What is Direct Mail Marketing & How to Do it Right

In this article, we'll cover the basics of Direct Mail Marketing and strategies on How to Do it Right

a photo of a postcard

Customers are the lifeblood of your business—you need them not only to survive but also to grow and thrive. That’s why engaging with your customers is a crucial factor in your business’ success. But to reach and engage with customers, you have to break through the noise, and a lot of that noise comes from digital sources. Consumers are increasingly desensitized to an inbox full of email ads and newsletters.

But it’s much harder to ignore a physical mailer on their doorstep—it makes an impression.

Direct mail marketing is a time-honored strategy that utilizes physical mailers like flyers, postcards, catalogs, and more to connect with customers and motivate them to support your business. Modern direct mail solutions, such as automated mail, can help you stand out against the competition, capture your audience’s attention, and increase your ROI. Follow along to learn how you can take advantage of modern direct mail tactics with ease and efficiency to drive effective results.


Direct Mail Marketing: The Secret to Marketing Success

a woman sitting at a desk with a laptop

Before the age of the internet, our mailboxes were constantly full—coupons, newspapers, magazines, bills, advertisements, birthday cards, and more. As the majority of businesses and services migrated online, from bill payments to news publications, the digital space has become increasingly crowded
With that, people now tend to suffer from digital information overload, as they continue to spend an increasing amount of time online (the average person spends more than 1,300 hours a year on social media, recent studies have found). As more and more marketers have tried to capitalize on this, costs have gone up, users have started tuning out ads and ROI has diminished.

Direct mail, however, now offers a large incentive for businesses to return to their old ways as email becomes more crowded.  The number of emails sent per day now exceeds 300 billion, up nearly 20% from just 2017. It’s easy to see how one’s message can get lost in all of that. Direct mail, however, allows marketers to maintain a clear and prominent share of voice in a physical channel.

What is direct mail marketing in practice? Mailers can take many different forms, including:

  • Postcards
  • Foldable formats (bi-folds & tri-folds)
  • Catalogs
  • Letters
  • Fylers

The physical nature of direct mailers gives them the kind of personal touch that can pique a customer’s interest more than a generic, often unopened, email. When a customer receives a personalized piece of direct mail, they feel valued. They’re no longer just an email address on a subscription list—they’re an integral and deeply appreciated part of your business. This positive customer sentiment can boost your returns. Moreover, a physical piece of mail carries more weight than an email and can sit on the recipient’s kitchen table for weeks after receiving it.

When integrated effectively into your marketing strategy, direct mail can boost your ROI by 20%.

In fact, direct mail campaigns are now easier than ever to run with improvements in technology and process, allowing even marketers with digital backgrounds to tap into a highly effective offline channel. Keep reading to discover how to run a direct mail campaign—and the benefits of doing so!


The Different Types of Direct Mail, and When to Use Them

Direct mail as a marketing channel has plenty of its own advantages. Some of the main ones include:

Tracking and measurability

You'll have full visibility into the timing and delivery of mailers, and clean & accurate 1:1 attribution.


Have the ability to scale to very large, effective campaigns.


Direct mail has been a proven, effective channel for decades at getting marketing into consumers' hands.


No unexpected fluctuations in costs as seen in digital channels, consistent response rates.

Most importantly though, it’s impactful. There are many different types of direct mail and uses for each. Using each one strategically will result in better outcomes for your business.

On average, direct mail recipients spend 28% more than those who do not receive a mailer.

Many businesses use an outdated direct mail strategy. In turn, they often find the space to be limiting, resulting in high costs, high effort, poor branding, and bad audience segmentation. That’s why a modern approach to direct mail gives you more options that not only fit your branding and budget, but also drive strong results.

As we see it, that modern approach to direct mail marketing can be broken down into a few different types:

Shared Mail

Shared mail is an envelope-based direct mail method that is highly beneficial for e-commerce companies. Brands are able to purchase into mailings of their choosing with a very low cost commitment. This ensures that your mail reaches the ideal target audience through:

  • Market/city-based mailings - City-based mail allows you to access low-cost shared sends to cities across the nation. You can also target the most ideal neighborhoods for your business so that your mail lands in the right hands.

  • Modeled/targeted mailings - By taking a second to identify your ideal audience segments that resonate with your brand, you can ensure your mail is delivered to your desired customers.

Managed Solo Mail

Managed solo mail is generally a very adaptable form of direct mail. You can make sure your campaigns are specifically tailored to your needs using custom, standalone mailings to drive the best results. This type of direct mail will help you master campaigns through:

  • Structured Testing — You should always run tests to see what is working in each campaign. Leverage various multivariate testing methods that help you to optimize your campaign across various channels.

  • Targeting — Targeting is integral to the success of any direct mail campaign. Consider strategic techniques such as prospect model development, list procurement, and other tactical methods. These will help you fine-tune your lists for better results.

  • Creative Development — Nail your creative to ensure it’s resonating with your audience. Then, quickly iterate and test out your top-performing creative formats and strategies.

  • High Quality Production & Postage — Production and postage are a must when it comes to managed solo mail campaigns, so making sure that quality is higher while costs remain low will help your campaigns to be more impactful.

Both shared mail and managed solo mail are great ways to revamp your current direct mail campaigns. However, to create fully customizable mail that yields the highest ROI, you’ll want to look to automated direct mail.

Automated Direct Mail

An automated direct mail service allows you to create fully personalized, trigger-based, or batch direct mail through an API and user-friendly web platform. This type of direct mail is best for retargeting, abandoned cart, and CRM/lifecycle marketing campaigns, and also supports batch prospecting and retention mailings. With automated mail solutions, you can:

  • Launch campaigns quickly - By leveraging a user-friendly platform, you're able to set up and run campaigns within minutes. This way, your mail reaches the right people at the right time.

  • Create personalized mail - If you want your mail to resonate with your customers, personalization is key. Try customizing imagery or text using dynamic HTML elements such as first name and past products purchased.

  • Retarget fast - Don’t miss out on your abandoned cart visitors or other users. Reach their mailboxes in just a few days with retargeting efforts by using triggered direct mail.

  • Best-in-class pricing - Automated direct mail ensures best in class pricing. This way, you are offered better rates, leading to more efficient campaigns for your business.

  • High quality data options - Tap into top-performing lookalike modeling or other custom targeting lists to allow you to execute on a range of use-cases.

Our dynamic and personalized mail automated mail options make it one of the most attractive options for companies looking to run a successful campaign. As a fully-flexible platform that supports automated and one-time sends, our unique capabilities provide a range of benefits.


The Benefits of Automated Direct Mail Campaigns

With today’s automated direct mail campaigns, you’re capable of segmenting audiences and monitoring critical data that can lead to increased response rates and boosted sales.

Let’s explore all the capabilities of automated direct mail campaigns.

You Can Send the Right Mail at the Right Time

Like programmatic email marketing, automated direct mail campaigns allow you to send trigger-based physical mailers to potential customers. The benefits of this are two-fold:

It ensures relevance

When a customer visits your company’s website, it shows they already have an interest in your product or service. This means they’re more likely to take action off of the direct mail you send them.

Easy audience segmentation

By sending targeted, applicable marketing materials to customers of specific demographics, interests, or stages in the buyer’s journey, you can better build personal relationships and a sense of trust and relevance.

You Can Personalize Your Mailers on a 1:1 Basis

With an automated service like Poplar, you can customize your trigger events and send direct mail to your customers within as little as 3 to 5 business days. What are the benefits of triggering personalized direct mail in this way?

Say, for instance, that a customer visits your business’ website and purchases an item. With an automated direct mailing service, this act could trigger the delivery of a personalized thank you card that showcases the item they have to look forward to, as well as similar items that might interest them to boost cross-sales and repeat purchases.

In the world of marketing, these personal touches can be the difference between a loyal customer and a one-time shopper.

84% of customers say that feeling valued and appreciated through this level of personalization is a driving factor in whether they’ll support a business.

You Can Run A/B Test Campaigns (to C Results)

Just as customer support is essential for business success, so too is customer feedback. By running A/B test campaigns, you can determine what aspects of your marketing materials are most effective.

A/B testing is like conducting a scientific study—one piece of direct mail is used as your control, while the other is used as your variable. Typically, there will only be one differing element between the two so you can identify which detail made the difference. This might be:

  • The offer or deal
  • The imagery
  • The call to action
  • The mailer format

By narrowing down the elements that are most effective, you’re left with the most enticing direct mail possible and can expect the highest ROI. Automated services like Poplar offer multivariate testing that marketers can use to send out and track the results from A/B tests.

Speed to In-Home

You shouldn’t have to worry about when your mail is going to reach the mailboxes of your desired customers. With an automated direct mail service, you have access to advanced programmatic campaign capabilities. We’ll help you with printing, targeting, and delivery so that you can deploy campaigns in just a matter of minutes. Not to mention, you can connect to your automation platforms, online stores, and other cloud connectors for added efficiency.

Reaching consumers at the perfect time within their buying journey gives you a better chance of increasing your response rates and boosting sales for your business. Utilizing a modern API web platform ensures you never miss out on the perfect opportunity to reach your desired customers!

You Can Employ Lead Generation and Retargeting Strategies

Much like automated email campaigns, direct mail marketing can trigger the delivery of physical mail when customers abandon their cart or visit the site without converting. But unlike automated emails, this physical mail is much more likely to capture the customer’s attention and elicit an action—returning to the site and purchasing that item.

73% of Americans report they prefer to receive contact through the mail so they can read messages when they want.

So, don’t miss out on opportunities to effectively retarget your audience. Think of sending out personalized mailers to remind them why they visited your site in the first place.


The Cost of Direct Mail Marketing

Direct mail provides some of the highest response rates of any marketing channel, more than offsetting the fixed costs associated with the channel.

42% of recipients read or take a look at their direct mail, indicating it’s worth investing in a direct mail campaign.

Poplar, for example, can help to ensure that you get the most out of your investment. Get help with direct mailing aspects such as:

  • Data – Our API-enabled web platform allows you to create fully personalized campaigns with a wide variety of targeting and audience management options. Once your mail is delivered, check its status by utilizing real-time delivery tracking for each piece of mail that’s been sent.

  • Design – The design of your direct mail campaign can significantly impact its effectiveness. Poplar can provide you with clear best practices, templates, and samples to help ensure your direct mail creative drives high responses.

  • Production – With direct mail, you want to ensure that your production process is efficient. With Poplar, you’ll be offered best-in-class all-in pricing—with no minimums and no subscription fees—so that you can save time and money.

  • Postage – The nature of direct mail means that postage is always a large fixed cost. This is why it’s important to maximize your response rate in other areas to ensure your overall ROI is above your target. Poplar streamlines the entire process and postage is included in the low all-in pricing. Once you hit send, you’re only charged a flat low cost-per-piece for each mailer that goes out.


How to Ensure Your Automated Direct Mail Strategy is Successful

Successful automated direct mail marketing allows you to effectively engage with your customers and build strong relationships with them.

As you set up your direct mail marketing campaign, it’s important to engage in strategic planning to boost your success.

Clearly Define Your Audience

People want more personalized and meaningful interactions with companies. To do so, you’ll need a solid understanding of your target audience—and specific segments within that—so you can engage with them directly and select the right direct mail strategy.

To define your target audience, start by thinking about what’s working for your other marketing channels, both for acquisition and CRM.

  • Utilize integration - You can leverage your existing high-performing workflows, and add direct mail as an additional touchpoint to further boost performance. Integrate directly with ESPs and other marketing platforms. This way, you can add an additional high-response channel to reach customers going through clearly defined workflows that have already been proven out, including reactivation, post-purchase, etc.

  • Prospecting - For prospecting, leveraging lookalike audiences can often be the most effective option. By looking at the unique characteristics of your existing top customers, including their purchase behavior across similar and distinct categories, you can reach entirely new prospects who already look and shop like your customer base.

  • Segmenting - If you’re a newer company without a large customer base, you can use direct mail to target very specific segments of the population that you know align with your value prop. Need to reach pet-owners who live within 30 miles of a certain mall? Need to target high-income women for a premium skincare product? These lists can be easily created and targeted through direct mail.

Determine the Most Effective Mailer for Your Audience and Goal

If you’ve separated your audience into stages along the buyer’s journey, you can use this to better understand their state of mind and identify what will appeal to them at this time. For example:

  • If they’re prospects or leads at the beginning of the funnel, you’ll want to provide them with more information, including value propositions and service or product offerings. A postcard is great to quickly summarize your business while a letter can provide ample detail in a more formal format for early-stage potential customers.

  • For late-stage buyers, try to seal the deal with confident messaging and trial offerings, higher incentives, or time-sensitive messaging.

  • For existing customers, you can focus your mailing less on your core value props and more on exclusive offers, new product launches, or seasonal campaigns that may be relevant to them.

Create a Powerful Call to Action

What do you want prospects to do when they finish reading your mailer? Encourage them to take action—whatever that looks like at this stage of their journey—with strong messaging and incentives. That could look like:

  • “Don’t miss out on our biggest sale of the season! Get exclusive savings on our must-have skincare products here.”

  • “Get 20% off your first order of our best-selling products! Use code XYZ at Checkout."

  • “Enhance your marketing strategy with easy automated direct mail campaigns! Learn more here.”

Ideally, you’ll test different calls to action to determine which one generates the highest response rates.

Test Your Strategy

The results of your A/B testing can help you determine what messaging and calls to action work best with your audience. Then, you can ideate around the most successful option to create a series of direct mailers that speak to your customers. Test one variable at a time (offer, layout, format, etc.) to ensure you’re getting clean learnings that you can apply to future mailings.

Captivate Your Customers With Poplar

Engaging and building trust with your customers is essential to your business’ success and longevity. These days, customers are looking to support businesses that make them feel heard, cared for, and catered to.

With an automated direct mail marketing service like Poplar, you can achieve this level of personalization with a much less saturated channel that drives strong results. Poplar allows you to create dynamic, personal, and tested direct mail campaigns quickly. Plus, you can easily connect campaigns to existing online stores and CRM retargeting tools.

Help your business grow and thrive by trying our advanced direct mail solutions today.

Sendoso. Direct Mail Marketing Overview.
Smallbizgenius. Direct Mail Statistics That Will Have You Running to the Post Office.
Marketing Charts. Median ROI, by Direct Marketing Medium.
Statista. Number of sent and received e-mails per day worldwide from 2017 to 2025.