A Guide to Direct Mail Targeting

a woman reading mail

A direct mail campaign can be an effective way to reach out to your customers and keep them engaged. It can also be a smart strategy to reach out to potential new customers, getting them to make a first purchase, as well as increasing brand awareness.

Yes, a number of goals can be achieved with a well-run direct mail campaign, but to make your campaign effective, you have to start by asking yourself a question—who should I be sending these mailers to? Does it even matter, or is it just a numbers game?

Direct mail targeting matters—a lot. Targeted direct mail will lead to a higher success rate for your campaign than if you take a scattershot approach to your mailing. But how does direct mail targeting work? This guide will go over some of the steps you can take to make sure your direct mail campaign ends up in the hands of the right people so it can have a strong impact.

Step 1: Target The Right Customers (New or Tried-and-True)

Who wants to buy what you’re selling? It’s one of the most basic questions in business, and answering it is the first step to creating targeted direct mail. 

You may be tempted to just send your mailing to as many people as possible and hope that someone is interested in your products or services. However, since there are costs associated with direct mailing, this broad approach will prove not to be cost-effective. 

So, how do you determine your target customers?

Once you’ve worked on your targeted marketing, you can start on your design and learn how to write direct mail copy that resonates with your target audience. But before you start thinking about what your mailer looks like, let’s go more in-depth as to the type of targeting that may be best for your direct mail campaign.

Step 2: Understand Your Campaign Types

Your direct mail targeting will vary depending on what your marketing campaign’s goal is. Are you trying to reach your loyal customers to show your appreciation? Or are you hoping to introduce your brand to new customers? Are you branching out into a new neighborhood and trying to expand your local visibility? 

Let’s look at some of the different types of direct mail targeting you may want to use based on your digital marketing aspirations:

Lookalike Modeling

Lookalike modeling is a key tool if you’re trying to build your brand’s reach and already have an active customer base. To use lookalike modeling, you’ll need two pieces of information:

  1. Seed list – This is typically a file of your existing customers - those that are already engaged with your brand and bought into your product. Information about these consumers will be used to create the model that generates your prospect targeting list.
  2. Segment size – This is the size of the audience that you will be reaching out to. The larger your segment size, the more reach you may have, but the less likely everyone will be quite as well-targeted.

Once you have those pieces of information, lookalike modeling will ensure your mailing list is full of people who “look like” your seed set. There are different attributes used in lookalike modeling, but the general idea is that you’re taking people who you already know are interested in your product and extrapolating that information to try and reach people who look & shop similarly but haven’t yet engaged with your brand. With lookalike modeling, you can also further filter your audiences by:

Utilizing this approach will help you to target your highest value prospects that have the biggest likelihood of converting. 

Saturation mailing

If you’ve ever gotten an advertisement in the mail addressed to “current resident,” you’ve likely been the recipient of direct mail advertising through saturation mailing. This targets specific demographics or areas and sends the appropriate individuals your mailer. Some of the benefits of direct mail marketing through this approach include:

Overall, saturation mailing is an effective method to make sure your mail lands in the hands of those that want to see it. When learning  how to run a direct mail campaign, consider saturation mailing and analyze the results to see if it’s the best method for your business.


Retargeting is a critical strategy to turn your most high intent visitors into converting customers. This is especially important if you experience a lot of cart abandonment. 

Expanding your retargeting efforts to direct mail from other channels is more impactful since it allows your customers to physically interact with your brand through the mailer. So how do you approach abandoned cart retargeting through direct mail? There are many ways you could do this, we recommend the following: 

Retention Mailing

Finding new customers is always important, but don’t neglect the ones you already have. Retention mailings are a great way to stay engaged or re-engage with your existing customer base to make sure you’re creating long-term relationships.

You can break up your retention mailers into many different categories depending on what type of engagement you’re after. Some basic groups you may target in retention mailers are:

Step 3: Segmenting

Now that you know some of the different types of campaigns you may be doing, how do you break up your target audience? There are a few different techniques that can help you segment your audience and make sure your targeted direct mail gets to the right people. Remember, multiple techniques can be used for any campaign to improve your targeting.

Optimize Your Mailing with Poplar

Targeting is an important first step that will ensure you get the most return on investment from your direct mail campaign. However, it isn’t the only key to a good direct mail campaign. Once you know the right audience, you still need to make sure you have the best design, the best copy, and you need to monitor your campaign to know how to measure direct mail effectiveness.

Looking for the best direct mail solutions? At Poplar, we’re direct mail experts who can help you through every step of the process. Our API-enabled programmatic platform will help you create dynamic, personalized direct mail campaigns easily and efficiently. Take your direct mail campaign to the next level with Poplar.


1. Experian. Direct Mail Marketing. 

2. US Small Business Administration. Direct Mail is Hot Again. Here’s How to Use It. 

3. Masterclass. What Is Direct Mail? Tips and Tricks for Direct Mail Campaigns. 

4. USPS. Using Every Door Direct Mail. 

5. Towards Data Science. Data Science for Ad Segments: Moving Beyond Look-Alike Modeling. 

6. Smart Mail. The Anatomy of a Perfect Retention Email.