Six factors to consider before implementing a direct mail or email campaign

What factors should you consider before moving ahead with a direct mail or email campaign?   The factors to consider are: effectivenessplanningaudiencemessaginglist purchasing; and cost factors.  Before moving ahead, weigh each factor to determine which makes sense for your business.  Chances are, you’ll want to use both methods to reach your target audience, but it depends upon your objectives and type of product or service you are offering.  When you’re ready to move forward, make sure you follow best practices, understanding do’s and don’ts.


Direct mail response rates are typically in the 2.7% to 4.4% range, but may be as high as 37% .1 Direct mail response rates also vary by product, industry, messaging, weather, and company.2  Consumers open up to 90% of their mail that arrives.3  According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), the response rate is 5.1% compared to .6% for paid search, .2% for online display, and .4% for social media.4   Response rates also improve when the list of contacts is owned or especially well targeted.5 Unlike in-house or owned lists, purchased lists can have a margin of error as high as 20-30% for various reasons (people move, change jobs, get married/divorced.)6  Customers also find print materials to be the most trustworthy type of marketing, which might explain why prospects are 10% to 20% more likely to convert on a direct mail offer than an email offer, or why consumers are more likely to take action immediate from direct mail compared to those who receive mail.7,8  Direct mail is also considered more personal, which may help with building trust.10  Combining this background with the average direct mail campaign earning an 18% to 20% return on investment, it’s no wonder why most B2C marketers prefer direct mail for customer acquisition and customer contact/retention.11,12   B2C marketers can more easily more easily target desired audience – either a specific individual or household – while B2B marketers target everyone who influences and/or makes decisions behalf of the business, which is harder to identify.13

Email campaigns, on the other hand, enjoy an average open rate up of 29.55%, an average click-through rate of 1.27% and an average delivery rate higher than 98%, which is much better than direct mail.14,15   The return on investment is also typically higher for email despite similar costs per lead.16   Similar to direct mail, an in-house list improves email response rates along with personalization.17,18   For situations where there is a longer sales cycle, nurture campaigns help keep offerings top of mind with prospects, and may help explain why B2B marketers like email for customer acquisition and retention.19

Keep in mind that information is disseminated from a wide variety of sources – from web, email, and social media to television, radio, magazines, and direct mail – so it’s harder for prospects to digest new information.  And it can take up to 8 follow-up calls just to reach a prospect.20   Factors such as trust and whether the content is valid, helpful, or relevant start to take precedent.  Environmental issues – like whether prospects can hear or see the advertising message correctly on their computer or have a distraction in the background – impedes the prospect’s ability to give the ad attention, impacting your ability to reach and influence their behavior.

Provide information via the sources the prospect wishes to receive it to improve campaign results and use a multi-channel communication strategy to reach prospects via their customer touch points when budget permits.  Don’t be afraid to get creative with your campaign.  Try adding dimension, extra folds, video, pictures over an envelope fold, clever wording including jokes and puns, different mailer sizes, or 3-D images to your direct mail campaign.21 You could also try directing people to your social media site for a “thank you” after finishing the online form for your direct mail piece or email, which asked them to complete it.22 


Creative elements, messaging, list acquisition, and delivery need to be thought through upfront.  Depending upon your business operations, services from a designer, writer, list broker and mail house/email vendor may need to be acquired.   All elements need to be prepared, proofed, tested, and approved, which takes time.  Create a decision tree of how you’ll respond once the mailing goes out to give clear guidance for follow-up.

Remember: Being able to follow-up on leads generated is just as important as capturing interest in the first place, so you’ll want to set expectations clearly.  If you have more leads than you can handle, prospects may be disappointed in your response or service/product quality, creating bad word of mouth that spreads through social media.  If you need to work across different functions or regions to implement what may otherwise appear to be a simple campaign, you will likely need more time for planning, execution and follow-up.

Plan response carefully.  If you are conducting a direct mail campaign, add keycodes or unique identifiers to track response for situations where the prospect is directed to call a phone number.  If you want your prospect to go to the website to learn more or make a purchase, consider including a QR code or adding a specific URL on the direct mail piece, which prospects can use to access specific information or landing pages about your company.23  If you implement an email campaign, you can implement personalized URLs (PURLS) to improve response rates.24  PURLS combine response card characteristics with a webpage, so that the recipient’s information is already completed on the form when they access the page.  With PURLS, you can make special offers or web landing pages targeted to that recipient, enabling further segmentation by interest level.  The recipient simply clicks on what they want and it generates a lead that can be forwarded to your sales representative.  Whatever your call-to-action is for the prospect, the keycode or QR code will help track which the list the prospect’s name came from, the piece they received, and any specialized messaging used or offer made.  With proper tracking, you can confirm what worked and what didn’t, helping to improve future lead generation initiatives.

Audience size

A larger target audience will impact costs and expected results.  Be sure you have the resources you need in order to follow-up with those who show interest in your offering.  If using a direct mail piece to drive traffic to an event, be sure you start with a large enough prospect list.  At each level of response (after a direct mail piece and telephone or email reminder), expect only a smaller percentage to confirm their attendance.  See for a helpful calculator to estimate sample size.


Make sure messaging is targeted to your audience’s unique interests and expectations, being cognizant of where they are in the buying cycle. Segment your list by area of concern, region, or other factors pertinent to your offering and be sure to include an incentive encouraging prospects to contact you or to provide their information for follow-up.  Your direct mail or email should include branding that’s consistent with your corporate image for consistency and increased recall capability.

  • Copy for direct mail may be long; people need enough information to understand your offer.
  • You should still include a website link and social networking sites where you can be found in case the prospect wants more information.
  • Copy for email offers should be shorter, incorporating links to a website for more information. The idea with email campaigns is to wet the prospect’s appetite to inspire a visit to your website for more information, converting their interest into a sale.

List purchase

If you purchase a list to increase your target distribution size, encourage customers to provide you with their contact information. Generally speaking, you pay for borrowing the use of the list and will not be privy to the list’s prospect contact information since the final distribution is typically handled as a blind mailing or one done by a 3rd party approved mailer.  Before conducting your mailing, be sure to remove duplicates that appear when multiple lists are combined. To obtaining your list:

  • List brokers rely on NAICS and SIC Codes to identify those you would like to include in your list, so you will want to be prepared with which codes fit your target audience.  List brokers should be unbiased in helping you find the best list to meet your needs.  List sellers are often just list compilers or aggregators.
  • Magazine vendors, generally speaking, have profiles based on how readers answered questionnaires.  Request a copy of their subscriber questionnaire to understand how prospects may have interpreted questions.
  • Email list vendors should be able to verify that prospects opted-in to receive mail from solicitors.  Check on how frequent the list is used; overuse isn’t good, nor is under use because then it may not be maintained.  Research whether competitors used the list and if so, when; it could influence whether to use the list or the messaging you use.

For best response rate results, develop or use your own list to reach prospects and customers whenever possible.

Cost Factors

Direct Mail Email campaign
  • Creative
  • Printing (colors, pages, and paper quality impact pricing)
  • Mail house – postage & handling
  • List purchase
  • Cost per lead:  $51.40*
  • Return on Investment: $7.00*
  • Creative
  • Email Service Provider
  • Message development
  • List purchase
  • Cost per lead: $55.24*
  • Return on Investment:  $38.00*

Discover More…

  1. Bozeman, Ryan. “Direct Mail vs. Email – Optimize Both Through The Customer Journey.” PostAlytics, Inc. Last modified January 8, 2019.
  2. D’Alessandro, Colleen. “Top 15 Direct Mail Marketing Trends For 2018.” Postalytics, Inc. Last modified February 16, 2018.
  3. Chaffey, Dave. “How Do You Compare? 2022 Average Email Open Rates, Clickthrough Rates, and Marketing Statistics Compilation.” Smart Insights. Last modified April 19, 2022 .
  4. Dod, Ronald. “These 15 Tips Will Help Your Email Conversion Rate.” Small Business Trends LLC. Last modified October 11, 2017.
  5. Kolowich, Lindsay. “How to Easily Plan & Track Your Email Marketing Campaigns [Free Email Planning Template.]” Hubspot, Inc. (blog). Last modified February 25, 2016 (8:00 am).
  6. “Mailpiece Specifications.” ANS. Last modified November 6, 2019.
  7. Mansfield, Matt. “Direct Mail Marketing Statistics for Small Businesses.” Small Business Trends LLC. Last modified January 10, 2017.
  8. “Personalization’s Considered the Most Effective Email Tactic.” Marketing Charts. Last modified September 25,2017.
  9. Taylor, Scott. “Why Direct Mail Marketing Is Far From Dead.” The Huffington, Inc. Last modified June 23, 2016 (3:12 pm).
  10. “25 Statistics That Prove the Value of Email Marketing.” AccurateLeads. Last modified June 8, 2016.
  11. “What is a Good Response Rate for Direct Mail Marketing?”  Amsive. Last modified December 23, 2020.
1 “Direct Marketing Statistics for 2022,” Compu-Mail, last modified June 14, 2022,
2 Mark Pinard, “Am I Getting Good Direct Mail Response Rates?”,, Inc., last modified May 21, 2021.
3 Ivana Vojinovic, “Direct Mail Statistics That Will Have You Running to the Post Office,” SmallbizGenius, last modified September 17, 2019,
4 “30 Direct Mail Statistics for 2017,” Compu-Mail, last modified July 14, 2017,
5 “Direct Mail Statistics,” THEDMA.ORG, accessed February 8, 2023,
6 “30 Direct Marketing Statistics for 2017.”
7 “Direct Mail vs Email Marketing.” accessed February 14, 2022.
8 Laura Forer, “Head-to-Head: Direct Mail vs. Email [Infographic], MarketingProfs LLC, last modified April 20, 2017,
9 Roger Dooley, “Print vs. Digital: Another Emotional Win for Paper,” Neuromarketing, accessed February 8, 2023, .
10 Laura Forer , “Head-to-Head: Direct Mail vs. Email [Infographic].”
11 Matt Mansfield, “Direct Mail Marketing Statistics for Small Businesses,” Small Business Trends LLC, last modified January 10, 2017, ./.
12 Jes Kirkwood, “5 Key Differences Between B2B and B2C Marketing,” AutopilotHQ Inc. (blog), accessed February 8, 2023, .
13 Jes Kirkwood, “5 Key Differences Between B2B and B2C Marketing.”
14“Dave Chaffey, “How Do You Compare? 2022 Average Email Open Rates, Clickthrough Rates, and Marketing Statistics Compilation,” Smart Insights (Marketing Intelligence) Ltd, last modified April 19, 2022,
15 Laura Forer , “Head-to-Head: Direct Mail vs. Email [Infographic].
16 “Direct Media Response Rate, CPA & ROI Benchmarks in 2017,” Marketing Charts, LLC, last modified June 26, 2017.
17 “Personalization’s Considered the Most Effective Email Tactic,” Marketing Charts, LLC, last modified September 25, 2017,
18 Jes Kirkwood, “5 Key Differences Between B2B and B2C Marketing.”
19 “30 Direct Marketing Statistics for 2017.”
20 “118 Eye-Opening Sales Statistics for 2018,” Spotio, last modified July 30, 2019,
21 “47 Creative Direct Mail Ideas to Inspire Your Marketing,” Postary, last modified March 20, 2019,
22 “Increase Online Engagement with Direct Mail,” QuantumDigital, Inc., last modified April 14, 2017,
23 “Measuring Success In Your Direct Mail Marketing Campaigns,” QuantumDigital, Inc., last modified June 12, 2017,
24 “PURLs in Direct Market Campaigns,” Boingnet, accessed February 8, 2023,
* Laura Forer, “Head-to-Head: Direct Mail vs. Email [Infographic].”

Share this with peers & choose your platform!