Look Outside the Inbox: The New Rules of Effective Direct Mail

Look Outside the Inbox: The New Rules of Effective Direct Mail

Some marketers will tell you that in this digital era, direct mail is dead. It’s a waste. It’s all junk mail.

Instead, they’ve gravitated to email because it’s cheap, measurable and (seemingly) effective. But billions of emails are sent every day. Most of our inboxes are filled with spam or email newsletters we don’t even remember subscribing to (the exception being Atomicdust’s, right?). And even though open rates are still high, clicks and downloads within emails are actually decreasing.

There is more opportunity than ever before to make an impact with beautiful, memorable direct mail.

Take, for example, a handwritten letter. It may seem out of the question for corporate communications, but at SXSW 2016, Max Maclean and Ran Stallard of Ogilvy & Mather spoke to the value of using handwritten notes in place of traditional printed direct mail. Services such as Inkpact and Scribble Mail are popping up to cater to this demand.

This handwritten route isn’t cheap, and it’s not right for every brand, but it speaks to the first rule: direct mail should be well designed.

Atomicdust-Mercy-DirectMailWell-designed direct mail is beautiful. It’s memorable. It’s worth holding on to. As you’re designing it, ask yourself what would keep the piece out of the trash can? What would it take to get the recipient to save it and pin it up on their board? What would it take to get them to show it off to their friends and colleagues?

Don’t be afraid to go slightly off brand and make something that looks less like business correspondence. Consider using alternate paper styles, printing methods or shapes and sizes to help your direct mail piece stand out in a sea of glossy postcards.

Anders CPA - Direct Mail

Great direct mail isn’t cheap. But it also doesn’t have to be mass produced. That brings up the second rule: direct mail should be targeted.

For starters, targeting your audience to a niche group allows you to tailor the message, making recipients feel special. There’s opportunity to take personalization beyond inserting names and companies from a database.

From an ROI perspective, if you are adding cost into the designing, printing and mailing, you need to make sure that the response you get will be worth it. Identify the proper high-value targets and focus your efforts there – even if it is a smaller list.

In talking about the success of handwritten direct mail, Max and Ran advised attendees to “be a fisherman.” Targeted, well-designed direct mail requires extra effort and patience. But when you get a bite, it’s a more valuable one.

The third rule will help get those bites: direct mail should be part of an integrated strategy.

A printed direct mail piece shouldn’t work alone. What other touch points can reinforce the message?


Follow-up emails, phone calls or landing pages with additional information help support printed pieces. And consider creating a series of direct mail pieces to send, rather than just one, to help the message gain traction and recognition. Marketing, after all, is a combination of messaging and frequency.

These days, the effort put into the message matters. It adds value. It’s not just what you are communicating, but how. It may cost more than sending an email, but with memorable design and a targeted, integrated message it can have more of an impact.

Direct mail is not dead. It’s just time it got better.

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Danielle Hohmeier

As Senior Marketing Manager at Atomicdust, Danielle Hohmeier develops focused and effective social media and content marketing strategies for clients. This includes identifying the audiences, appropriate channels and key content categories, and finding SEO and SEM opportunities.

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