High Response Rate Direct Mail

Everyone wants to know — what’s the secret to generating a high response rate from a direct mail campaign? What can I do to make sure my direct mail piece gets noticed?

Unfortunately, there is no “one” thing that will make your campaign more effective than another. It’s a combination of things that make direct mail campaigns successful.

Direct mail can be a powerful marketing tool, but poorly developed direct marketing campaigns inhibit marketers from realizing high open and response rates. Let’s review the fundamentals of a direct marketing campaign that will directly impact the success rate, open rate and response rate of your marketing efforts.

There are 5 key fundamentals of building a direct mail campaign that can generate high response rates regardless of industry:

  1. The mailing database – start from the ground up.
  2. The purpose- why are you sending this direct mail piece?
  3. The message – the most important component.
  4. The size – standing out from the crowd.
  5. The design – create visual appeal.


One of the most important factors of creating a direct marketing campaign is having a clean and target mailing list. You can create the most innovative and beautiful direct marketing campaign, but if it gets sent to the wrong recipients, your message will fall by the wayside.

Here are a few helpful hints on how to prepare your mailing database:

  1. Cross-check your list to remove any duplicates. You don’t want to annoy your customer by sending the same direct mail piece twice!
  2. Run your list through the Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS). This system formats your addresses to the standard postal requirements and confirms that the address still exists and can be delivered to.
  3. Update your list through the National Change of Address (NCOA) database. This will allow you to update your list with new addresses for the names of individuals or businesses that have moved.

Once you have your mailing list scrubbed and ready, it’s time to segment your list into your target audiences. Segmenting allows you to develop direct marketing campaigns that are specific to a group’s needs or wants. You may have a master mailing list that is designated for all brand awareness campaigns, but you should also have smaller lists that have targeted messaging appealing to different groups within your customer database. Here are some ways you can segment your mailing list into more targeted audiences:

  1. Demographic segmentation- segment your list by gender, age, ethnicity, and income.
  2. Psychographic (Lifestyle) segmentation- segment your list by AIOs (activity, interest, opinion), attitudes, values or behavior.
  3. Geographic segmentation- segment your list by state, region, city, neighborhood or postal codes.
  4. Benefits segmentation- segment your list by the benefits or perceived benefits sought by a consumer.

Don’t have a mailing list?

You may be just starting out and don’t have a mailing list yet for your direct marketing campaign. Don’t worry; there are some actions you can take to start building your list today.

  1. Create your list using in-house customer information. If you already have customers that you are working with, those are the names and addresses you should be adding to your mailing database.
  2. Create an opt-in on your website. Another great way to build your list in-house is to collect names and addresses from an opt-in form on your website.
  3. Rent or purchase a list. There are many companies in the market that you can rent or purchase a mailing list from. You will need to look into purchasing options and be prepared to provide a list required characteristics (female, aged 55-65, average income of 35-65,000/annually) that will help the company assemble a list that is right for your organization.


In addition to have a clean and verified mailing list, you must also have a clear, definitive purpose in mind when sending out the mail piece. The old days of “spray and pray” direct mail are gone. Your customers and prospects are continually inundated with sales messaging from all angles. Having a clear understanding of the purpose of your mailer will help you to fine tune the other elements of your campaign.

Direct mail is about brand awareness. Keeping your brand top of mind while promoting a particular message, offer or product that you want your customers and prospects to be aware of. Defining the purpose of your direct mail piece will help you to refine your message and keep your direct mail piece relevant in the customer’s mind.

Need help defining your direct mail purpose?

Try these:

  1. To acquire new customers
  2. To reward existing customers
  3. To cross-sell products
  4. To convert leads


Direct mail is all about messaging and appealing to your audience. Sure, a nice design would attract attention, but that’s where the benefits of colors and pretty pictures end. It’s the messaging of your piece that drives response, creates the connection and ultimately affects your customer’s decision to take action.

The goal for your direct mail piece is to keep the message short and simple. Try to keep 75-80% of your words to 5 characters or less, limit your sentences to be one-and-a-half lines or less, and tighten your paragraphs to rarely exceed 6 lines. This will help you to simplify your copy and tighten up your message to convey exactly what you want your audience to know or understand without all the fluff and marketing speak.

Looking for ways drive action through your copy?

There are two ways to really engage your audience through direct mail.

The first is to capture their attention from the start through effective teaser lines and the second is to appeal to their emotions. We’ve created two infographics that can help you do both! Check them out.

Writing Effective Cross-Channel Teasers

Use Direct Mail to Generate the Emotional Response


You’ve experienced it yourself. Going to your mailbox and pulling out a handful of flyers, promos, postcards, etc. Do you ever look at all of them? Which ones grab your attention and make you want to respond?

According to the USPS Household Diary Study, 54.5% of U.S. households looked at, or set aside for reading, their letter-sized envelope direct mail pieces. For mail pieces larger than letter-size, 67.2% did the same (2012). So size does matter for direct mail pieces and affects the read/open rate. But what size is right for your group?

When trying to determine the right size of the direct mail piece for your audience, take a few of these statistics into consideration:

  1. Letter-sized mailings for B-2-C out-performed B-2-B mailings 4.01% response rate compared with a 3.12% response rate.
  2. Letter-sized direct mail has a 3.40% response rate for a house list (or your internal client list) and a 1.28% response rate for a general public or prospect list.
  3. Oversized direct mail has a 3.95% response rate for a house list and a 1.44% response rate for a general public or prospect list.
  4. Postcards have a 2.47% response rate for a house list and a 1.12% response rate for a general public or prospect list.
  5. Catalogues have a 4.26% response rate of for a house list and a .94% response rate for a general public or prospect list.

The key to choosing the right size for your direct mail piece is to test your own database. Design two mailers and divide your list into group A and B. Remember to only change one variable – such as size, teaser line, call-to-action, response mechanism – to get a better understanding of which one contributed most to the improved response rate.

Looking for more insight or deeper research on how direct mail design affects OR (open rate) and KR (keeping rate). Check out this research report.


The format of your direct mail piece can play a big role in the quantity of information you send and the type of message that you deliver. Some examples of a few common direct mail formats are:

  1. Full Dress Package- typically created to fit a standard letter-sized envelope and includes 6 components: envelope, letter, lift letter, brochure, reply envelope and reply card. Companies typically use this type of direct mail for memberships, subscriptions, or registrations.
  2. Folded Self Mailers – requires no envelope, but must include a mailing panel and adhere to the USPS machine processing standards. Companies typically use this type of direct mail for sale coupons, contests, general marketing and brand awareness, and promotions.
  3. Catalogues – a multi-page bound USPS flat with a max weight of 15 lbs. Companies typically use this type of direct mail for presenting product lines, a course of listings or a conference line up.
  4. Postcards and Cards – single sheet mail pieces that follow the USPS guidelines for size and thickness. Must contain a mailing panel and adhere to postcard USPS guidelines to receive the postcard-mailing rate. Companies typically use this type of direct mail for announcements, time-sensitive promotions, change of address notifications, and prospecting campaigns.
  5. Envelope mailers – standard or custom sized envelops containing a letter or sensitive information. Companies typically use this type of direct mail for rewards programs, bills, invoices, or a flat bulky mailer (a mailer containing a light weight promotional item like a magnet or luggage tag).
  6. Booklets and Bookalogs – letter-sized bound materials formatted to meet the USPS-approved booklet format

After you select the type of mailer, it’s time to decide on the type and weight of paper your piece is to be printed on. The choice of paper you decide to print your direct mail can affect open or response rates, but it will most definitely impact the condition in which your direct mail reaches your recipient.

Direct mail is all about handling, and the numerous hands and machines that touch your piece affect the quality of the piece before it even reaches its destination. So choose a paper that will stand up to the wear. Heavier stocks are perfect for self-mailers and postcards while lighter stocks will work best in an envelope or other creative packaging. The paper you choose will largely depend on the type of piece you are designing and the method in which you are mailing it. According to Deliver Magazine, the four key paper qualities to consider for your direct mail piece are:

  1. Finish – the paper’s surface or texture. This can greatly affect the look of the finish printed piece.
  2. Weight – the paper’s thickness. This has an impact on the look of the finished piece, the direct mail piece’s postage, the printing method (digital or offset) and the ability of the direct mail piece to run through post office mailing equipment.
  3. Opacity – how much printing with show through the paper.
  4. Brightness – the paper’s ability to reflect blue light, affecting the paper’s readability

Remember, the paperweight and format of your direct mail piece can affect postage pricing. Call us today if you have any questions on your direct mail design, we would be happy to help!

It’s time to put your knowledge to the test. Develop your own direct marketing campaign today with our handy Direct Mail Marketing Playbook. We provide the framework, you provide the information, and together we can create direct marketing campaigns that will inspire, enrich and engage your audience.

Want to learn more about response rates and how you can use direct mail in your marketing? Watch our ACT NOW! Webinar-On-Demand to get the latest tips and tricks from Daniel Dejan of Sappi Fine Papers and Trish Witkowski of FoldFactory.com on getting the most from your direct mail campaigns.