It pays to learn the basics of direct mail, because mistakes are expensive. When you’re investing in lists, copy, creative, printing and postage, you don’t want to blow it. Run your next direct mail campaign against this checklist for better results.


  • Invest in targeting and learn how different levels of personalization and customization can impact your ROI.
  • Consider unique format sizes that conform to postal regulations.
  • Use postage stamps as opposed to a printed indicia whenever possible.
  • Consider an off-color envelope unless white makes a graphic explode from the paper.
  • Emphasize key elements like testimonials, guarantees and order forms.
  • Test lists, offers, price points, copy, creative and formats as opposed to trusting your intuition.
  • Create a sense of urgency with deadlines, extra incentives, etc.
  • Communicate benefits—early, often and clearly.
  • Take advantage of the space direct mail gives you to provide vital information—but do it tastefully.
  • Commit to a regular mailing schedule—every six weeks for current customers is a good starting point.
  • Write copy from a peer-to-peer perspective—especially when approaching top executives.
  • Have objectives and calculate return on investment


  • Design the piece and then have the writer fill in the “Greek” copy blocks—strategy, writing and design are most effective when done as a team.
  • Think that envelope teaser copy is appropriate for every mailing—you might never get out of the mailroom on B2B mailings.
  • Shortchange the amount of time you spend on a cover letter—it’s still the most important component of a direct mail package.
  • Buy cheap creative or, worse still, buy creative from any source that does not know direct mail—and we mean really know direct mail.
  • Hesitate to pull out all the stops—dimensional mail, express mail, high-value information incentives (white papers, survey results, etc.)—if your audience is senior managers.
  • Forget that a good list and a good offer account for 80 percent of your campaign’s success.
  • Neglect to create a strong, clear and visually obvious call to action.
  • Fail to break up long copy with bullets, graphics, call-outs or plain old white space.
  • Make it hard for recipients to purchase or respond—give lots of options.
  • Forget to put yourself and several “seeds” on the mailing list.
  • Fail to publicize your direct mail campaign—take extras to trade shows, include PR contacts on your mailing list, etc.
  • Try to do things internally if you don’t have the skill set.

Personalization Improves ROI. Study after study shows that personalization improves response—often dramatically. For example, an InfoTrends study indicated personalized direct mail resulted in:

  • 34% faster response rates
  • 48% percent more repeat orders
  • 25% average order value increase

But plastering a recipient’s name all over a direct mail piece isn’t what we mean. That’s old hat and only marginally effective. Make the effort to learn more about your customers and use that information to create promotions that show you understand them. There is lots of print technology available to help you execute programs at whatever personalization level your database capabilities can support.

By Larry Bauer