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Developing a Direct Mail Campaign in 2021, Part 1

Written by Gary A. Seitz

This article was originally published by Mailing Systems Technology.


I recently received an email from a marketing company that started out with this statement:

Let's face it — direct mail is simply print, a mailing list, and postage, all of which are commodities accessible to almost anyone. At the end of the day, all you care about are results (sales, votes, donations)! You don’t care how the postcard was printed.”

While somewhat true – there is a lot more that goes into a direct mail campaign given new technology and the changing environment, both for marketers and consumers. With a major shift in the workforce from the office to work-from-home, marketers know that it is easier now to target their audience at home – making direct mail more effective than ever.



Most marketers remember the 40/40/20 basic tenants for successful direct mail: 40% of your success depends on the list, 40% on the offer, and 20% on the creative. A recent statistic shifted the relevance to 60/30/10. Finding the right list is critical. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are tools available to help determine the right list, specifically targeted for your campaign and offer.

Start with your own house list. While your own database may be rich with years of customers, you need to know their relevance now. Build a simple RFM analysis. Recency – when they last purchased (and the best predictor of future behavior), Frequency – how often they buy from you (triers, buyers, and advocates) and Monetary – how much they’ve spent with you (sales shoppers or true loyalists). A service provider can assist, or you can build this easily within an Excel table with the right internal data. Then identify your best RFM segments.

If that type of information isn’t easily accessible, use the last two years of customer data to help identify and mirror your best customers. These are your most recent buyers/donors who reflect current buying trends. Utilize your service provider to scrub the data using CASS, NCOA, vacant and deceased coding, and then remove non-pertinent or undeliverable addresses. A clean list to start is essential for success!

Get the demographics right. Today’s 2021 marketer has access, via service providers, to a host of demographic data that can help them understand “who is my customer/donor.” Over 400 characteristics are available to append to better define your current base: attributes ranging from age, income, presence and age of children, and home value to lifestyle interests in recreation, the arts, politics, non-profits, and online purchasing or spending habits. With some simple analytics, you can use this data to better segment your house list and target your best rental lists. This can be particularly helpful if your customer base or brick-and-mortar locations are across a broad geographic area.

If you don’t have the time, budget, or skill set to deep dive into appended data, service providers can also provide you with a customer profile report. A dozen key demographic and lifestyle or firmographic (business) attributes are applied to your file and a summary report describing your best customers is created for you. In most cases, a scored list of the best look-alikes in your geographic footprint is also generated. A scored list ranks each household in relation to how those demographics reflect your customers/donors. Households with a score of 90+ best reflect your current database for prospecting.

Building a mailing list of well-qualified customers and prospects is the single most important aspect of any direct mail campaign.



With so many options and internet search tools available to consumers today, a compelling offer is essential for the success of your direct mail campaign. Remember that today’s consumer isn’t interested in what you can do; they are most interested in what you can do for them!

In any offer, “FREE” is still a driving force in marketing – from free samples or trial offers to free shipping. Be sure to include an equally strong call to action, with multiple options like a phone number and a website landing page. Make your offer and call to action compelling, and easy.



While the least important component of a successful direct mail campaign, creative elements also matter. Determine the best option to deliver your message: a standard or over-sized postcard which grabs immediate attention, or a standard letter that provides more real estate for your message and response vehicle. Consider testing both to determine which method yields a better response.

Ensure your message is concise and easy to read, makes use of eye-popping color, and has a clear offer and call to action. Don’t overdo the copy – your website can provide more details. A picture is still worth a thousand words.



When the campaign is over, you need much deeper analysis than just measuring response rate to the mail. We’ll have more on this in the next issue.

An effective and successful direct mail campaign in 2021 does not just end with a list and a mail piece. There’s a lot more to this than just preparing a mailing list, crafting an offer, designing a mail piece, and dropping it in the mail. Today’s marketer is transforming beyond simple direct mail to reach customers and prospects in more ways.



New technology helps enhance the direct mail message, driving greater response rates. Marketers can, and now need to, integrate and serve messages in email, landing pages, and online display ads to extend the effectiveness of their direct mail. It doubles your marketing power as you improve the customer experience while gaining much more relevant data to inform you of your buyer behavior while adding insight into your customer journeys.

Omnichannel marketing presents marketing teams with new challenges. Now marketers must coordinate multiple touchpoints across multiple channels beyond direct mail — not always an easy task. In the next issue of Mailing Systems Technology, we’ll explore how to do this to complement your direct mail.


Gary A. Seitz is the Vice President of CTRAC Direct. He assists mailers who need help understanding their data and their direct mail. Reach out to him at or 216.251.2500 x 4985.


This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2021 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.

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