Reaching target audiences is crucial for marketers, and to effectively do so, many marketing strategists are utilizing direct mail. Contrary to what some believe, direct mail is not dead, and companies of different sizes are leveraging direct mail to earn a higher response rate. Why? Because it works. If you’re struggling with direct mail, here’s a look at how to use it for success, with a wide variety of ideas for making your direct mail impress your audiences and communicate your message effectively.

Direct Mail Ideas

1. Postcards

Postcards have become more and more popular over the years. People read mail differently these days. They want to see fewer words, and with a postcard being smaller, faster and easier to read, customers are more likely to respond to a prompt or offer. With postcards on the rise, many industries are doing away with using envelopes, with a 15% drop across all industries on average. Postcards get a response rate of 4.25%, more than the 3.5% of direct mail in letter-sized envelopes. Rejuvenation’s “Friends and Family Promotion Postcard” of attention-grabbing size and aspirational imagery, along with brief but thorough brand information, is an effective postcard.
Related: How Much Does Direct Mail Cost?

2. Concise Copy

Less is more when dealing with direct mail. Over the past two decades, direct mail copy has shortened by 62%. Take Amazon, for example – the word count in letters mailed to Prime members (serving as a reminder that they’re entitled to watch Prime Video) has decreased significantly since 2014. The sentences are shorter, paragraphs are smaller, and there are fewer bullet points. Concise copy is great for marketing things like restaurants, and fewer words can grab attention more easily.

3. Digital Interactivity

Digitally interactive direct mail is more prevalent than you might think. It creates a way for customers to respond to a call-to-action through a digital medium. Brand interaction is crucial for engaging with a target audience and bolstering online marketing efforts. Digital channels may include social media platforms or company websites. Top industries leveraging digital elements include retail, non-profit and financial services. Here’s a look at how Progressive and Papa John’s include digital elements in their direct mail.

digital interactivity example

4. Sustainability

Direct mail emphasizing a sustainability stance may seem a bit out there, which it might be for some businesses - but it could be right for yours. With a growth in eco-friendly ads over the years, sustainability messaging is becoming more prevalent. It’s a way for companies to connect with customers, show that they care about environmental issues that affect them and show that they are a part of the solution. From communicating to customers about how products are created (cruelty-free for example), to reminding them that they should recycle the mail itself after they are done with it, brands can make their sustainability message simple. See an example below of a piece of mail sent by Enviro-Safe with an eco-friendly prompt.

sustainability example

5. COVID-19 Messaging

The human and economic toll brought on by COVID-19 is significant, and messaging related to the pandemic is now common. Marketers are doing some adaptation of their own by adding COVID-related messages into their campaigns and emphasizing their offerings, such as contactless delivery or contactless payment. Phrases such as “safety first,” “stay safe” and “social distance” are often included in COVID-19 direct mail. These Bright Now Dental pieces have COVID-19 messages included in them, for example.

covid messaging

6. QR Codes

qrAccording to a Forbes report, QR code usage is increasing: 34% of US smartphone users have scanned a QR code, along with 46% of tablet owners. They are used to provide high-tech and contactless information, and can be used in print ads, signage, and restaurant menus. Check out Pandora’s use of a QR code that allows customers to connect their direct mail piece with a digital experience.

7. Voice Activated Call-to-Action/VACTA

Voice Activated Call-to-Action (VACTA) direct mail is fresh tech that makes it possible for marketers to connect their mail piece to a smart speaker interaction. By including an audible experience, marketers elevate their mail campaigns by allowing the recipient to request a text to complete the transaction. In the example below, Steakhouse customers have a chance to win a $25 gift card, and if they have the matching symbols after a scratch-off, they could enter a particular code, call in, or tell Amazon Alexa or Google Voice, “Launch Direct Mail.”


personalized example

8. Personalized Mail

More and more, customers crave experiences and connection from their ads. Personalization in direct mail is crucial during this pandemic, when so many feel disconnected because of isolation and lockdowns. Adding a personal touch to your direct mail can reconnect and build customer relationships. Mail that is humanized has the potential to excite. Adding the prospect’s name in the greeting line is effective for making a connection.
Related: How to Get Extremely Targeted With Your Direct Mail

9. Highlight Benefits

Rather than emphasizing the features of a product or service, focus on its benefits and prhighlight exampleesent that in your direct mail. Consumers want to know how you can solve their problems, so focus on marketing solutions in the form of benefits. In 2020, HelloFresh, a start-up meal kit provider, used one panel of a self-mailer to highlight 3 benefits of the service they provide.

10. Direct Mail Product Sample

This is a highly effective way to build awareness around a brand and boost sales. If recipients are happy with the sample, they’ll be more inclined to purchase the product or service and recommend it to others. Consider the self-mailer by Function of Beauty that contains cologne scent strips below as an mail example

11. Powerful Headline

headline exampleDirect mail that has a powerful headline can make a great first impression and grab the reader’s attention. It’s the opening line that sets the tone for the rest of the pitch and can prompt the reader to learn more. Don’t put the game-changing question or statement in the middle of a paragraph (which the reader may skip over). Put it where it will be seen effortlessly. Here’s a great example by BJ’s Wholesale Club from July 2020.

12. Make a Strong Welcoming Message

Welcoming ExampleUse your direct mail to welcome new customers or subscribers to the brand or company. Keep the message simple while conveying enthusiasm and respectful professionalism. Make the introductory message bold and place it where it can’t be missed. Here’s a good example of a direct mail that Asurion mailed to their Verizon customers.
Related: How to Design for Direct Mail Print Pieces

13. Freebies

The word “free” can both give a good impression of your brand and also delight prospects. Things like decals, stickers, bookmarks, and magnets, that contain information about a product or service, display your brand, or promote something like a free trial of service, can all be effective freebies. In this example, Earth Hour sent out yellow candles in a box to encourage businesses to switch off their lights.

Freebie Example

14. Tap Into Emotions

Emotional Example

Emotional marketing using direct mail can be highly motivational and helps with customers’ subconscious decision-making. Make an effort to establish a connection between emotional needs and the solution you offer. The Wilderness Society’s direct mail example below plays on anger to get their target audience's attention.

Now It’s Your Choice

Direct mail is an effective tool that you can use to promote customer engagement and get results. The different direct mail options available make it possible to explore multiple ways of reaching customers and achieving marketing campaign and sales goals. It’s up to you to decide which is best for your brand and campaign objective, but don’t think you’re in this alone. Ironmark’s experts know the best ways to use direct mail and we’re here to help you get your campaign to all the right people.


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Written by Chris McCready

Chris McCready directs strategy and implementation for Ironmark’s digital marketing clients. Her 15 years of experience within a variety of agencies across the country has provided a wealth of knowledge and expertise within market research, branding, digital strategy, social media, marketing automation and web development. Under her direction, strategic marketing plans for Ironmark clients result in increased brand awareness, visibility, lead generation and revenue.

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