Direct Mail Formats For Maximum Impact

Over the years I’ve learned how well a direct mail program performs depends on the chemistry of three elements-format, offer, and list-and whether or not you have designed the program with enough frequency and follow-up triggers built in.

In this article, I am going to focus on format.

Specifically, when it is best to send a postcard or a letter format, and when you should use a more unique delivery method, such as US Priority Mail or FedEx. Below are some key tips for each format to help you create a successful direct mail campaign:

Postcards. This relatively inexpensive direct mail format is best used when your program goals are to a) build brand awareness, b) extend a transactional offer (i.e. discount, free gift), or c) drive prospects to your web site for further qualification (to download an article, etc.). Due to very specific postal guidelines, space is limited so your creative and copy must be compelling and brief. Postage rates can be as low as .23/unit, so it is wisest to choose postcards when targeting a larger, less qualified prospect pool.

Standard postcard dimensions are as follows: 4.25″ x 6″, 6″ x 8.5″, and 6″ x 11″. When planning your mailing, keep in mind that 4.25″ x 6″ is the largest size that still falls within first class postcard postage rates, and all other sizes will be charged at higher postal rates.

#10-sized Letters. Letter mailers are best suited to marketing a) more complicated offers, b) long-term commitments (subscriptions, memberships), c) personal products, and d) upscale products or audiences. In fact they should be mostly used when qualification has already occurred and only carefully used on cold lists (for example, they have already attended a seminar or webinar of yours, downloaded something from your website, etc.). To improve your open rates, write out addresses by hand. While more time-consuming to complete, hand written addresses create a more personal connection with your contact and pull a nearly 100% open rate.

Once opened, your letter has 2 to 4 seconds to grab the recipient’s attention. So tell them why you are contacting them and how you can help them in the first few sentences of your letter-you won’t get another opportunity. Remember, most people are slow readers, so once you have captured their interest break your copy up into small, easy-to-digest paragraphs and use 12 point type or larger. Never end a page with a period, unless you want your reader to stop reading at that point. Finally, always include some value-added content with your letter (i.e. case studies, articles, etc.).

US Priority Mail or FedEx Packages. These campaigns can be very effective, but like the #10-sized letter, only when you have already built awareness with the recipient through prior marketing programs. Remember opting to send direct mail pieces with US Priority Mail or FedEx (or a similar service) ensures a higher open rate, but can cost upwards of 3 to 4 dollars per unit. Make sure it is worth the cost by targeting only your most qualified prospects for these types of mailings. Then create a compelling enclosure-one that clearly matches your offer to your audience and your key marketing objective.

Note that you don’t have to send a free gift or odd-sized enclosure to justify this expense. Many companies will simply send their brochure and a handwritten note via FedEx to ensure their hottest prospects sit up and take notice just one more time.

Direct mail will always be one of the most compelling ways to prospect, and when done strategically, pulls high open rates and generates excellent leads.

How to Do Direct Mail Part 3: The Letter


You’ve got your list assembled, and you know what you’re going to offer them.

Now what?

Now you write the letter.

Don’t worry. This won’t be too bad, even if you’re not a writer – even if you hate writing.

This is going to be the start of your first sentence:

“I’m writing to you today to… “

Tell them why you’re writing to them. Do you have a great offer for them? Tell them. Don’t waste time. Come out with it. Why are you writing to them?

Now, spend a few sentences telling them why they should care. Why is your sale worth their time? Is it a once-a-year sale? A going-out-of-business sale?

Are you giving them free access to your newsletter? Why are they going to want to read it?

If you can’t come up with reasons for them to care, you should go back to the drawing board and find a new offer.

So. You’ve told them why you’re writing. You’ve told them what’s in it for them.

Now tell them what you want from them.

Do you want them to stop into your store? Give you a call? Sign up on your website? Whatever it is, tell them clearly what you want them to do:

“Don’t wait! Call me today at (xxx) xxx-xxxx)”

“Mark your calendar. Come to our store on Saturday, March X for huge savings on… “

“Visit us online at ww.widget.whatever and sign up for our newsletter today.”

Whatever you want them to do, lay out as clearly and specifically as you can the steps they should follow.

Don’t say “Call me for an appointment.”

Instead say: “Call me at (XXX) XXX-XXXX today to schedule a free consultation.”

The last thing you want is your reader trying to figure out how to do what it is you want them to do. If they’re supposed to call you, make sure you give them the number they should use, right there in the letter.

If you want them to stop by your office or store, give them the address, (and any helpful landmarks that might help them more easily locate you.)

Now thank them for their time, and end your letter.

There’s only one step left:

The P.S.

“Do I have to have a P.S.?”

Yes, your letter needs a P.S. Why?

Research has shown that many people read the P.S. of a letter first, to see if it’s worth their time. Research has also shown that some people only read the P.S. If you don’t have one, you’re not going to reach them.

So what do you put in the P.S.?

You repeat your offer.

“P.S. Find out how much money I can save you! Call me today for your free consultation! (XXX) XXX-XXXX.”

That’s pretty much it. You’ve now got all the essential parts of your letter written.

Don’t worry about it being too long or too short. Your letter should be as long as it needs to be. Do not cut pieces just to fit it on a single page!

One last thing:

Make sure to have your contact information easily visible on the letter!

Believe it or not, I’ve seen mailings that encouraged customers to come to a store, without ever giving the address! I’ve seen letters go out that say “Call me today!” and then forget to include the phone number…

What a waste.

Don’t be like that. Make it a habit to have your contact info on every communication you send to your customers.

How to Do Direct Mail for Complete Beginners

At the end of this article you will know:

1) What kind of mailing you’re going to do.

2) Who you’re mailing to.

Lets get started!

The first thing you should do is figure out why you’re considering a mailing in the first place. It takes time and money to mail a bunch of letters. What are you hoping to get in return?

Decide what you want to get out of direct mail.

Why are you doing this mailing? Are you looking to advertise a sale, and bring people into your store? Are you looking to sell something directly? Do you want people to call you, or set up an appointment?

(FYI, “checking in” or “introducing yourself” is not an objective. It is a waste of money.)

It’s important to understand what you’re hoping to accomplish, because it affects who you mail to, what offer you’re going to make, and how you’re going to make it.

This isn’t a time consuming step, but it’s an important one.

With your objective in mind, it’s time to move onto step 2: Assembling your list.

Put together your list.

Your list should include only those people relevant to your objective.

Are you trying to get new customers into the store? Then do NOT mail to existing ones! Do you have a special offer for long time customers? Then mail it only to them.

Do you have a special product or service you want to offer, but not all your clients or customers can afford? Mail only to the ones who can afford it.

A small, carefully target list will out perform a catch-all. Why send letters to people who aren’t interested, and couldn’t afford it even if they were? That just wastes the cost of printing and mailing.

Having a targeted list allows you talk to your customers in a very personal way. You aren’t talking to everyone. You’re talking specifically to the people who would want what you’re selling. You can make more compelling selling points.

How do you put together a list?

First, take a look at the contact info for your customers and clients. You have that right? If not, you need to start getting it!

Ask your customers for their mailing address. Sign them up for your newsletter. Have a contest with space for their contact info on the entry form.

Get creative, but get those addresses!

Or maybe you want to bring new customers in the door? In that case, rent a list.

There are a number of list broker services available. And if you’d rather have someone do the work for you, there are a number of direct mail services around that will help you assemble the right list.

So far so good. You now should know what your mailing goal is, and have a list of who you’re mailing to.

Next time we’ll cover what to tell them…