7 Costly Mistakes Everyone Makes with Direct Mail Marketing Campaigns

Gabrielle C. King

Posted on

Congratulate yourself on making the decision to start using direct mail! Direct mail is a marketing tool that, unfortunately, some business owners don’t believe in.  But you know better!

Still, you do need to take some care when using direct mail. Specifically, you want to avoid these seven costly mistakes when planning your direct mail marketing campaign:

  1. Not having a goal.
  2. Not following up.
  3. Not mailing to the right audience.
  4. Not using appropriate designs and materials.
  5. Not personalizing your messages.
  6. Not doing sufficient testing and tracking.
  7. Not being consistent.


Direct mail campaigns are good for business

Before getting into the nitty gritty about avoiding mistakes with your direct mail, let’s put a definitive end to two widely circulated but completely false myths.

Myth: Print is dead

No. It’s. Not.

In 2019, the U.S. Postal Service and Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making published the results of a study which demonstrated that when compared to digital advertising:[1]

  • People spend more time with print advertising.
  • Print advertising creates a greater emotional reaction.
  • Participants’ memory of the content and source of an ad is quicker and more confident with print advertising.
  • Print advertising creates a greater subconscious desire for the product.
  • The subconscious value placed on a product or service is greater with print advertising.
Graphic design of a human brain

Print advertising engages the brain more deeply and in more ways than digital.

People also trust print more than digital.

MarketingSherpa reports that out of 13 different marketing channels, print advertising was the most trusted by people looking to make a purchase.[2]

And not only does print remain a good value, but it’s also especially effective for those whose businesses depend on the visual experience to make an impact. As Chester Avey of Keap writes, “You can’t put a website on your coffee table.”[3]

Myth: Direct mail doesn’t work

Yes. It. Does.

Here’s something to ponder: Unsolicited email is the new junk mail.

Label for a spam email folder

Spam is the digital world’s equivalent of junk mail, and it’s just as annoying.

MailChimp reports direct mail has a higher response rate (5.3%) than email (0.6%).[4]

And according to SmallBizGenius:[5]

  • 2% of direct mail recipients either read or scan the mail they get.
  • Direct mail requires 21% less cognitive effort to process than email.
  • Direct mail recipients purchase 28% more items and spend 28% more money than people who don’t get that same piece of direct mail.
  • Direct mail offers a 29% return on investment.
  • 73% of American consumers say they prefer being contacted by brands via direct mail because they can read it whenever they want.

While print and direct mail are alive and well, you’ll need to avoid the following seven mistakes to ensure your direct mail campaign isn’t dead on arrival.

1. Not having a goal

Imagine participating in a scavenger hunt without any idea what you were searching for—pointless, right?

Without a clear goal, your direct mail campaign will experience the same futility.

Children using compass and magnifying glass to examine a map

Whether it’s brand recognition or a call to action, your direct mail campaign needs a goal to determine if it’s working.

So, what’ll it be?

  • More walk-in appointments?
  • More social media engagement?
  • More website visits?
  • More phone calls?
  • More attendance at your event?

Only when you know what you are trying to achieve will you know if your campaign has been a success.

2. Not following up

Here’s a sobering statistic: It takes an average of 18 calls to simply connect with a prospect.[6]

Want a few more?

The minimum number of suggested follow-ups set by marketing experts is five, with many opportunities needing as many as 12 follow-ups before the close. Why is this the case?

One reason is a prospect needs time to work their way from knowing you, to liking you, to finally trusting you enough to do business with you.

Smiling man with stubble beard wearing a collared shirt and blazer

Following up multiple times allows prospects the opportunity to know, like, and trust you so that when they’re ready to buy, they contact you.

Another is that “no” can simply mean, “not right now; try me later.”

But look at this.

According to Robert Clay, founder of Marketing Wizdom:

  • After receiving only one “no”, 44% of salespeople give up. (That’s nearly half!)
  • After receiving two “no’s”, 22% give up.
  • After three, it’s 14%.
  • And after receiving four “no’s”, 12% give up.

That’s 92% of all salespeople, which means only 8% will follow up and ask for the order a fifth time.

Additionally, “When you consider that 80% of prospects say ‘no’ four times before they say ‘yes’, the inference is that 8% of sales people are getting 80% of the sales.”[7]

Professional business phone on a desk

Following up with a phone call allows for conversations that will help you find out more about your prospects.

In a silver lining sort of way, here’s the good news: since many sales professionals give up too soon or don’t follow up at all, you’ll stand out and will have a much greater chance against the competition.

The best follow-up is a phone call because you get to have conversations that will help you find out more about your prospects and hopefully engage them with questions and answers. Email, texting, and social media are also options.

3. Not mailing to the right audience

Not mailing to the right audience gets my vote for the biggest mistake you can make in a direct mail campaign.

Why would you spend money, time, and effort to send something to someone who doesn’t want it or need it just to annoy them?

You wouldn’t.

Toilet with several $20 bills floating in it.

Sending direct mail advertising to either the wrong or an undefined audience is like flushing money down the proverbial toilet.

Before engaging in a direct mail campaign, know your audience and the area in which they live. If you’re an insurance broker selling long-term care insurance, for example, you don’t want to direct a campaign toward a zip code primarily populated by Gen Z.

Also consider seasonality—the right audience may not be the right audience at this time. If you’re a real estate agent sold on the idea of geofarming, plan and be ready to go when the spring market hits.

4. Not using appropriate designs and materials

Nothing turns off a reader faster than a long, solid, block of text.

  • They can’t scan it for the big ideas.
  • There’s an unconscious bias that it’s boring.
  • They resist the time and concentration needed to get through it.
Open books lying across each other.

When it comes to direct mail advertising, large blocks of unbroken text will dissuade your audience from engaging with it.

To be clear, it’s not necessarily the amount of writing but the way it appears in an unbroken stream that’s the problem. If the issue was the number of words and not their visual arrangement, then no one would ever use long form letters and webpages.

Tip for direct mail letters

If your direct mail campaign includes a letter, then to avoid overwhelming your audience use features like lots of white space (wide margins and blank lines), bullets, and headers to create sections. You’ll find some useful tips for writing direct mail campaign letters here.

Tip for direct mail postcards

With postcards, you’ll want the design to promote your goal. What you include on your card, as well as what is emphasized by placement, size, or color, should vary with what you are trying to achieve. A postcard intended to show your local expertise will obviously be different from one intended to establish good will.

Two real estate postcards lying atop one another and featuring homes.

Design your direct mail materials with care. Consider features like images, color, paper, size, and other aspects that will communicate quality.

About quality

Finally, don’t skimp on quality. Direct mail—whether it’s letters, postcards, magazines, newsletters, or something else—creates a visual and tactical experience. Hire a professional photographer to get the best images. Use high-quality card stock for postcards.

Never forget that the quality of your mailings will suggest the quality of your service or product.

5. Not personalizing your messages

You only need to reflect on your own experience to realize we’ve all come to expect some degree of personalization when dealing with brands.

We don’t want to be part of an anonymous mass.

Instead, we want to feel special, understood, and valued.

The most basic step toward personalization is to know everything you possibly can about your audience so that you can communicate in ways that connect with them.

Today, businesses are going beyond simple demographic information to learn about their audience’s needs, values, and aspirations. They use that information to create messages that will generate meaningful associations between their audience and whatever they are selling. Some are so good at this that they can anticipate what their audience wants even before they know themselves (think Netflix and Amazon).

A line of mean and women, some in casual clothing and others in business clothing, posed and facing the camera.

The most effective advertising, whether it’s direct mail or something else, is personalized to the preferences of its intended audience.

Not every solopreneur has the resources to dig this deep, but there are easier ways to still make a connection:

  • Eliminate I and emphasize you. When writing, make every effort to eliminate “I” and to craft sentences using “you.”
  • Focus on benefits, not features. People don’t really care whether their 12-inch ruler is made of wood or metal. That is, not until you tell them that a metal ruler won’t crack or warp and, therefore, will always provide an accurate measurement. If you’re stuck on finding benefits, list all the features of your product or service and then ask, “So what?” Keep asking until you find a benefit that will appeal to your audience.
  • Use their name. People will pay attention to something that has their name on it. For any significant number of addresses, a professional service that offers variable data printing (also known as variable information printing or variable imaging) is the way to go. With it, elements like text, graphics, and images can be switched out without stopping or slowing printing. Resist using pre-made labels; they’ll negate the personalized effect you’re trying to create.

 6. Insufficient testing and tracking

The only way to know if your direct mail campaign is working is to test it. And the way you test is to have a version A and a version B to compare results.

Using postcards as an example, you could have a version with two different images and compare which produces better results. With letters, you could test different size envelopes or printed ones against handwritten ones. With CTAs, you could request one-third of your recipients call you, another third to email you, and the final third to text you.

Assortment of different size envelopes all in a shades of white.

Test components like size, color, font, images, and the message to determine what will bring you the best results.

You can test practically everything about your campaign to find that winning combination. However, it’s best to test only one feature at a time. Too many elements and you’ll muddy the waters, possibly causing you to misattribute results.

Review your data frequently, ideally daily, and adjust when necessary.

7. Not being consistent

Here’s what some people don’t understand: direct mail campaigns aren’t supposed to stand on their own. You can’t realistically expect to send out a single piece of mail and expect to make a lot of money.

Direct mail is most effective when it is consistent.

Year-long calendar with marked dates

To stay top-of-mind you need to be consistent. The more touchpoints you have, the more familiar you become, and the more trust you build.

I won’t say it never happens, but rarely will someone become a customer based on one touchpoint. Sending something once—a letter, a keepsake, a postcard, or something else—isn’t enough. One postcard a month for 12-18 months has a much greater chance of keeping you top-of-mind.

In addition to consistent contact, you want to make sure your branding is also consistent across all your marketing resources—including your direct mail.

Your direct mail should look like your website, which should look like your business card, signage, social media pages, and all other elements.

Help your prospects recognize you regardless of where they see you. The more ubiquitous your brand, the more familiar you become. And with familiarity comes trust.

There’s a lot to remember and account for when planning a direct mail campaign.

There’s no doubt that print and direct mail campaigns work well in finding new leads. But direct mail marketing can be a lot of work.

In addition to making sure you have a solid goal, an effective CTA, the correct audience, proper design, effective messaging, legitimate testing, and accurate tracking and analysis of results, there are other considerations like postal regulations, scaling up, and handling responses as they come in.

Woman with glasses peering at a laptop and biting a pencil.

Running a direct mail marketing campaign can be stressful. A reputable company can do the work for you so that you can focus on doing business.

Maybe you could use some help.

After all, wouldn’t you rather be running your business than wondering if your envelopes and postcards are the proper size?

We can help

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[1] Cash4Toners, “Why Print Matters in 2020,” February 10, 2019, https://cash4toners.com/info

[2] Daniel Burstein, “Marketing Chart: Which Advertising Channels Consumers Trust Most And Least When Making Purchases,” [Chart], January 17, 2017, https://www.marketingsherpa.com/article/chart/channels-customers-trust-most-when-purchasing.

[3] Chester Avery, “Is the Print Industry Really Dying Out?”, Keap, January 28, 2019, https://keap.com/business-success-blog/marketing/advertising/is-print-really-dying-out.

[4] “Direct Mail Marketing,” MailChimp, Accessed December 9, 2020, https://mailchimp.com/marketing-glossary/direct-mail/.

[5] Ivana Vojinovic, “Direct Mail Statistics That Will Have You Running to the Post Office,” smallbizgenius, Last updated December 3, 2020, https://www.smallbizgenius.net/by-the-numbers/direct-mail-statistics/#gref.

[6] Bryan Gonzalez, Sales Development Technology: The Stack Emerges, Accessed December 10, 2020,

[7] Robert Clay, “Why You Must Follow Up Leads,” Marketing Donut, Accessed December 10, 2020,  https://www.marketingdonut.co.uk/sales/sales-techniques-and-negotiations/why-you-must-follow-up-leads.

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Written by Gabrielle C. King

I’ve spent my 30-year career making complex and unfamiliar ideas easy to understand. Today I routinely write 2,500 words or less to help entrepreneurs like real estate agents, RIAs, insurance agents, and others better understand marketing and feel a renewed confidence in their ability to close more deals and retain more business.