How businesses can maximize direct mail now as the U.S. Postal Services is seeing a decline

Estimated read time: 7 minutes

Eric Van Kerckhove
Eric Van Kerckhove

Eric Van Kerckhove, owner of, shared with me on the Business Storytelling Podcast how restaurants and other B2C businesses can use direct mail now to reach customers. B2B businesses might consider waiting until offices reopen but he shares strategies here as well. Sending direct mail campaigns can be a differentiator during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.

This article is largely based on our conversation on the podcast.

What is direct mail?

Direct mail (also sometimes referred to as direct mailer or marketing mail) is a marketing strategy that involves reaching your prospects through the mail. That can include sending them the latest deal, a coupon, a company update.

Related: Should brands consider publishing a print magazine?

Different types of direct mail

There are different type of content assets:

  • Postcards
  • In an envelope
  • Magazines

  • Coupons
  • Etc.

Which type to use depends on your goals and what people are supposed to do next. It also depends on your brand. Some businesses – like nonprofits – might not have use to send out coupons.

A postcard might work if the next step is to call, Eric explained. If you need recipients to send something back to you, a direct mail piece in an envelope with a return envelope might be the way to go.

Types of direct mail sends

Just like in digital marketing, there are different ways to target your audience.

Your own list

If you already have a substantial list of customers you can consider mailing them. You might also have a list of prospects that you can use.

Direct mail by geography

You can target specific geographical areas and use the U.S. Postal Service’s Every Door Direct Mail tool. Eric mentioned that companies can even run these campaigns themselves and simply go to a printer to get the direct mail pieces printed.

Direct mail by target audience

Direct mail campaigns can also be send to a list that a list broker put together for you based on title, demographics and more.

Direct mail for B2C

A lot of people are sheltering in place and are working at home during the coronavirus pandemic. That’s also an opportunity for direct mail campaigns – especially in B2C. People might be more likely to engage with your direct mailer because they are looking for things to do, time feels like it’s standing still and there’s less competition in the mailbox right now.

I mentioned that i

Direct mail for restaurants that offer take-out

One example, that Eric mentioned applies to restaurants. Restaurants are closed but many offer take-out or delivery. Websites and Facebook Groups that share which restaurants offer what have sprung up.

Eric said restaurants can easily create a postcard with a simple message that they are open and the contact info on one side. And the menu on the other side.

Send that to all addresses within a one-mile radius.

Or pick different neighborhoods for different weeks.

”What would you do with that?” he asked. “Put it on your fridge?”

Probably and then call later when we need a meal.

Direct mail for B2B

B2B is a bit harder as many offices are closed currently. You wouldn’t want to send your direct mailer to a closed business address. It might just end up being buried under all the mail later.

But you can still prepare a campaign for when offices open back up! Be ready when that happens. The creative can be ready and depending on message be printed.

Just keep in mind that some messages might change. But you could hold right before printing. Once it’s all printed, Eric said, mailing can go quick.

He shared that the U.S. Postal Service had delivered 100,000 direct mailers within a day or two on a campaign.

Theoretically, you can ask a list broker to run a list of your prospects and where they live and then send them your direct mailer. Eric advised against that categorically speaking. It might seem spammy.

The process to start a direct mail campaign

Like anything in marketing, start with a goal and reason. Why are we doing this and what are we trying to accomplish? Also consider the budget. Eric mentioned that campaigns can be run for as  little as a few hundred dollars. The 100,000 direct mailer campaign was tens of thousands.

Pick the right format – postcard vs. letter for example.

Be aware of postal regulations. Certain areas on the creative must be left open for example. Be aware of sizes.

Make sure the creative works with the brand, readability, etc.

Also make sure the calls to action make sense and actually work. If you want people to call, triple check the number. Call it while reading it from the proof.

Should I get a physical proof of my direct mailer?

Eric mentioned that some clients look at just the digital proof. That works for them. When I ran direct mail campaigns, I always ended up being surprised by one thing or another when I didn’t look at the physical proof. Sometimes, I thought it would be smaller or bigger than I had thought. Sometimes it feels different from what I had imagined.

It’s a personal choice and if you know what the paper feels like and how big the size is, you might be okay with the digital proof only.

Measurements of direct mail campaigns

The other day somebody was telling me that 100% of direct mail pieces get delivered.

Translation: All direct mail pieces get delivered to the recipient’s mailbox.

But of course just because something ends up in my mailbox doesn’t mean I’m paying any attention to it.

BUT: Why sometimes we don’t get enough email drip campaigns

Of course, printed campaigns are different from their digital counterparts-where we can see how many people actually looked at them through the form of impressions or opens in email marketing.

In direct mail campaigns we can see conversions in the form of actions taken but that number is a lot smaller than sends, which is larger than the number of people actually reading it.

Read next: Is an Amazon ad campaign worth it?

In digital, at least we can tell where we’re losing people. Then based on that we adjust our techniques for the different parts of the funnel.

So if too few people are opening the email, I’m working on the subject line.

If nobody is clicking on the call to action within the email that I need them to click on I work on that.

But how do I know what’s not working in a direct mail flyer that ends up in somebody’s mailbox and then gets moved to the recycling box? I’m sure there are other use cases here from those consumers that are more patient than me and actually look at it for two seconds.

Read next: Do social media ads work? Exhibit 1: Russia

Something to keep in mind if you decide to run a direct mail campaign now. It can be hard to measure, but it can also be worth it because it’s a way to stand out now.

Direct mail timing also matters

I’m amazed when companies send me credit card offers when they know that I signed up for their credit card six months ago and don’t even qualify for that same credit card offer again. Targeted intelligence can help here! Also targeted intelligence that cancels future mailings quickly when something changes.

One tactic I like in digital marketing especially is the follow up based on action. So when somebody opens my email they get another email because of that behavior.

If they click something they get another follow up because of that behavior.

And if they didn’t open my email they get a totally different email because of that behavior.

It all depends on the signal they send me. In direct mail there are hardly any signals for marketers to take different actions and different follow-up steps to help people slide down the marketing funnel – for now.

Different times call for different strategies. Right now, direct mail campaigns seem to be a potentially good marketing strategy – especially in B2C.

Of course, consider using the creative and ideas in a digital campaign as well.

This article was newly writing in April 2020 and is based on our podcast interview. Pieces of it were first published in July 2018 and updated here. 

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