly because it’s less targeted. You can send bulk mail to a large variety of people.

And better yet, all those people check their mail.

No one throws away mail before they look at it. They want to make sure they aren’t throwing away something important.

Because of this, you can bet your diverse audience will see your mail.

That’s a claim few marketing methods can make.

Send when you have the time to follow up

Every sale depends on following up with your customers.

It’s one thing to run ads, curate content, and optimize your website for search engines.

It’s quite another thing to ensure that leads get the attention they deserve.

When someone responds to your direct-mail campaign by visiting your website, opting in, or participating in an event, you should connect with them.

And you shouldn’t just connect with them once. Connect over and over again.

If you don’t have the time to follow up with leads from your direct-mail campaign via email, phone, or text, it’s probably best if you just don’t send any mail at all.

Sadly, 48% of salespeople never follow up on leads.

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And that percentage decreases with the number of follow-ups.

Only 25% of salespeople follow up a second time, and only 12% follow up more than three times.

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A lack of following up might not seem like a big problem until you understand that only 2% of sales are made on the first contact, 3% on the second contact, 5% on the third, and 10% on the fourth.

So when do they happen? A whopping 80% of sales are made on the 5th-to-12th follow-up.

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If that’s not enough data to convince you, I don’t know what is.

Following up is critical to running a successful direct-mail marketing campaign.

Unless you’re willing and able to nurture leads, don’t spend money on pointless postcards.

It’s also worth noting that direct mail makes following up easy.


It’s because direct mail helps you gain the trust of your recipients.

Approximately 56% of customers trust print marketing more than any other type of marketing.

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That means when you contact leads with printed mail, they trust you more. A salesperson and a follow-up call are nothing without a healthy degree of trust.

If people don’t trust you, they’ll never buy from you, regardless of how many times you contact them.

Send direct mail and follow up consistently. This combination will help you gain trust and make sales.

Send when you have something to say

This should be obvious, but to many marketers, it isn’t.

Only send direct mail if you have something to say or some value to provide.

If you have nothing significant to say, don’t send anything.

The reality is that consumers have plenty of marketing messages in their mailbox.

Unless you have an appealing offer or a compelling story, your direct mail will get thrown away with all the others.

To raise awareness for an upcoming talk, The Natural History Museum sent out this eraser to its direct-mail list.

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The eraser was an engaging way to raise awareness about the upcoming event.

By intriguing people with the remarkable and unfortunate fact that 20 animal species go extinct every day, they gave a teaser for the type of things someone who attends the event can expect to learn.

The Natural History Museum sent a powerful message with a simple eraser.

This direct-mail piece from Griffiths, Gibson, and Ramsay Productions is similar.

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They sent a working record player made out of cardboard to recipients.

The music player was so interesting that people called and asked the company for additional ones to give to their kids.

Fascination is a great way to get attention for your brand, and that’s exactly what this record player created.

Another example of a powerful message is a piece of direct mail that Earth Hour sent out.

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When the candle is in the box, it mimics a tall apartment building or skyscraper where the lights are on and people are going about their business in separate rooms.

But when the candle is pulled out, it appears the lights are off in each of those rooms.

The message is simple and effective.

Earth Hour visually expressed that when people leave the lights on overnight, it wastes a tremendous amount of energy and money.

People are likely to remember this candle for years to come, and possibly even start turning their lights off at nighttime.

A final example of meaningful direct mail comes from a laundry service company called LavOnline. They sent a jelly like tomato and a paper T-shirt to prospects.

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The mail piece tells recipients to throw the tomato at the t-shirt as hard as they can and watch as it slowly cleans itself up.

This direct mail sends a powerful message that those who threw the tomato will not soon forget.

Send when you have a digital presence as well

In today’s world, unless you’re a well-known local business, having an online presence in addition to your direct-mail marketing is absolutely paramount.

Around 54% of people have engaged on social media as a result of receiving direct mail.

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But that engagement is no guarantee.

Consider this. You receive a direct-mail piece from an e-commerce store offering a discount on one of their products. But only their brand name is on the piece of direct mail, not their website.

If you’re like most people, you won’t try to find their company. You’ll simply throw away the piece of direct mail.

On the other hand, if the website URL is on the direct mail piece and it’s easy to access, you’ll likely take advantage of the digital coupon.

And that’s exactly the way you want people to respond — 39% of customers first try a business because of print advertising.

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Sadly, though, you’ll lose that traffic if your direct mail doesn’t clearly express where the recipient should go and what they should do.

In other words, every piece of direct mail should have a clear CTA.

And if the bulk of your business happens online, that CTA should direct people to your website, social media profile, landing page, or product page.

Your direct-mail campaign will only be as good as the process you put into place for the customer to follow.

If you do it properly, you can leverage more traffic than other marketing tactics.

Generally, 10% more people visit a website because of a print advertisement.

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The point is, you need to leverage digital marketing and direct mail together, not as separate components.

If you do, you’ll probably see an increase in leads and conversions. If you don’t, you’ll waste money on direct mail.


No one runs a direct-mail marketing campaign with the intention of wasting money.

Rather, marketers like yourself send mail because they want a response. They want to generate leads, raise brand awareness, and make sales.

But the risk of wasting $10,000 like my friend is a real one.

If you send mail in the wrong way at the wrong time, recipients will throw it in the trash, and with it, your direct-mail investment.

That’s not an effective strategy.

To avoid wasting your marketing budget, send mail at the right time in the right way.


Consider focusing your direct-mail efforts during the holidays, on customers’ birthdays, when you have the time to follow up, and when you actually have something to say.

Use direct mail to reach a variety of demographics, like those you might not reach online. Just make sure you’re using your online presence in connection with your direct-mail campaigns.

If you have the choice to not suffer at the hands of a poor marketing strategy, don’t.

And now that you’ve read this article, you have the choice.

When do you think is the best time to send direct mail?

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