How Direct Mail Is Your Little Engine That Could

Because direct mail is the little engine that could for your marketing funnel, it can sustain you through troubled times. Direct mail is most powerful when used in a long-term, multi-touch plan. The average prospect needs to see your mail piece seven to 10 times before buying from you.

direct mail
“Mailboxes in ivy,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Ryan McFarland

Because direct mail is the little engine that could for your marketing funnel, it can sustain you through troubled times. Direct mail is most powerful when used in a long-term, multi-touch plan. The average prospect needs to see your mail piece seven to 10 times before buying from you. So a well-planned direct mail program includes multiple drops with various mailers and postcards. Then once the prospect makes a purchase from you, you move the consumer into your customer retention mail program. These types of programs are extremely effective and can be counted on to consistently generate sales.

Are you taking advantage of direct mail programs throughout the year? Do you mail consistently? Do you have a plan? Depending on what you are selling and who your customer base is, it will determine what your direct mail plan should be. The more data you are capturing on your customers, the better you will be able to target them with direct mail.

So what should a basic prospect direct mail plan look like?

  • List — Purchase a multi-use list of prospects based on what you know about your customers such as demographics, psychographics and more.
  • Message — Prospects need to learn who you are, what you do and see testimonials from current customers. You are trying to convert them to customers.
  • Offer — You need to create offers that will resonate with your prospects. What is in it for them?
  • Format — To be most effective, alternate formats for each mailing so that each prospect will get a letter, postcard and self-mailer over the course of your program. You can use formats more than once, but always make sure to add something fresh and new to each mailing. Sending the same thing over and over again does not get you the results you need.
  • Schedule — This will really vary depending on what you are selling, more expensive purchases are made less frequently vs. some items that need to be purchased all the time. The general rule of thumb is once a month to once every other month for high-ticket items and twice a month for more frequent purchases.

So what should a basic customer direct mail plan look like?

  • List Pull as much information as you have on each customer. You can use their purchase history to get your direct mail highly targeted.
  • Message — Customers should get messaging that is applicable to them and what they buy. You can suggest add-ons that complement what they have already bought or items that other people like them have purchased.
  • Offer — Customers love coupons on items that they buy. You can also give them special offers on new items they have not previously purchased from you but are likely to buy.
  • Formats — Just like prospects you should vary the formats of direct mail you are sending to customers.
  • Schedule — Customers should have a more scaled-back schedule than prospects. They know who you are and how to buy from you so send to them less frequently. We recommend at most once a month.

Are you ready to get started planning your ongoing direct mail campaigns? By constantly feeding your pipeline with your direct mail prospects and customers, your marketing funnel will always be generating sales. Get excited about your direct mail programs and create some really fun direct mail pieces. When you get creative you stand out more and get remembered. Make you direct mail campaigns real profit-drivers. Have you had a very successful long-term campaign? We would love to hear about it.

Author: Summer Gould

A blog about Direct Mail Marketing, tips, tricks and what not to do.Summer Gould is President of Eye/Comm Inc. Summer has spent her 27 year career helping clients achieve better marketing results. She has served as a panel speaker for the Association of Marketing Service Providers conferences. She is active in several industry organizations and she is a board member for Printing Industries Association San Diego, as well as a board member for Mailing Systems Management Association of San Diego. You can find her at Eye/Comm Inc’s website:, email:, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @sumgould.

8 thoughts on “How Direct Mail Is Your Little Engine That Could”

  1. Why would a mailer only consider a multi-use (generally compiled) list when testing into direct response driven, one time use data is proven to be much more successful? I don’t follow the logic. Just because compiled data is cheaper, doesn’t mean it is going to yield the strongest result.

    1. You can purchase targeted lists for multi-use and of course once they become a customer they move to your retention mailings. I am not sure what one time data you are referencing.

      1. Targeted lists are not the same as response driven or compiled data. Both can be targeted but the source of each is critical as the source oftentimes drives results. Response driven data is typically available for one time use list rental. Of course, that data can be rented or reused again but multi use on response driven data is rare. Multi use is typically only available on compiled data.

        For all acquisition data, the mailer is allowed to retain any respondent to their mailing as part of their housefile regardless of the source of that data.

    1. It is the old marketing rule of seven, that a prospect needs to see your marketing messages at least 7 times before they buy from you. Basically they need to get to know you and trust you before they buy. I am not saying that all seven contacts must be direct mail, just that to turn a prospect into a customer is not a one off mailing. You need to have multiple touches that can come in many different marketing forms. Does that help?

      1. Sort of. If companies had to send 7 mailings out before expecting any response, direct mail would never be cost effective. Of course, anyone in direct mail knows this is not the case. In fact, the highest response is sometimes from the first mailing to a new group of prospects. I’m not sure how that squares with the Rule of 7, but it’s how things work down in the trenches.

        1. It really depends on your offer and ability to connect with people. People buy from companies they trust. The quicker you build trust the faster the response time. I am advocating multiple touches, not just with direct mail but a combination of channels to really connect with prospects in order to get them to buy. 🙂

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