What Is Direct Mail? Definition and Guide

What is direct mail?

Direct mail is a form of marketing that involves sending a physical piece of promotional material through the U.S. Postal Service, or other courier service, to a home or business.

Some recipients refer to it as “junk mail” because direct mail generally arrives uninvited.

Types of direct mail

Some of the most common forms of direct mail include:

  • Brochures
  • Letters
  • Flyers
  • Newsletters
  • Catalogs
  • Postcards
  • Coupon envelopes
  • Packages

Besides the item being mailed, the other essential component of a successful direct mail campaign is your list—who you’re going to mail to.

Creating a mailing list for a direct mail campaign

Direct mail can work extremely well when an appropriate message lands on the doorstep of someone who wants or needs the product or service being promoted.

Unlike less-targeted advertising (e.g., national TV spots, billboards), which speaks to everyone in the hopes that those who are in the target market will receive the message, direct mail speaks only to those buyers most likely to want or need what’s being promoted. For that reason, direct mail is considered more efficient.

The key is in the list.

Defining your target market

So who are the right customers? That depends entirely on your business and what you’re selling.

When you think about your ideal customers, how would you describe them? Do any of the following factors matter?

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Income level
  • Education level
  • Homeowner or not
  • Car owner or not
  • Kids at home
  • Employed or not

These are basic demographic questions you should be able to answer about your customer if you’re planning on using direct mail, but the more specific you get, the better your results.

For example, would it be helpful to know if those on your list have hardwood floors, have pets, own stocks, or have asthma? What would you most like to know?

Where to find your list

Once you know who your ideal customer is, it’s time to find them. Mailing list brokers allow you to rent lists of people who meet your criteria, or you can rent lists from other sources, such as:

  • Magazines
  • Colleges and universities
  • Credit card companies
  • Cellular companies

The ROI for direct mail, according to the ANA Response Rate Report, 2021, is 112%—more than any other channel surveyed. With the right mailer and the right list, it’s possible to make direct mail one of your most successful channels.

What Is Direct Mail? FAQ

What is an example of direct mail?

An example of direct mail is a postcard or flyer sent through the mail to a potential customer. The postcard or flyer may contain information about a product or service and possibly include a coupon or discount code.

What does direct mail mean?

Direct mail is a form of advertising in which physical mail pieces (letters, postcards, brochures, catalogs, etc.) are sent directly to potential customers. It's a form of outbound marketing that allows businesses to reach a large audience and personalize their messages to target specific demographics.

How does direct mail work?

Direct mail is a form of advertising where businesses or organizations send tangible materials to their target audience. This can include postcards, letters, brochures, catalogs, magazines, and other printed materials. The materials are usually sent to a targeted list of potential customers, or to a list of individuals who are likely to be interested in the organization’s products or services. The goal of direct mail is to generate a response from the recipient, such as making a purchase, visiting a website, or filling out a survey.

What is direct mail vs email?

Direct mail is a physical form of marketing that involves sending physical pieces of mail such as postcards, brochures, letters, and catalogs to a list of prospects or existing customers. Direct mail is typically used for lead generation, customer retention, and customer loyalty programs. Email is an electronic form of marketing that involves sending emails to a list of prospects or existing customers. Email is used for many of the same purposes as direct mail, such as lead generation, customer retention, and customer loyalty programs. However, email is often more cost effective and can reach a larger audience than direct mail. Email also has the advantage of being able to track engagement and click-through rates, which can help marketers determine the efficacy of an email campaign.