What do’s and don’ts should you follow when implementing a direct mail or email campaign?

See our checklist below for do’s and don’ts you should follow to maximize the effectiveness of your direct mail or email campaign.  While there are several factors to consider when rolling out a direct mail and email campaign, following basic do’s and don’ts will help you extend your reach and attain your objectives.


Use a targeted direct mail or email list to improve your response rate.  Internal lists are best because prospects and customers are familiar with you, and you control the frequency and reliability of the data.  Using the help of a list broker or agency, however, may be needed if your internal list is too small or won’t provide the target number of expected responses.  Generally speaking, the more targeted your audience is, the smaller the list size will be, and the more costly it will be to rent.

Use artwork, images, and wording that reflect your brand.  Branding should be aligned with corporate standards and program offering.  Images should be balanced with text and white space.

Your direct mail or email should include the basics:

  • Contact information
  • Subject line that grabs attention*
  • Call-to-action
  • Sharing options
  • Website or URL for more information
  • Social media sites where you have a presence
  • Special offer or spiff to help increase response rates.

* To grab your reader’s attention, consider a subject line that peeks curiosity, inspires emotion, extends a timely offer, or raises a question. If undertaking a nurture or trigger campaign, consider using a consistent subject line or subject prefix to allow the user to search for your information more easily in their inbox.  Be aware, however, that a consistent subject line may lead to lower open rates over time because the information sent is more predictable such as a weekly newsletter.1

Ensure your message is targeted to the specific needs of your audience.2  For email campaigns, personalizing your message will improve open rates and improve click-through rates.  Open rates are influenced by subject line and who the message is from, so avoid generic ‘reply from’ email addresses when possible.3  Remember: Users may see your email in their email preview pane, skewing the open response rate, so be sure to consider how your message is rendered.

For direct mail pieces, your messaging should be directed to your target audience’s needs.  You can still customize your letter or piece by ensuring it’s addressed to the right person as opposed to a generic address like “Business owner” or “Household member.”  Many of the same principles apply to direct mail as it does to email.  With only a few seconds to grab your reader’s attention, make sure your message is relevant, timely, and interesting. How?

  • Have your greeting include the prospect’s name.
  • Segment your mailing list to by one or more of the following:
    • industry
    • type of customer
    • interests
    • loyalty
  • Add the receiver’s location or their name.
  • Use action oriented language.
  • Provide a sense of urgency.
  • Incorporate data or numbers to back up a statement or claim.
  • Consider adding an interesting fact to encourage the receiver to take action.
  • Inspire curiosity or other emotions with thought provoking questions.
  • Make your reader laugh or smile by incorporating a pun or joke.
  • Include a special discount or other incentive to encourage a timely response.
  • Use tools such as predictive analytics to evaluate past purchases and make suggestions for complimentary products and services.4
  • Understand the needs of your niche market, using language your prospect appreciates.5
  • Try to understand where your customer is in the buying cycle for the type of message that will resonate most.
  • Include social media hashtags to direct people to specialized topics of interest.6

Deliverability can impact response rates.  Email spam filters are improving, and factors such as individuals or businesses moving can impact postal delivery.  When it comes to direct mail, the US Postal Services estimated in fiscal year 2022 that 4.36% was undelivered as addressed, costing an estimated $1.36 billion.7

Use A/B testing or multivariant testing methods to improve messaging and response rates.  For direct mail, testing may be cost prohibitive, but in the long run, could help you save money on a full scale mailing due to being able to take corrective action before the larger mailing is done.  Also, by testing various offers, lists, and tactics, the results may surprise you, helping you identify new markets, introduce new products, or segment your audience with more precision.8  For email campaigns, many email service providers (ESPs) offer free A/B testing, so it’s easy and cost effective to test a subject line, an image, or other messaging.  At the very least, you’ll want to evaluate how messaging impacts different customer segments to find opportunities where you can improve your next campaign roll out.9

In addition to messaging testing, you should test your email display on various platforms using different operating systems, email systems, and browsers to anticipate and correct issues users may encounter on their devices.

People move, change employment, and have other life situations happen to change their postal address or their email address so be sure to maintain your lists.

If you have a large number of email subscribers who are inactive or do not open their emails, you may be negatively impacting your email delivery rates. Consider dropping subscribers who haven’t been active in the past 12 months.

For direct mail, if you have a high number of undelivered mail, consider dropping those prospects from your list and researching the source of the list if the names were supplemented by an outside vendor as you may be compensated or know which vendor not to use next time.  Sending direct mail to prospects who don’t receive it is an unnecessary expense.

The best time to send your message varies by industry, brand, and offering (i.e. event, pending discount, etc.).  If you have a direct mail piece, you should send prospects your piece long before the busy season starts.  By mailing early, you avoid last minute marketing issues and it helps you beat the competition to your prospect.  Your audience’s schedule and lifestyle, however, will be the ultimate driver in email send time optimization.10

Direct mail and email have different issues to keep in mind when it comes to size and format.  For direct mail, the mailer must conform to the U.S. Postal Service guidelines pertaining to size as that can impact postal rates.  Oversized envelopes can get a higher response rate when using a house list, but postcards can be a great way to get your message out to customers at a lower cost.11  There are also specific U.S. Postal Service requirements to use when creating your mailer so be sure to follow their guidelines.12

Email may be viewed in text or html format.  ExactTarget found 60% of email clients block images by default, so don’t rely on images to convey your message.13  You should ask subscribers for their preference on how they would like to receive your messages.

With proper tracking, you can improve future direct mail and email campaigns, and there are numerous ways to do so.  For direct mail, you can include a key code, unique identifier, and/or special phone number. You can also include a special coupon with unique code to entice prospects to respond. Depending upon your offering and business operations, you can offer a combination to track response.  For instance, the prospect can call a generic phone number and provide a key code, which will tell your representative answering the call what the offering was, who received the mailer, where the prospect is located, and why the prospect is calling.  The prospect could call a special phone number where they just provide their name.  The representative at the special phone number already knows why the prospect is calling, but will track who called and any other specific information to the caller that’s desired.   In essence, the key code or QR code provides the information you need to track for who received your mailer and took action.

If you send an email, direct people to a form on your website to complete or to a personalized URL (PURL), which includes their information on the form and/or a special offer designed for them; the actions the prospects takes can then be tracked and forwarded to your sales representative. With email, you’ll want to track open rates and click-through-rates.


If email messages are received too often, prospects stop paying attention, and you risk being ignored or being unsubscribed.14   If you contact them via direct mail and you’re not frequent enough, you risk your prospect not hearing from you when the time is optimal, plus it takes multiple impressions to be effective.15   Frequency should be based on subscriber preferences, subscriber segments, and when the prime opportunity presents itself.16

Make sure copyrights, registered trademarks, and service marks are noted to conform to relevant industry standards and legal requirements.

If implementing an email campaign, follow SPAM rules, and offer and follow unsubscribe or opt-out options. Consider adding a survey to find out why the subscriber is dropping their name from your list and take corrective action in the future with others.  Learn more about the Federal CAN-SPAM Act on the Federal Communications and the Bureau of Consumer Protection websites.

If sending mail via the U.S. Post Office, be sure to follow list and mailer rules.  See the U.S. Postal Service website for a  checklist for mailers you can use as a starting point.

Mobile devices – extra considerations

  • Formatting text must be done for a smaller frame than for email viewed via a typical monitor; mobile devices typically have 20-40 characters in 12-15 lines per screen.
  • Be concise and put the most important information at the top or above the fold.
  • Use bullets to draw attention to key information; people tend to scan messages, not read them when they’re on the run.
  • Remove images to minimize loading time and link to mobile friendly sites or landing pages.
  • Because your target audience may have distractions around them, keeping your audience engaged will be more challenging.  Make sure your messaging is easy to understand.
  • Include clear space or padding around links to minimize tap errors on mobile devices.

Discover More…

  1. Arnold, John. “File Formats for Images in Your E-mail Marketing Messages.” Dummies. Accessed Accessed March 8, 2023. https://www.dummies.com/web-design-development/site-development/file-formats-for-images-in-your-e-mail-marketing-messages/.
  2. Bozeman, Ryan. “Direct Mail vs. Email Marketing: Pick One or Use Both?” Postalytics. Last modified July 6, 2022. https://www.postalytics.com/blog/direct-mail-vs-email/.
  3. “Email Length Best Practices for Email Marketers and Email Newbies.” Campaign Monitor (blog). Last modified February 27, 2020. https://www.campaignmonitor.com/blog/email-marketing/2020/02/email-length-best-practices-for-email-marketers-and-email-newbies/.
  4. Hurley, Sharon. “13 Ways to Boost Your Marketing Email Click-Through Rate.” Retyp, LLC. (blog) Last modified February 4, 2021. https://optinmonster.com/7-ways-to-boost-your-email-marketing-click-rate/.
  5. McCormick, Kristen. “The 177 Best Email Subject Lines & Templates.” WordStream (blog).  Last modified December 12, 2022.  https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2014/03/31/email-subject-lines.
  6. Nye, Carolyn. “4 Key Factors That Impact Email Deliverability.” Confluence Distribution, Inc. Last modified August 16, 2018. https://www.practicalecommerce.com/4-key-factors-impact-email-deliverability.
  7. Raso, Andrew. “10 Quick and Easy Email Marketing Segmentation Strategies to Try Today.” Neil Patel Digital, LLC (blog). Accessed March 8, 2023. https://neilpatel.com/blog/email-marketing-segmentation-strategies/.
  8. Ruby, Daniel. “73+ Email Marketing Statistics 2023 [updated Facts & Figures],” DemandSage. Last modified February 24, 2023. https://www.demandsage.com/email-marketing-statistics/.
  9. Shepherd, Maddie. “12 Direct Mail Statistics You Should Know.” Fundera Inc. Last modified January 23, 2023. https://www.fundera.com/resources/direct-mail-statistics.
  10. Taheer, Farjad. “Email Signup Forms:  14 Places to Add Them for Higher Conversions.”  Retyp, LLC. (blog). Last modified March 6, 2023. https://optinmonster.com/14-high-converting-places-to-add-email-signup-forms-to-build-your-list/.
  11. “What are the Laws Around Email Marketing?” Campaign Monitor. Last modified April 2019. https://www.campaignmonitor.com/resources/guides/understanding-emails-laws-regulations/.
1“Best Practices in Writing Email Subject Lines.” MailChimp, last modified May 30, 2012, http://kb.mailchimp.com/article/best-practices-in-writing-email-subject-lines.
2Georgia Christian, “List Segmentation: Why It’s Important and How to Do It,” MarketingProfs LLC, last modified February 16, 2011, http://www.marketingprofs.com/articles/2011/4452/list-segmentation-why-its-important-and-how-to-do-it.
3“25 Statistics That Prove the Value of Email Marketing,” AccurateLeads, last modified June 8 2016, http://www.accurateleads.com/25-statistics-prove-value-email-marketing/.
4 Sherry Gray, “How to Make Your Marketing Personal (But Not Creepy and Weird),” Jeff Bullas’s Blog, last accessed February 14, 2022, http://www.jeffbullas.com/2017/05/17/make-your-marketing-personal/.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Office of Inspector General, “Audit Report,” United States Postal Service, Undeliverable-as-Addressed (UAA) Mail Roll-Up 1998-2022, https://postalpro.usps.com/UAARollup.
8 “Dennis Kelly, “Direct Mal Testing,” Postalytics (blog), last modified August 20, 2019, https://www.postalytics.com/blog/direct-mail-testing-best-practices/.
9 Kim Stiglitz, “5 Email Tests You Need to Run Right Now for Better Results,” Campaign Monitor, last modified May 29, 2019, https://www.campaignmonitor.com/blog/email-marketing/2019/05/email-testing-tips/.
10 “How and Why Does Timing Matter to Email Marketing?” Smart Insights (Marketing Intelligence) Ltd., last modified October 6, 2017, http://www.smartinsights.com/email-marketing/email-communications-strategy/timing-matter-email-marketing/.
11“Does Direct Mail Size Matter?”
12“What is the Right Size for Your Direct Mailpiece?” USPS Delivers, accessed February 14, 2022, https://www.uspsdelivers.com/what-is-the-right-size-for-your-direct-mailpiece/.
13 Kyle Lacy, “4 Email Design Tip to Drive Clicks,” ExactTarget (blog), last modified October 9, 2012, http://blog.exacttarget.com/blog/socially-creative-and-delivered/4-email-design-tips-to-drive-clicks.
14 Aaron Wiseman, “Email Marketing Frequency Best Practices in 2020,” SmartrMail Pty Ltd. (blog), last modified June 27, 2019. https://www.smartrmail.com/blog/email-marketing-frequency-best-practices-2019/.
15 James E. Sullivan, “6 Things to Consider When Establishing a Direct Mail Campaign,” Melissa DATA Corp. (from Optic Nerve Direct Marketing), accessed February 14, 2022, http://www.melissadata.com/enews/marketingadvisor/articles/0902d/1.htm.
16 Ivan L., “11 Email Marketing Frequency Best Practices,” Telepath Data, Inc. (blog), last modified September 13, 2018, https://www.theseventhsense.com/blog/11-email-marketing-frequency-best-practices-for-2018

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