What Makes a Direct Mail Campaign Successful

Unlike general advertising, direct marketing results can be measured.  But what makes a direct marketing campaign successful?  And how do you tell if it worked?

There are three elements that go into any direct marketing campaign (successful or not)L the list, the offer, and the creative.

The list is simply whoever will read, hear, or watch your message (depending on whether your effort is online, delivered through the mail, or broadcast on TV or radio).

The offer is what people get (a sale price, a download, or a brochure).

And, finally, the creative is everything else: the layout, the copy, the physical size (if it’s going through the mail), the length (if it’s a TV, radio spot, or video), and the colors.

The List

This is the most critical part of any direct marketing campaign.

The list is your audience. It’s the people who will receive your brochure, watch your ad, read your blog, or see your video. In the old days, this was an actual list, often printed out on labels, with names of magazine subscribers, or phone numbers. Now, it can be e-newsletter subscribers, people who clicked on a Google ad, Twitter followers, or YouTube channel subscribers.

Make sure you carefully identify your audience before you do anything else. Know who they are, where they are, what industry they are in, what keeps them up at night, how your product can help them rest easily, and the best way to reach them.

The more closely your offer matches their needs, the more likely it will lead to action (and sales).

The Offer

The offer is simply what your audience receives when they respond, how it’s delivered, how quickly they will get it, and how much it costs.

An offer doesn’t necessarily mean a sale or a discount. It can be a free report on email click through rates, an efficiency review, or a Web site makeover for $399.

Offer the people on your list something they really want and make that offer attractive.  The better you know your audience, the better you will be able to tailor your offer to their needs.

Are they office building managers who really want a white paper about choosing the right high volume air conditioning and heating system? Or RV enthusiasts hoping for a guide on fixing plumbing problems?

The way you frame the offer can make a difference too.  If you know your audience is budget-conscious, you might want to emphasize low prices or offer a discount.

If they are more interested in exclusivity, emphasize that your product is a limited edition.

Make sure you explain exactly why and how your product can help them. Talk less about your years in business and your awards and more about what your customers get, how they feel about it, and why it’s important to them.

For example, a company selling backyard swimming pools might focus less on their twenty years in business and more on how much fun families have with their new pools.

Make your offer clear and easy to respond to and do it more than once.  Give readers several opportunities to click your link, call  your office, or even return a form via mail. 

The Creative

Creative is a catchall term for everything else about your campaign.  This includes the copy, the layout, the size, and the colors that you choose.


The length of the copy should vary depending on what the offer is (free, low cost, moderate cost, expensive), how big a commitment is involved, and how well the audience knows  you and your products.

Use a conversational tone and limit the jargon, even if your audience is technically inclined.  It’s much easier to read shorter words.  Skip the buzzwords; “knowledge-based modular options” doesn’t mean anything.


The layout is the number of columns, the typeface, logos, navigation (on the web), where the buttons are placed (online), the spacing, white space, etc. In other words, how everything is placed on the page or the screen, size, and the overall appearance.


The physical size of a mailing piece can make a difference in the results you get.  A standard envelope may not perform as well as a monarch (roughly the size of a phone bill envelope).  Or a large postcard may do better than a standard size.


The delivery mechanism can make a difference too.  This once meant envelopes, on paper, with letters and postcards. Now, it can be a video, an email, or a landing page.

Check your campaign results to see which channel performs better for your audience.

Regardless of the delivery system, and whether the campaign is on paper or electronic, the principles are the same.

  • Send to the right people about issues that are relevant to them (don’t talk to teenagers about denture adhesives). Go online for younger people, but send those denture samples through the mail.
  • Offer something that they want. (those teenagers might not want denture adhesives, but senior citizens might like a free sample).
  • Talk to your audience in terms they understand. Be conversational, and skip the buzzwords
  • Make it easy to respond (have a clear call to action)

2 thoughts on “What Makes a Direct Mail Campaign Successful

  1. I really believe that the key is that you don’t spam people with your direct mail campaign. Send your offer to only those people who want to learn about your company and products. If not, then you risk being another piece of junk mail/spam.

  2. Greg, you’re absolutely right. Sending to the wrong list not only annoys people, it also wastes money on printing and postage and reduces your return.

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