We live in a time of digital clutter, and since many marketers have migrated to email and online advertising, mail is now a rarer delight to receive. Direct mail pays off, especially now. The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) reports that letter-sized mailers generated average ROIs as high as 112% in 2021. Direct mail is highly effective:

  • Almost half of consumers read the direct mail they receive.
  • Customers who receive a direct mail piece, on average, spend about 30% more than those who didn't.
  • Almost 75% of consumers say they prefer direct mail to other forms of advertising because they can read it whenever they want to.
  • About 60% of consumers say they enjoy receiving direct mail pieces about new products.

Source: Small Biz Genius

When planning direct mail for your business, there are a number of important factors to consider before beginning. 

  1. What is Direct Mail Exactly?
  2. What are the Different Formats of Printed Marketing Collateral?
  3. What Do You Need to Start a Direct Mail Campaign?
  4. How Much Does Direct Mail Cost?
  5. Did Your Campaign Work?

What is Direct Mail Exactly?

While it comes in many formats, direct mail is a physical piece of mail or a package that's sent “directly” to prospective customers to generate sales. Direct mail is especially effective when paired with other advertising to create multiple touchpoints in a campaign and can even point customers online with a QR code or URL.

What are the Different Formats of Printed Marketing Collateral? 

There are as many marketing mail formats as you can imagine. Here are some of the most popular formats to get your creative juices flowing. You can also see 14 Direct Mail Ideas Your Boss Will Love for inspiration:

  • Self-mailers
  • Letter with envelope
  • Catalogs
  • Dimensional Pieces or Packages

Self Mailers

Since addresses can be printed directly onto postcards, coupons, brochures, or more, you’ll skip the outer envelope cost and also save on postage. These are highly cost-effective and especially enticing since consumers can see the offer without opening them. 

Here are some of the common sizes for self-mailers:

  • Postcards: 4” x 6”, 5” x 7”, 8 1/2” x 5 1/2”, 6” x 9”, 6” x 11”
  • Self Mailer: Printed on 8 1/2” x  11”, 8.5” x 14”, 11” x 17” folded to a smaller size and tabbed before addressing.

Letter with Envelope

These formats provide more space than a postcard would, and you’ll have double the room to tell your story. Getting creative with the outer envelope can attract a prospect’s attention. Teasing an offer inside will also make it more effective.

Here are some of the common sizes for letters with envelopes: 

  • At least 5” long and 3 1/2” high
  • Those larger than the maximum of 6 1/8” x 11 ½” are called “flat” and cannot be bigger than 12” x 15.” 
    • The “flat” distinction also significantly increases the postage rate.


Catalogs work. Over 77% of catalog recipients visit a retail store or website because they viewed the brand’s catalog. In fact, a full 84% of consumers say they genuinely enjoy receiving unexpected catalogs from stores they’ve visited. This longer format can advertise a range of products or services and tell a fuller brand story. They can also include personalized coupons or inserts with previous orders to entice easy ordering. Catalogs are especially good as inspiration books and likely to have a longer shelf-life than most vehicles. While postage costs are higher, catalogs generate sales because you can target them so well and they are such compelling pieces.

The most common sizes for catalogs are 8.5” x 11” and 6” x 9.” They’re also available in other sizes.

Dimensional Pieces or Packages 

Looking to add more flair to your packaging? Take inspiration from BarkBox and introduce dimensional pieces of packaging to your marketing collateral. A dimensional approach to your packaging design will give that needed “WOW!” factor to resonate with your customer base. 

What Do You Need to Start a Direct Mail Campaign?

To optimize your direct mail for conversions, follow these steps:

  1. Define Your Target Audience: Know who you want to target. You can use: 
    1. Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM): Most cost-effective. This USPS service reaches every address on a carrier route without name or address.
    2. Saturation Mailing (or residential mailing): This USPS service also reaches every address on a carrier route, but includes a name and address for each. The sender also receives general demographic information about the route, including the average age, annual household income, number of children, and more.
    3. Targeted mailing: The most expensive option. With a rented or purchased list, you can target businesses or consumers by geography, demographics, and psychographics, like zip code, car type, new parents, pre-moves, fishing aficionados, and many other groups. You can also build your own list by collecting customer and prospect names through contests online or in-store, gated pages on your website requiring an email address or other identifier to access information, or by asking for that information at checkout. We can’t overemphasize the importance of a clean and accurate list so make sure it’s correct. Then, using variable data printing, you can print pieces with specific names, addresses, messages, codes, and more.
  2. Creative: Of course the right message is critical. Make sure that your creative is on brand so that it ties in with your overall campaign. Make sure it’s clear, professional, and well-designed. Check (and double-check) for typos and other errors. 
  3. Quantity: There’s a large price break between 500 postcards for $0.85 per piece and 5,000 for only $0.38 per piece. We recommend starting with at least 5,000 pieces depending on your goals. 
  4. Offer: Direct mail works best with a call-to-action. Whether it's “call for a free quote” or to “use this code for 25% off,” this offer will prompt the consumer to take action. 
  5. Measurement: You can hone your approach to direct mail if you’re able to measure its effectiveness. Use a unique code for each piece so you can track it.  

Related: How to Set Up Your Direct Mail Piece for Mailing

How Much Does Direct Mail Cost?

If you’re mailing materials, the costs will vary, but here’s a marketing mail ballpark with which you can work: 

  • Mailing list
  • Creative and design
  • Printing
  • Envelopes, Labels, Mailing, and Fulfillment

Mailing List

If you have a customer list, that’s zero dollars. If you rent or purchase a list, you can pay anywhere up to $0.30 per record, depending on the number of records, the cleanliness of the data, and the number of times you’ll use the list. Usually, you’ll pay around $1,500 dollars.

Creative and Design

This cost can vary widely. You can design in-house (see How to Design for Direct Mail Pieces) if you have the capability. If you’re using an agency, it will cost between $75-$125 per hour for high quality designers and writers. An agency can bundle their services for savings and ensure a professional, effective piece. A 12-page brochure may be about 1-1.5 hours per page, or $900-$3,000.


Since there are so many variables for printing, it’s difficult to nail down exact costs. The type and quality of the paper, the paper size, page count, finishing, and binding all affect the final cost, but you can expect to pay around $.10-$2.00 per piece for print production. If you choose house stock or economy paper that can keep costs lower.

Envelopes, Labels, Mailing, and Fulfillment

Here’s where a print partner can help you save the most money. Mailing a standard postcard printed at bulk can cost as low as $.10 or as much as $2.00 per piece. Based on the distribution, size, and weight of your piece these costs vary too. The typical cost of mailing 5,000 pieces is from $1,500 to $3,000, depending on the type of mailers you are sending out. 

Open the USPS Business Price Calculator for exact rates.

Did Your Campaign Work?

The beauty of printed marketing collateral is that responses are pretty fast. Usually you’ll see a lift within one or two weeks, or even within days. If you don’t see a lift, it can be hard to pinpoint if it was the creative, the offer, or the list that didn’t work. To find out, you can reach out to the target audience for feedback. You can also consider a smaller pilot mailing first to test each.

Direct Mail mail really works. We’ve seen firsthand how it has built serious business growth, and we’re happy to help you build yours. Ironmark is here for all of your direct mail needs. We can help you succeed from strategy to design to fulfillment, or any combination thereof. Ready to get your ROI higher?

Contact Us

Written by Scott Kravitz

As a graduate of RIT University and with over 25 years of experience, Scott Kravitz has been bringing his wealth of print knowledge to Ironmark since 2019. Kravitz manages Ironmark's sales representatives and provides alignment and communication between sales, marketing, clients, and production. With his charismatic personality and effective management skills, Kravitz leads strategic partnerships and increasing sales with new, emerging, and enterprise clients for Ironmark.

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