12 Tips to Improve Direct Mail Response Rates

direct-mail-response-rates-handsDirect mail was the first major direct marketing channel – and after all these decades it’s still going strong.  It also lends itself to measurement and testing, which means there’s lots of opportunity to learn from experience.  There’s a good body of knowledge about what works and how to improve direct mail response rates.

Of course, every product, every market and every campaign has its own flavour, but these tips are a good place to start if you want to improve your results.

Starter Tips for Better Direct Mail Response Rates

1. Start with the basics.

Make sure you include the three things recipients need so they can respond .

  • An offer you want them to respond to.
  • A reason why they should accept the offer.
  • Show them how to respond to the offer.

2. Make it easy to respond.

Make sure details of how to respond are on every single page, or every single piece if your mailing has multiple pieces.

Give people a choice of how to respond.  Include at least two of the following

  • A response or order form within the mailer.
  • A phone number. Use a toll-free number if you can.  Make it clear when that number will be manned!
  • A web address.  A page directly relevant to the offer you have mailed, or even better, a PURL (personalised url) for each recipient.
  • An email address.
  • An SMS service
  • A QR code

3. Make the offer as attractive as possible.

Please note the ‘usually’ in all the points below. Wherever you can, test in your own market, for your own product or service.

  • An offer with a time limit usually outperforms an offer with no time limit.
  • An offer with a free gift usually outperforms a discount offer.
  • Prize draws usually increase order volume, especially for impulse items.  (But customers may not be loyal).
  • A ‘try one, get one free’ offer can increase response rates dramatically.

Content Tips to Drive Direct Mail Response Rates

4. Engage emotion first, reason second.

You have a few seconds to catch people’s attention.  That’s an emotional task.  Only once you have their attention and a willingness to buy, use reason to help them justify their desire.

Benefits are emotional, features are not.  So this also means you focus on benefits, not features.  How does your offer help the prospect do one of the following?

  • save money
  • make money
  • save time
  • achieve more
  • feel better about themselves
  • have fun
  • impress their friends
  • care for their loved ones

5. Focus on the Most Important Content

Most readers will scan rather then read every word. So focus on the content with the most impact. Here’s what the average reader looks at on a page, in order:

  • Pictures or illustrations
  • Headlines
  • Charts or graphs
  • Captions
  • Body copy

So work on content in that order.

6. Personalise as much as you can.

It’s not just the name and address.  What else can you personalise?

Different images for different demographics or psychographics.  Maps to your nearest location.  Details of previous transactions with  you.

Formatting Tips for Better Direct Mail Response Rates

7. Envelopes usually outperform self-mailers.

They’re harder to throw away as people just want to check what’s inside first.

Anything which makes your envelope stand out more or look more personal also helps – a different colour or a handwritten address, for example.

8. Larger response forms often lead to a higher response.

They’re more visible.  They create more sense of expectation.

9. More is more.

If you’ve ever received a mailing from Reader’s Digest about one of their prize draws, you’ll know how many pieces there are in it.  Letters, certificates, stickers, response forms, envelopes.  There’s a reason they do it.  Over years of testing different formats, they’ve found this gives the best return on investment.

  • Testing shows that four page letters often get better responses than two page letters.  Hard copy mail which people can consume at leisure allows for a longer attention span than email!
  • Scratchies, stickers and peel-off windows all encourage interactivity.
  • Psychological studies show we work harder to keep something we have than to get something we don’t.  So a free gift which we might miss out on by not responding is seriously hard to ignore.

Processes to Improve Direct Mail Response Rates

10. Test, test and test again.  Then test some more!

Test everything – headlines, formats, copy, images, offers, lists, frequency – everything you can think of!  Just don’t test it all at once, or you won’t know what made a difference!

Testing is the R&D of marketing. The more you test, the more your direct mail response rates will increase.

11. Keep your data quality good!

If you’re using internal data, keep it clean and up-to-date.

If you’re using third-party lists, de-duplicate.  There’s no point in sending someone two copies of the same mailing piece.

12. Integrate direct mail with other marketing channels for even better response rates.

TV, radio, magazine and newspaper advertising, outdoor, telemarketing, email, online and social – all these channels and more have a part to play. Adding them together can increase return on investment by as much as 20%.


We hope some of these tips help you take another look at your direct mail campaigns – and we’d love to know how you get on!

The Xpadite team are currently working on a longer white paper exploring direct mail response rates, with further tips, case studies and more detailed commentary.  We’re expecting to publish in April 2015 – if you’d like to pre-order a copy, just drop us a line and we’ll send you the files as soon as they’re ready.