Direct Mail – Trash or Treasure?

Direct mail has gained something of a bad reputation over the years, as it’s often perceived as annoying and outdated junk mail. The rapid growth in email marketing as a direct, easily measurable modern alternative, left many of us wondering if direct mail now was a thing of the past?

So has direct mail lost its charm? Is it destined for the trash or is it having a renaissance?

Figures released by Gallup show that 41% of Americans of all ages look forward to checking their postal mail each day, while Epsilon stats confirm 59% of American’s surveyed said that they enjoy getting mail from brands about new products.

A Direct Mail Campaign is a tried and tested way of getting your message directly into the hands and minds of potential consumers – when it’s done well.

Direct mail (DM) offers copywriters a wealth of opportunity to demonstrate their talents, from the envelope teaser copy to the letter with its carefully crafted and impactful headlines, DM calls for inspired copy and a well thought through, marketing-led approach.

However, despite your best efforts, figures from the Data and Marketing Association (DMA) show that 22.8% of recipients won’t read it at all, opting to file your carefully crafted work of art directly into the recycling bin. Those willing to go the distance and open your mail will scan your headlines, images and offers but will only read through the copy in any detail if they clock something they deem of interest or value.

So, Does Direct Mail Marketing Still Work?

In short – yes. DMA stats show that the response rate for direct mail can be up to nine times higher than that of an email marketing campaign. Average direct mail response rates are between 5% and 9% (depending on the recipient).

Email marketing, although widely considered the modern alternative to DM, can turn recipients off. We’re all inundated by unsolicited sales emails every day and many just end up being deleted unread. Some even abandon their email address when it becomes too crowded and simply create a new one. It’s an easy way to start afresh but causes headaches for marketers as it results in many bounce-backs.

Although consumers aged between 45 and 54 are most likely to respond to DM, stats show that even tech-savvy millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) consider DM to be of value and when surveyed, 30% said direct mail would be more effective at getting them to take action compared to email at 24%. showing that it’s not just the older generation that will act based on effective DM.

What is the Rate of Return for Direct Mail?

Direct mail data published by Marketing Charts indicate that DM can deliver a return on investment (ROI) of 29%, while digital channels such as social media have an average ROI of 30%.

This data clearly shows that direct mail has not had its day and can still pull its weight as an effective marketing channel.

How to Write Effective Direct Mail Copy

There are many tricks of the trade when it comes to writing effective direct mail copy that sells. I would recommend checking out our articles on envelope teaser copy and the AIDA formula to get you started.

The key to successful DM is to remember that you don’t have long to capture the reader and draw them in. Here are our top 5 tips to consider for your next DM campaign:

  1. Headlines
    Spend time crafting your headlines and get them spot on. People will quickly skim the copy to see if it is of value to them and only if it piques their interest will they read it in any detail. Headlines are key to hooking them and are well worth the time and effort getting them right.
  2. The Personal Touch
    Address the reader personally where possible. Make them feel special and valued, using emotive, engaging language. Do your homework here. get to know your target audience and find a way to connect with them on a personal level.
  3. Make Opening Your DM Irresistible
    Packaging matters! From the teaser copy to the size, font, colour and style of your DM – it all makes a difference. Postcards have a reasonably good response rate at around 4.25%. The average response rate for DM in a standard letter-sized envelope achieves 3.5%, with data indicating that simply using an oversized envelope, can push response rates up to 5%. Source Data & Marketing Association.
  4. Make it Valuable
    Focus on the offer. Free samples, trials, discounts, VIP offers, and sales and product previews are all attractive propositions. Make the offer clear and enticing. Remember the reader is skimming your copy for a reason to read on – give it to them and do it fast.
  5. Make it Measurable
    Discount codes, QR codes, enquiries and dedicated web pages can all help you to monitor your success rate. Make sure you build in a solid monitoring tool to the CTA (Call To Action) in the copy. Keep it simple and make it clear to avoid valuable stats from being lost. Any data you can glean will help you to shape future campaigns and learn what works for you, and what doesn’t – which is just as important.


Direct mail still has value and can be an effective marketing tool in the overall mix. The trick, as always, is to get it right. You need to carefully craft impactful copy with a solid and enticing offer and pull together all the other key elements to create a DM campaign that sells and stays out of the trash until it has achieved its objective.

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About Gemma Wright

I'm Gemma Wright, co-owner of ProCopyTips and a freelance PR consultant and copywriter. Having worked as a PR Manager for large financial services companies in the UK, I now focus on helping small and growing businesses to thrive through the power of effective communications.

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