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The Ultimate Guide To Direct Mail Marketing

Welcome to Sorted Direct Mail’s guide to direct mail marketing. In this guide you’ll find out everything you need to know about direct mail marketing. From what it is to how it works, to where the benefits lie, we’ve left no stone unturned. So, get the kettle on, put your feet up and enjoy!

What is Direct Mail Marketing?

Direct mail marketing is the act of (or art of, more accurately) sending physical promotional material to new and existing customers, such as brochures, letters, pamphlets, packages and more. It should include your logo and/or your business name, a strong CTA (call to action) and a way for customers to get in touch.

Why use direct mail marketing?

Over the last few decades, we’ve experienced unparalleled technological innovation. According to Deloitte, there are more than 26 billion smart devices in circulation; this offers a wealth of data we’ve never seen before. 

Did you know in 2021, the average individual received over 100 - 120 emails a day. What’s even more shocking is the fact that an individual is exposed to between 6,000 and 10,000 ads a day. 

Add to that social media ads, website pop-ups, unskippable videos and sponsored content. As digital content and technology proliferates, consumers are experiencing a wealth of friction points when they interact with brands online. 

From automated messaging services sending customers in a never ending loop, to AI trying its best to replicate human interactions,it’s easy to see how one can often feel overwhelmed, frustrated and even disinterested. 
Because of this, when done right, direct mail marketing can be a very effective tool for businesses of all sizes. It’s tangible and is able to cut through the noise of digital and provides a chance to really excite your customer - because be honest, when last did an email or web ad get you pumped up for anything?

Does Direct Mail Marketing Still Work?

When planned and executed properly, direct mail marketing can be an incredibly effective marketing tactic that can see excellent results.

Contrary to popular belief, direct mail marketing is far from dead. But given how long traditional mail has been around, and how quickly technology moves, you’d be forgiven for thinking it had become outdated. In the years preceding the pandemic, direct mail campaigns had a better ROI than both paid search and online display ads.

And, thanks to technological advancements, the response rate to direct mail has jumped. Utilising your accumulated data to make decisions allows you to send mail to people who actually look forward to receiving it, and response rates nearly doubled from 2017 to 2018.Not to flog a dead horse, but when the response rate for direct mail is up to nine times higher than that of email, that would suggest it is time to stop pressing send and time to start printing. 

Why is Direct Mail Such an Effective Marketing Tactic? 

It’s Tangible

Digital marketing is a never ending bombardment of auto-playing videos and distracting gifs. Conversely, the tangibility of direct mail means it can capture direct attention from a customer in a way online ads rarely can. Including a promotional offer or a CTA amplifies the tangibility benefit, as customers are much more likely to hold onto the promo piece until they have redeemed the offer.

Because of the physicality of direct mail, the “out of sight, out of mind” shortcoming of digital marketing doesn’t happen. On average, advertising mail is kept in a household for 17 days, giving your customers plenty of time to read, review and convert. 

It’s Memorable

With hundreds of emails clogging up our inboxes every single day, people have become desensitised and now feel like a boring method of communication. However, receiving a colourful, partially addressedbright envelope or leaflet in the mail can stir up feelings of nostalgia and appeal to an individual's emotions in a way other marketing tactics cannot.

This is where the creativity of the material plays a big part, as does, wherever possible, personalisation (but more on both of those things in a bit!)

You Can Reach the Offline-Only Market

Not everyone has an online presence, and so businesses that focus all of their marketing efforts in digital are missing an entire audience. For this reason alone, direct mail can have a bigger reach than digital, as you’re able to make contact with those that avoid any online activity in addition to your existing and regular audience.

There’s Less Competition

The majority of companies tend to favour the digital marketing route. Many businesses are oblivious to the power of direct mail marketing, which allows for quick in-house turnaround and a range of marketing methods in and of itself. This opens the door for brands to really stand out with a well-executed direct mail campaign. Excellent creative with a compelling offer can not only boost short-term business but also build long-term brand memorability. Which leads us nicely into…

The Creative Opportunities

The physical nature and wide range of direct mail material means you can engage your audience in unique and entertaining ways. 3D or lumpy mail (a love-or-hate-it phrase that refers to parcel-type mailers) is a great way to get noticed instantly and send response rates skyrocketing.

Adding an element of personalisation, such as a first name, is a great eye-catcher and brings the customer’s attention to the details of your campaign.

How To Develop a Direct Mail Campaign

Now that you know exactly what direct mail marketing is and why it works, you’re probably wondering how you can use it to generate business. These seven steps outline exactly how to use direct mail marketing effectively and build a killer campaign.

To give an example, we’ll follow the fictitious Becky’s Bakery from Coventry, a small-scale business that bakes and delivers delicious pastries and treats to the immediate surrounding areas. She takes orders via her website or walk-ins. Becky isn’t quite baking at capacity and would like to increase her weekly orders. 

1. Define Your Goal(s)

Every good campaign, direct mail or digital, begins with a clear (and achievable!) goal. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish; is it customer acquisition, or the introduction of a new product, or to increase brand uptake in a certain area?

The clearer you are, the better your ability to provide your customers with a concise and compelling message. If you’re having trouble simplifying your goal, the SMART acronym is a good guide. Make sure your goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

In the case of Becky’s Bakery, the goal is to increase weekly orders by 15% within three months.

2. Create Your Mailing List

With your goal in mind, the next step involves creating the list of customers you’d like to reach. This can be done using a mailing list of your existing customers as well as partially addressed mail, a tactic which, working with Royal Mail, allows you to target new customers without needing their personal data.

Continue to narrow down and segment your list, basing this on geographic, demographic and behavioural characteristics as well as any previous marketing data you may have. When complete, this will leave you with a tailored list of customers who will likely respond to your campaign message.

Becky decides to offer people on her mailing list who haven’t placed an order in six months a £10 discount on their next order, valid for the next six weeks only. Becky also uses partially addressed mail to offer the same discount to prospects in the Coventry area.

3. Determine Your Budget

Even if you have an idea you know would appeal to the masses, it won’t get off the ground if it relies on flakes of gold and diamond dust. Your budget sets your mail piece and design parameters, so it makes sense to calculate it early.

Be sure to factor in the type of mail you’d like to send, including the size, design, finish and quantity, and be aware of any postage costs. Things like partially addressed mail and creative consultation, while worthwhile, can also impact the campaign budget.

Becky has the budget to send mail to everyone on her list who hasn’t placed an order in the last six months, and to reach a similar number through partially addressed mail. 

4. Decide on a mail format

Goal: check. Budget: check. Next, pick the mail format that best suits your campaign. A postcard is one of the most common forms of direct mail marketing, but you have a number of options to choose from. Letters, flyers, pamphlets, regular postcards, oversized postcards, booklets, something in a box or tube - you’re only really limited by your creativity (and your budget. Can’t forget that).

Becky opts for a simple yet striking postcard. Printed in rich colour on hard card, this format will keep for the six weeks that the discount is on offer without getting crumpled or fading. With one side of the postcard always facing up, the design will always show either the £10 discount or a selection of Becky’s Bakery’s pastries.

5. Design Your Mail

This is the fun part. Ensuring the final piece stands out is very important, but don’t lose focus of the goal in the design phase and overdo the graphics or text. Use a strong CTA and (when applicable) appealing promo offer as the main focal point.

Personalisation is a great addition to any design. After all, everyone’s favourite word is their own name. Other personalised options involve including a location or reference to a previous order, and results have shown that multiple points of personalisation have a direct increase on response rates.

For her campaign, Becky clearly highlights the £10 discount code and expiry date on one side. On the other, she showcases a beautiful shot of her baked treats with the caption “Delicious. Anytime & Everytime” and the CTA “Order Now”. Her design relies on a sense of urgency linked to the discount code, and a strong evergreen brand message with a direct CTA overleaf.

6. Run the Campaign

Finally, the time to impress your customers with your campaign has come. Because of the difficulty and technical expertise required to send hundreds of mail items to hundreds of addresses, it’s best to work with a mailing house capable of managing the printing, postage and delivery of the campaign material.

More than just a mailing house, we at Sortedwork on every phrase of the campaign, from conceptualisation right the way through to completion.

Becky follows this exact advice and works with Sorted. Before long, hundreds of future Becky’s Bakery customers have received their discount in the mail and are eagerly scanning the website to see which baked goods to add to their order.

7. Track Your Results

The last step of every campaign is matching the results up against the original goal. Calculate the ROI and response rate and see if your final figures align with your targets. Insights gained in this phase of the campaign can be extremely helpful as they aid the decisions that may need to be made in any future campaigns.

For Becky’s Bakery, tracking the results is as simple as working out if there has been a 15%+ increase in orders three months after the direct mail campaign. Depending on the outcome, Becky may choose to widen the geographical reach for the next campaign, or include a promotional gift like a hot chocolate sachet.

Finding Your Audience: Segmentation in Direct Mail Marketing

The audience to whom you choose to market plays a large part in the outcome of your direct mail campaign. There’s a 40/40/20 rule in direct marketing, where 40% of your campaign’s success is dependent on your audience (the other 40% depends on your offer, and the 20% depends on everything else, such as the look and feel of the piece). This indicates the importance of pinpointing the right customers and targeting them with the right marketing message.

Customers can be segmented by geographics, demographics, psychographics or behavioural characteristics.

Once you have finalised your audience, you must collate a corresponding mail list. This can be done by segmenting your house list (the existing list of customers with whom you’ve done business before) or by using partially addressed mail to create a prospect list. Sorted offers partially addressed mail and database management services, allowing you to only send mail to those who would be interested.

Audience segmentation not only ensures you’re reaching your most relevant customers, but it also gives you the opportunity to create highly personalised offers. Beyond personal info such as first names, you can design personalised pieces around an audience’s interests or preferences.

Finding the Right Mail Piece(s) for Your Campaign

Postcards are a common and cost-effective way to send direct mail. The flat design and compact size makes it ideal for conveying a key message without taking up much space. Other more traditional forms of direct mail include letters, catalogues, flyers and pamphlets.

Depending on the goal, each has their own advantages. It is, however, important for all to have a clear CTA and concise, easy-to-digest text. When in doubt, take out anything that doesn’t explain or enhance the message. And make sure the final design is error and typo free!

Of course, more adventurous and eye-catching direct mail exists. 3D mailers, mailer attachments such as coffee or hot chocolate sachets, and goodie boxes (sometimes referred to as swag boxes, another love-or-hate-it phrase) are all good examples.
A great case study of pairing the right - and very unique - mail piece with the right business was the bespoke pop-up leaflets we at Sorted designed and printed for West Midlands Safari Park. Featuring a 3D pop-up design, the leaflet promoted safari visits to an interested audience in a very memorable way.

How to Combine Direct Mail Marketing with Digital Marketing

Although a direct mail marketing strategy is effective on its own, it comes to life when used as part of a multi-channel campaign. There are two main reasons for this: direct mailenhances every other marketing channel by sharing the same message and look, and it increases the number of touchpoints you have with your customer.

The second point is arguably the more beneficial of the two, as most individuals need to be exposed to a product or service multiple times before taking action. Direct mail provides an excellent option to act as the pivot touchpoint, being similar enough in design to stir up immediate recognition while still working as a standout promo piece because of its tangibility.
Another clever way to incorporate direct mail into a multi-channel marketing campaign is by including a QR code on the direct mail itself. The addition of these codes allows you to direct customers to personalised landing pages where they can be offered relevant information or incentives.

How Much Does Direct Mail Marketing Cost?

Because of the physical nature, it would be easy to assume direct mail marketing costs more than its digital counterpart. But that’s not necessarily true, as the price is made up of a number of different factors. Given the reach and ROI (return on investment) potential, direct mail is a relatively cost-effective way to reach your audience.

The following elements have an effect on the price of your campaign.

The type of mail you send, as well as the number of pieces. This is fairly straightforward, as you’d expect to pay more to send one thousand book-sized pieces than you would a single postcard. Note that postage fees would also link directly to your mail sizing and quantity.

Your choice of graphics or text can also have an influence on the campaign cost. Though this can be done in-house, professional design and copywriting services don’t usually make up a significant amount of your budget spend, but can give your campaign the sparkle it needs to resonate with your customers.

Similarly, consider the printing costs. Black and white printing will carry a different cost to colour ink, as will one-side compared to double-sided printing. Other details include the paper size, paper quality, and the finish of the piece (smooth, glossy or textured).

Get the Best from Direct Mail with Sorted 

When done correctly, whether linked to part of a wider multi-channel campaign or not, direct mail marketing can serve as the catalyst to take your business from where it is to where you want it to be. However, it can be a time-intensive and daunting task if done without the assistance of a mailing house.

Sorted is your one-stop-shop for all of your direct mail marketing and campaign needs. Based in the West Midlands, Sorted has over 20 years of direct mail experience. From campaign conception to completion, our team of mailing experts will work with you every step of the way and ensure that your campaign is fully aligned with your business goals.

Sorted offer the following services:

Data Management


Campaign/Print Production

Design and Creative


Enclosing and Fulfillment



Returns Management


The full top-down service we offer is what sets Sorted apart. Where most mailing houses focus on one service such as printing or posting, we pride ourselves on delivering everything from conceptualisation to bespoke printing and door-to-door delivery. Because we have worked with businesses from a number of different sectors, we understand the rules, regulations and nuances involved in each.
Get in touch with the experts today and get your direct mail sorted.

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