What Response Rate Will Your Mailing Get?

response rateIt’s one of the most common questions new direct marketers ask.

A few years ago, The Direct Marketing Association analyzed over a thousand mailings and found that the average response rate was 2.61%. However, your mileage will vary. I’ve gotten 11% at The DMA, and was delighted to achieve .2 or even .4% at The Economist.

Here are a few general guidelines:

How to improve response rates

  • Offer something for free or at a low cost
  • Use a targeted list (not the biggest, not the least expensive, but the one that best matches your business and your product)
  • Aim to generate leads rather than direct sales
  • Require a low level of commitment (in time, effort, or money)

Factors that decrease response rates

  • Response requires payment
  • The list doesn’t match audience well enough (sending pooper-scooper offer to people who don’t own dogs)
  • The product or service is expensive
  • Responding requires a high level of commitment (in time or money) or it’s just too hard

For example, this mailing will get a great response (but may bankrupt you)

(sent to a list of men between 35-55)
Free 60″ Sony Plasma TV
Claim yours at www.freeTV.com

This one is guaranteed to fail:
(sent to a list of women ages 25-25 in New York City)

Free Whale Blubber!
Claim yours at www.whaleblubber.com

You’ve got to balance cost, commitment, offer, list, copy and design to maximize your return.

What Response Rate Will Your Direct Mailing Get?

direct marketing response rate

photo by marfis75

You want to start a direct mailing campaign, but you’re not certain what your response rate will be or how much money you can expect to earn. Every campaign for every company is different, but here are seven ways to estimate what your response rate will be.

1. Whether you’re trying to generate leads or actual sales.

The response rate for a mailing with a free guide or consultation will be higher than one asking for a sale because there’s less of a commitment.

2. The relationship between the appeal of your offer and the investment required.

A chance to win a free Ferrari will get a high response rate because it has a high appeal, and a low commitment.

On the other hand, a mailing offering a prospectus to buy vacation homes in Vermont will have a lower response rate because purchasing a home requires an investment of many thousands of dollars.

3. Generally, response rates go up as prices go down and vice versa.

For instance, if you sell $5 ink cartridges, you may need a 2% or 3% response rate to make money on your mailings. On the other hand, if you sell Ferraris and a letter mailed to 2,000 people nets you three sales (a response rate of only .15%), you’ll be very happy.

The important thing to keep in mind is how many sales you need to make a profit on your mailing.

4. Whether the names are current buyers or prospects.

The response from people who have already bought something from you can be double that of those who haven’t.

5. If your list is your own house list or a rented list.

The house list will perform better than an outside one, because your own customers already have a relationship with you.

6. How well the names on the list match your target audience.

The more closely the names you select match your ideal buyer (business size, industry, job title, etc.), the more likely it is that they will respond to your offer.

It is better to reach 5,000 of the right people than 50,000 of the wrong people.

Again, in-house lists will perform better than one you buy or rent from someone else. Even when mailing to your own list, it’s important to make the right selection of people from that list. Choosing the wrong people can be disastrous. Someone at Ebiza (an online catalog company) mistakenly send a big holiday mailing to customers who were “least likely to buy again.” The results were so bad the company went out of business!

7. The “creative”.

This includes the words you use, the design, the colors, the paper, the size of the mailing, whether it’s a postcard or a letter, and how many components it has.


A new report from Mailer Mailer on email marketing campaign results shows that the email open rate across all industries averages 15.25, and clickthroughs were 2.16%. Get the free Mailer Mailer report here.