Finding new ways to reach customers in an increasingly crowded (and expensive) digital landscape is vital if you want to break through the clutter.
You may think it’s an antiquated approach, but direct mail for retail is making a comeback. And now there are tools available to automate sending and tracking highly targeted direct mail marketing campaigns in the same way you’d set up email sequences.
Combining direct mail with your digital marketing strategy has many advantages, including reaching customers who have unsubscribed, increasing repeat business, and standing out from the competition.
But adding this channel to your marketing mix can feel daunting. That’s why we chatted with direct mail experts, pulled together real-life examples of brands succeeding with direct mail, and laid out some best practices you can follow to create a winning strategy.
Keep reading to learn:
What is direct mail?
Direct mail is an offline marketing technique used to send postcards, catalogs, brochures, handwritten notes, and other physical marketing or promotional materials to existing or prospective customers through postal delivery. In the past, direct mail marketing was a strategy used primarily by brick-and-mortar retailers, but as our physical and digital worlds continue to merge, omnichannel businesses are also using direct mail to boost online sales.
BOOM! By Cindy Joseph, a digitally native brand that sells pro-age cosmetics and skincare, saw a 2600% ROI after running a direct mail win-back campaign to re-engage customers who hadn’t purchased anything for at least 35 days. This $1500 postcard marketing strategy generated nearly $40K in sales.
Image source: PostPilot
“In this world of digital overload, direct mail is having a resurgence. Digital ads and emails are fleeting, often ignored or forgotten in an instant,” says Michael Epstein, PostPilot co-founder and co-CEO. “More and more brands are turning to direct mail to reach and engage their customers and prospects in a memorable way, and often for less than the cost of a click.”
Nearly 50% of direct mail recipients either read or scan the mail they get. They also purchase 28% more items and spend 28% more money than people who don’t get that same piece of direct mail.
So if you thought direct mail was dead, think again.
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Direct mail for retail: Is it dead?
By the end of 2020, direct mail spend accounted for the largest portion of US local advertising at $38.5 billion and is forecasted to reach $43.3 billion in 2022.
Western Europe accounts for the largest direct mail market share and is expected to reach $66.28 billion in 2025.
Globally, the market is expected to reach $73.57 billion in 2026.
Aside from the obvious end-goal benefit of providing a great return on investment, sending direct mail campaigns to customers has many benefits.
For one, direct mail open rates can reach up to 90%, and because there’s less noise compared to digital channels, response rates are five to nine times higher than with any other advertising channel.
“A typical person receives over 120 emails each day and is subjected to over 5,000 digital ads daily,” says Arian Radmand, IgnitePOST CEO. “That’s a lot of distraction! By using a less-crowded channel like mail, you’re instantly able to stand out in the physical mailbox, where a recipient might only have a handful of other mail pieces to sort through.”
According to a USPS survey, millennials enjoy getting direct mail—75% of respondents said receiving personal mail makes them feel special. On the other hand, 37% of respondents said they received marketing emails “way too often”.
Postcards, brochures, and catalogs are also physically engaging and can help you stay top of mind—on average, people hold onto advertising mail for 17 days, and 54% of consumers say they want to receive mail from brands that interest them.
Sending a handwritten thank-you note can help mitigate the effect of negative actions. Here’s an example of a brand that shipped the wrong product to a customer. Instead of the customer getting angry, the handwritten note they received delighted them so much they decided to write a positive review anyway and share the company on social media.
Image source: IgnitePOST
Direct mail is also GDPR friendly, so if you sell to customers in the European Union and the UK, you don’t need to follow the GDPR standards of getting explicit consent from customers to send direct mail campaigns. This means you can still use direct mail to reach existing or prospective customers who don’t want to receive email marketing campaigns. It’s important to note, however, that your direct mail content must be of legitimate interest to the recipient.
And with rising digital customer acquisition costs (CAC), direct mail is a way to leverage first-party data to lower CAC and boost customer lifetime value (CLV).
“With direct mail automation, brands convert more prospects and keep customers buying again and again. You can create automation triggers and send personalized physical postcards to retarget email prospects that haven’t converted,” says Epstein.
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5 real-life examples of retailers winning with direct mail
If you’re still on the fence about direct mail, these brands’ performance metrics may change your mind.
1. Obvi went from $0 to $30M in 30 months with direct mail
Supplement brand Obvi saw a 1052.8% ROI with a direct mail win-back campaign targeting repeat purchasers that had exceeded 90 days since their last purchase.
Image source: Twitter
The objective was to re-engage previously loyal customers who were at risk of being lost. Getting these customers back was key to increasing Obvi’s customer lifetime value, and it worked. The brand recently surpassed $30M in revenue, in part thanks to its direct mail strategy.
Image source: PostPilot
“Once you get customers back into their routine, they don’t just buy once more,” says Epstein. “They typically make multiple subsequent purchases before you may be at risk of losing them again.”
2. Pure Plates direct mail VIP customer campaign had a 68% response rate and 11x ROI
Pure Plates, a Shopify brand offering healthy meal subscriptions, used IgnitePOST to set up an automated campaign that sends handwritten cards to VIP customers once they hit a certain purchase amount threshold.
Image source: IgnitePOST
By the simple gesture of sending a handwritten card, the brand found that customers responded well to a discount that was significantly lower than the typical discount they would have to offer by email. This resulted in a 68% response rate, higher AOV, and 11x ROI.
3. Brooklinen uses engaging copy and incentives in its direct mail package
This direct mail package from DTC bedding brand Brooklinen stands out from other mail thanks to the blue envelope and a sturdy brochure that entices recipients to find out what’s inside.
Image source: IgnitePOST
The brand used a diverse range of models, large color photos, and incentives like free shipping, and its product features and benefits are clearly outlined with diagrams and short catchy copy.
A brochure sent via direct mail leaves more space to include your brand story and even share your own story like Brooklinen founders did on the first few pages of this example.
4. Beardbrand experienced more than 11x ROAS with direct mail
Men’s grooming lifestyle brand Beardbrand saw an 11x return on ad spend (ROAS) with a direct mail win-back campaign.
Image source: PostPilot
Another direct mail campaign the brand sent to repeat customers—who hadn’t purchased in more than six months and were unsubscribed from email marketing—generated a 10x ROAS. This was a big win; Beardbrand was able to get loyal customers back when they weren’t reachable via email.
5. WINPRO is acquiring more customers while reducing CAC with direct mail
Using PostPilot’s email matching and retargeting technology, pet supplement brand WINPRO has sent physical postcards to email opt-ins that have gone through an email welcome sequence and still haven’t made a purchase.
Image source: PostPilot
Any conversions WINPRO gets from this campaign will be highly valuable. They will bring incremental revenue from prospects the brand already mostly paid to acquire, but have not converted yet via email or ads.
Direct mail best practices
Like other marketing strategies, there are ways to help you succeed with direct mail. Here are some tips to get you started:
Align your direct mail campaigns with online campaigns
Applying a completely different campaign strategy to direct mail marketing will likely confuse your customers. Studies also show that combining digital marketing with direct mail increases conversions and average order value. Work this new channel into your existing marketing plan to create additional touchpoints while keeping everything cohesive across marketing streams, whether physical or digital.
“Marketers are already realizing that when digital and physical mail campaigns are combined, there are significant increases in conversion rates and website visits,” says Karl White, Mailjoy co-founder. “And now there are tools available for smaller retailers and ecommerce companies to realize these benefits without requiring substantial investment for in-house marketing resources.”
Focus on design, content, and layout
Much like email campaigns or other online marketing formats, you’ll want to make sure direct mail campaigns show who you are, what you offer, and the benefits of choosing your brand.
“Direct mail is a visual medium, so make sure your design is clean, punchy, and on-brand. You want the card to be instantly recognizable to the recipient with a clear message,” says Epstein.
Use direct mail to build trust and encourage shoppers to buy from your business instead of the competition.
As a rule of thumb, direct mail campaigns should always include these elements:
- Your brand logo
- Clear message
- High quality visuals
- Obvious call to action
- URL or QR code
- Incentive to purchase (for example a coupon code or free gift with purchase)
Here are some direct mail design, content, and layout best practices:
Keep it simple
Avoid using small text and long paragraphs. Instead, opt for large headlines, images, and callout text, and leave breathing space. Make the key points stand out, and don’t overwhelm the reader with too much information.
It’s very easy to focus on making something beautiful, but you must make sure your key message isn’t lost,” says White. “A minimalist design with an eye-catching image and/or tagline can often yield great results.”
What can you offer a potential new customer or an existing customer who hasn’t purchased for a while? Whether it’s a limited time offer for 10% off their first purchase (if made by a certain date) or free shipping for repeat customers, including incentives can improve direct mail campaign performance. In fact, BOOM! turned a $1,510 investment into $39,733 in sales with a direct mail win-back campaign that included 15% off for a limited time.
💡PRO TIP: Create a unique code that customers must use to redeem the offer. This will also help you track direct mail performance.
Have a prominent call to action
While you obviously can’t include a CTA button on a physical mailer, you can create a strong call to action in other ways. Set it off with large or boxed text, and make it simple and easy to do. Create a unique URL that customers can type into their browser to immediately redeem the offer. This is also a great way to measure the performance of a specific direct mail campaign.
For example, if you’re sending a postcard to encourage customers to buy new sweaters for fall, you could create a landing page on your website that’s tied to the campaign and make a memorable URL like yourbusiness.com/sweater-weather.
And if the objective is to increase in-store foot traffic via direct mail, include text on the mailer letting customers know they need to bring it in to redeem the offer. It’s more manual, of course, but you can count the postcards and analyze sweater sales from the day of the promotion.
💡PRO TIP: Depending on the direct mail app or supplier you use, there may be an option to add QR codes to your campaigns. If it’s possible, use this feature to make it faster and easier for customers to go from offline to online by scanning the QR code with their smartphones. Or you can use the Shopify’s free QR code generator to create QR codes that you can add to your direct mail design files.
Add customer reviews
You have customer reviews posted on your website or product pages; why not include one on your direct mail materials? You can add a short (one sentence) testimonial to build trust and entice customers to try a product other people already love.
Cover the terms of your offer
If you’re including a special offer or limited time promotion, make sure the terms are clearly stated. This can be small print on the back of a postcard or brochure.
You likely won’t have space to include a list of frequently asked questions on a postcard, but if you’re sending a brochure or catalog, you can dedicate a section or page to FAQs. This way, shoppers will know exactly how to place orders, redeem offers, or take the next step.
Include contact information and social media handles
Reserve space for information about how to contact customer service and where to follow your brand online. Make it easy for customers to get in touch via email, phone, or chat, and encourage them to keep in touch via social media.
Consider personalizing direct mail campaigns
Adding a name to direct mail marketing materials can increase response rates by 135%. Depending on your audience and the type of campaign you’re sending, this may be a good strategy to increase conversions.
“Relevance can be achieved with per-mailer personalization,” says White. “This could include addressing the recipient by name or including a relevant picture, like an image of a past order.”
Use direct mail to build personal connections
A piece of mail can already feel more personal than an email, making it a great medium to send thank-you notes, birthday cards, and other messages that are less related to your business and more focused on the recipient.
“This is a great way to deepen connections with your customers and put a smile on someone’s face,” says White. “This type of campaign can easily be combined with others, so you can offer tangible benefits to your most loyal customers.”
Pay attention to mailing list quality
The quality of your mailing list is crucial to direct mail campaign performance.
“A mailing list of your known recent customers will always be best, and will offer the highest conversion rate—up to 5%–10%,” says White. “Whereas cold outreach using a paid list may convert at 1%.”
So if you’re thinking about blasting a direct mail campaign to a paid list, think again. These types of lists can quickly become stale, and there’s usually no way to know if what you’re offering is relevant to the recipients.
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Send the right type of campaign at the right time
Like online marketing, with direct mail for retail there are different types of campaigns you can send, depending on customer behavior and where they are in the buying process.
Plan direct mail marketing according to themes and occasions or around new product launches. From win-back campaigns to promoting new arrivals and special offers to thank you notes and requests for customer feedback or reviews, sending the right content at the right time is key.
“Consider starting with retention and remarketing campaigns first,” says Epstein. “Many brands think of direct mail campaigns for cold prospecting (i.e., blasting everyone in a zip code or demographics segment with an offer), but it’s hard to make that work. Start with a higher intent audience, get some easy wins, then start moving up the funnel.”
Here are a few direct mail campaign types to try:
1. One-off promotional events and announcements
Are you planning a big sale event or a new product launch? Use direct mail to reach all your customers (even if they’ve opted-out of email marketing). This strategy works all year round but can be particularly successful during periods when most brands are running online campaigns.
“CPCs (cost-per-click) get jacked up around holiday periods because everyone is running promotions at the same time,” says Epstein. “With direct mail, you can send to your full list, plus the price of postage is fixed so you don’t pay more to reach certain audiences or during peak periods.”
2. Automated or triggered lifecycle campaigns
There are a few types of automated or triggered direct mail campaigns you might consider implementing. Win-backs, post-purchase cross sells, VIP thank you, and new customer welcome campaigns (with an incentive to make a second purchase), can all lead to a boost in sales.
Like an email flow, once you set up these campaigns, they’ll be on autopilot and can help you generate incremental revenue and profits from the customers not engaging with your digital marketing efforts.
“When a personalized handwritten win-back direct mail campaign is sent, we’ve seen response rates of over 20% and when coupled with a corresponding email campaign, we’ve seen open rates up to 94% from previously unresponsive users,” says Radmand.
3. Interest building
Sharing product announcements, event reminders, and other exciting business information—for example, a new store opening—are all types of interest building direct mail campaigns.
You can use these campaigns to place your company front-and-center in the mind of potential customers who might be interested in what you have to offer.
“While it can be a little more difficult to measure the effectiveness of interest building campaigns, conversion tracking can be used to determine levels of interest amongst your recipients, and to plan follow-up campaigns,” says White.
4. Subscription extensions
Keeping existing customers is much easier and less expensive than acquiring new ones. If you have a subscription business model, stay ahead of the curve and send direct mail campaigns to encourage subscription extensions before customers have a chance to churn.
“If you know customers are normally subscribed for an average of six months before they churn, sending a personalized handwritten card at month five with some type of discount offer for their next three months is an automatic way to cultivate a deeper relationship and instantly increase CLV,” says Radmand.
5. Customer acquisition and retargeting
Use direct mail to target prospects that have opted in to your email list but stil haven’t converted. Depending on the direct mail platform you use, some (including PostPilot) have technology that scrubs email addresses against a physical address database and triggers a physical postcard.
For example, if a shopper joins your mailing list and still hasn’t made a purchase after two weeks, you can set up a triggered direct mail campaign to nudge them to redeem your sign up offer. Whether it’s 10% off their first purchase or free shipping, sending a physical reminder can be the difference between converting a new customer or losing them for good.
6. Post-purchase follow ups to ask for reviews
Cultivating positive customer reviews will not only help you build stronger relationships with your loyal fans, but it can also help convert prospects (who see positive review on your website or other channels) into paying customers. Use direct mail to send a handwritten card post-purchase asking for a review on your website or Google Business profile.
Regardless of the campaign you’re sending, make sure you connect with your recipient.
“Don’t just send generic ‘spray and pray’ mailers to your audience,” says Radmand. “Be mindful of when you send mail and what your letters say. The average person only receives 10 pieces of personal mail each year, so if you can truly make your outreach personal, you’re guaranteed to see an amazing ROI.”
Always be testing
Like any marketing campaign, testing is essential. Segment your lists, do A/B testing, and make sure you always have a way to track results and understand your ROI.
Some direct mail solutions like Mailjoy offer conversion tracking. You can send direct mail recipients to a campaign-specific landing page on your website with attribution tags (these tags collect and send data from your website to your analytics). Then use your existing tracking tools like Google Analytics to measure the effectiveness of each campaign.
Use the Shopify app store to leverage direct mail
There are many direct mail plugins available in the Shopify app store including PostPilot Postcard Marketing, Poplar Mail, and IgnitePOST. It’s easy to start testing direct mail and it’s less risky than Facebook and Google Ads, thanks to lower costs, less competition, and higher ROI.
Get started with direct mail marketing
From personalized mailers to new product announcements to thank you notes, direct mail is a surefire way to combine online and offline touchpoints and grow your business. Breaking through the digital clutter with physical mail can help you build deeper customer relationships, reduce CAC, maintain loyalty, and increase sales.
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Only Shopify gives you all the tools you need to find new customers and keep them coming back. Unify your customer profiles to leverage direct mail with Shopify POS, build customer profiles to fuel your retention marketing email campaigns, and more.