Everything You Need to Know about Direct Mail (with Examples!)

Direct mail is a powerful and arguably underused marketing tool. It’s cost-effective, has a great return on investment, and holds the attention of its target recipients far longer than digital marketing.

Everything You Need to Know about Direct Mail (with Examples!)

Direct mail marketing – or the idea of it – isn’t as new of a concept as you might think. As it happens, historians argue that the first recorded instance of direct mail took place in ancient Egypt around 1000 B.C. when an Egyptian created and “mailed” a written advertisement offering a reward for the return of two missing workers.

Several thousand years later, Aldus Pius Manutius, an Italian scholar, established his own printing company in 1494. To advertise the books he was manufacturing with the recently-invented printing press, he created and sent out a catalogue of the titles available for sale. And so, the publication of the first mail-order catalogue came to be in 1498.

Just under 4 centuries after that, other retail giants joined the ranks of Manutius and printed and distributed their own famous catalogues throughout North America. Montgomery Ward & Co., Tiffany & Co., and Sears, Roebuck and Co. are a few of the most famous names.

Direct mail has been a part of our lives for centuries. But things have certainly changed since the 19th dynasty, the Renaissance, and the inception of the mail-order catalogue.

Today, how do marketers define direct mail and how do they develop a strategy for direct mail marketing? Keep reading to learn more.

What is direct mail?

Simply put, direct mail (also referred to as “direct mail marketing”) is the delivery of physical, printed advertisements to a targeted audience through a postal or mail delivery system.

Whether you realise it or not, you’ve been the recipient of literally hundreds of direct mail marketing efforts over the years. Retail catalogues, supermarket coupons and sale reminders, postcards… the list goes on and on.

It’s worth taking a closer look into the two main branches of marketing to a target audience: business to consumer (B2C) and business to business (B2B).

Whether you realise it or not, you’ve been the recipient of literally hundreds of direct mail marketing efforts over the years. Retail catalogues, supermarket coupons and sale reminders, postcards… the list goes on and on.

Direct mail for business to consumer (B2C) marketing

B2C direct mail marketing serves three main purposes: to market product or service availability, to communicate changes in price (usually a sale, for example, or a price increase after a certain date), or to secure added funding for specific Non-Profit organizations (such as raising funds for the upgrading of hospital equipment, or the building of a new wing).

It’s not just big corporations that use direct mail, either. Religious organisations, non-profits, real estate agents, and local businesses – large and small – all use and benefit from direct mail marketing.

Let’s take real estate agents for example. When an agent is listing a newly-for sale home on the market, they may send direct mail marketing postcards with a few photos and quick statistics about the house to local postal codes with other homes in the same price range. Postcards like these also serve as an advertisement for the agent themselves, helping them spread the word about their own business.

Charities and nonprofit organisations are also big proponents of direct mail. Unlike emails that are competing for attention and easily drowned in inboxes overflowing with other marketing messages, direct mail feels more personalised. Whether an organisation sends thank-you notes or good-news updates to previous donors and supporters or runs a direct mail marketing to drum up donations, these tangible messages pull at heartstrings and are hard to miss in a stack of addressed mail.

Raising funds for hospitals such as Sick Kids Foundation, can be done though regularly scheduled mailing campaigns that tell a story and follow a child’s journey through treatment. These types of messages engage the donor and show them where their donations are going towards while also showing how an additional gift could directly help a child in need.

Campaigns like these are not just for existing donors but can also be a huge source for securing new donations by making use of acquisition lists that target other individuals who may donate to other nonprofit organisations like the one being promoted or targeting a demographic similar to those who currently donate.

Or consider religious organisations. When major holidays (think Christmas and Easter) approach, local churches may send out direct mail invitations to their local community. This often results in higher attendance numbers for holiday services and can often lead to a following surge in membership.

Think about the catalogues you’ve received over the years through the mail. If you’re anything like us, you have childhood memories of receiving department store catalogues around the holiday season. You might have spent the subsequent hours circling every conceivable toy and gadget to be added to your wishlist.

Grown-ups still get giddy when circulars and mail-order catalogues come in the mail. Companies like Ikea, Canadian Tire, Home Hardware and other retail companies know how to do mail-order catalogues well after decades of experience. Unlike the mail-order books of yore, though, the glossy pages of today’s catalogues help drive traffic to physical stores and boost online sales.

Weekly retail circulars from grocery stores or other local markets are also effective tools to increase consumer traffic to stores. With or without coupons, advertising price drops and time-bound sales through printed direct mail is far more cost-effective than other forms of media advertising and entices buyers to visit in-store or online and spend more.

Direct Mail Example 2

B2C direct mail marketing serves three main purposes: to market product or service availability, to communicate changes in price (usually a sale, for example, or a price increase after a certain date), or to secure added funding for specific Non-Profit organizations (such as raising funds for the upgrading of hospital equipment, or the building of a new wing). 

Direct mail for business to business (B2B) marketing

B2C direct mail is extremely common and likely the first thing you think of when you hear the term “direct mail marketing.” But direct mail for B2B is also very effective and equally as common.

There are two different purposes direct mail marketing can serve in B2B settings: demand generation and lead generation.

Business To Business communications are utilized on the Automotive front to keep dealers up to date on specific promotions that are occurring throughout the year. These types of communications are normally sent in conjunction with other printed materials that can be used to promote special campaigns, as well as provide useful information for dealers to use at the point of sale to upsell a customer on specific items or features (e.g. – Winterization packages, XM Satellite Radio, clear coating, etc.)

Companies using direct mail to generate demand are ultimately working to attain brand awareness. The goal of the direct mail campaign is to introduce potential leads to the company in an informative and non-threatening way.

On the other hand, companies looking to generate leads use direct mail to communicate a call to action (CTA) and entice their leads to buy their product or service.

B2C companies large and small utilise direct mail marketing. Something as simple as a letter (something the likes of even Google is known for) or something more creative and eye-catching, like these designs, make direct mail a great way to gain prospects’ attention.

Computer Companies such as Dell have been early adopters of the B2B communications to promote their latest hardware and software innovations with Retail Stores and Corporations. Personalizing the communication to show the benefits of the new hardware or software for that specific Retailer, have proven to make a huge increase in sales.

In a nutshell, the purposes and execution of both B2C and B2B direct mail marketing campaigns are basically the same. How they take shape varies from audience to audience.

Is direct mail marketing still effective in the days of digital marketing?

In the age of digital marketing, it’s not surprising why so many companies believe that direct mail no longer has a place in effective marketing strategies. Suffice to say, this is a false belief.

Let’s look at some hard facts.

Direct Mail Marketing ROI – Direct mail has a surprisingly high return on investment. In fact, according to research from Marketing Charts, a US-based marketing data company, direct mail had a median return on investment of 29% compared to social media’s ROI of 30%. That’s right – they’re basically neck and neck.

Direct Mail Response Rates – In a 2018 response rate study, the Data and Marketing Association reported that prospect direct mailing lists had a 4.9% response rate while in-house lists composed of leads who have already purchased had a 9% response rate. Compared to the 2.84% average click-through rate on a regular newsletter, that’s pretty spectacular.

Marketing Campaign Performance with Direct Mail – Earlier this year, Direct Marketing partnered with PFL to survey 600 businesses across the United States about their marketing efforts. A whopping 84% of respondents said direct mail compliments their other marketing channels and at least slightly improves the overall performance of their campaigns.

Direct Mail Competition – The world wide web is a vast place. Ranking high in search results can be difficult when there are literally thousands of web pages to compete against. Despite this, direct mail is becoming less common with many marketers because of the prevalence of online marketing. Statistics from 2019 suggest as much as a 7.9% drop in direct mail marketing. This means it’s easier to get prospects’ attention when sending physical advertisements through the postal system.

Attention to Direct Mail Campaigns by Consumers – These days, we see advertisements everywhere: the average person can see as many as 10,000 advertisements in a single day. In fact, we’re so used to seeing ads that we’re actually pretty desensitised to them. But that’s not the case with direct mail. Seeing as direct mail marketing has slowed down so significantly in recent years, we’re likely to give more attention to a piece of mail than we are, say, a digital advertisement hoping to accomplish the same thing. A study by the Canada Post found that direct mail holds our attention up to 118% longer than digital advertising.

So, is direct mail marketing dead in the age of digital media?

Definitely not – it’s still going strong and remains highly effective.

Developing a direct mail strategy

When it comes to planning a direct mail campaign, there are a few steps to developing a strategy that will work well for your brand. Here’s our 4-point checklist.

1. Research your target audience.

As with any marketing campaign, you can’t expect to be successful if you set out without knowing to whom you’re advertising.

Though you may be sending direct mail, spend some time online getting to know your “people.” Where do they shop? On which social media outlets do they spend the most time? Where do they tend to get information? To what kinds of advertisements or marketing messages are they most likely to respond?

It may also be beneficial to create a few different ideal client (or customer) avatars (ICAs) if you haven’t done so before. Be as specific as you can with these fictional fans of your company and then do a little digging to see how accurate you were in your character development.

2. Plan your messaging.

Know the message you wish to relay and the desired outcome from your Direct Marketing Campaign. Many companies fall into the trap of having a vague communication by trying to encompass too much into a single communication, that leaves the recipient confused, or not responding in the desired way.

It is important to determine the message you wish to convey and to then design your Direct Mail Marketing campaign to reach your customer/donor, and to leave them with the desire to act/respond to the communication received.

It may surprise you to know that most successful campaigns encompas test communications that utilize slightly different messaging/creative within a single campaign. This is done by taking a portion of your donor or acquisition base data from a similar demographic, and sending them a different package that will allow for tracking what package drove the best response, and can help in future communications.

Just because something worked historically does not mean it will work again, thus the importance of continually testing to ensure that your communications remain fresh and relevant to your customers/donors.

Direct Mail Example

Like all successful marketing plans, direct mail strategies take time to plan and execute. If you’re planning around a specific date or holiday, ensure you’re giving yourself more than enough time to get everything signed, sealed, and delivered.

3. Get addresses responsibly.

When it comes to direct mail marketing, you have a couple of options. You can mail directly to addresses you’ve accumulated, rented, or purchased, send mail to a specific address through Postal Code Targeting (PCT – an addressed piece to a household only), or you can send unaddressed mail to a targeted area (like a single or a few postal codes).

Either way, ensure you’re following federal and local laws that dictate how you may go about procuring address lists for direct mail marketing.

The most obvious option is to use a list you’ve compiled with the permission of your business leads. More simply, use addresses that have been provided to you by your previous customers or clients.

While this is a great option for a retargeting campaign or with specific CTAs to previous customers, it’s not a logical option when you’re hoping to build brand awareness and generate demand.

Therefore, the second option is to rent or purchase prospect lists from companies specialising in compiling and managing such lists. Canada Post is a great place to start your research.

4. Set a budget & timeline.

Again, this is a bit of a no-brainer. Every marketing campaign you execute should have a concrete budget and specific goals set out.

Like all successful marketing plans, direct mail strategies take time to plan and execute. If you’re planning around a specific date or holiday, ensure you’re giving yourself more than enough time to get everything signed, sealed, and delivered.

Knowing how much money you’re willing and able to spend will determine the size of your mailing list. This number, in turn, will help you understand your cost per lead (CPL – also called cost per acquisition) after you’ve run your campaign, giving you later insight into how best to proceed with your next marketing effort.

Most important when planning your timeline is knowing when you would like your message to be in homes. Your direct mail provider can then help you create a reasonable marketing schedule.

Even if you’re not operating with a specific special day in mind, direct mail marketing is not a task that can be done without careful consideration. Set aside a few weeks to make the most of your campaign and budget.

The 5 best direct mail companies in Canada

Not all direct mail companies are created equal. If you’re ready to start pursuing a new (old) way of marketing to your target audience, here are 5 reputable, reliable names in the industry.

Commerce Press Inc.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our own name in this list. We at Commerce Press believe in people first. Mike Elmaleh, our founder, opened a small print shop in 1972 that has grown into a large team of dedicated sales, design, and production experts. We know direct mail marketing like the back of our hands and have worked with hundreds of clients throughout the greater Toronto area for more than 45 years mailing campaigns throughout Canada, the United States, and internationally.

Contact Printing and Mailing Ltd.

Contact Printing and Mailing Ltd. boasts more than 30 years experience in the direct mail industry. Contact Printing has partnered with some big names in the greater Vancouver area and is well respected along the west coast.

Print Fast

Print Fast and its Imprint Fast promotional product printing branch provide businesses of all sizes great options for promoting their brands. Located in Scarborough, Ontario, Print Fast offers unaddressed mail services (neighbourhood mail).

DRMG

Direct Response Media Group (DRMG) is an all-around digital and direct mail marketing company. They specialise in helping their customers reach their target audiences through combined print and digital campaigns.

Direct Worx

Located in Hamilton, Ontario, Direct Worx is an official Canada Post partner with more than 20 years direct mail experience. They specialise in mailing campaigns throughout greater Canada and the United States.

Direct mail is a powerful and arguably underused marketing tool. It’s cost effective, has a great return on investment, and holds the attention of its target recipients far longer than digital marketing. The next time you begin planning a marketing campaign for your business, consider utilising direct mail as part of your strategy.