What is Direct Mail?

Direct mail can be targeted to customers who are likely to buy an advertised product.
Coupons can be distributed through direct mail.
Sales flyers are one form of direct mail that is sent to consumers.
Article Details
  • Written By: RR
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 18 July 2014
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Direct mail is a way of advertising in which advertisers mail printed ads, letters or other solicitations to large groups of consumers. Bulk-mail rates are used to lower the cost of the mailing, and targeted mailing lists are used to maximize potential response.

This type of advertising is used in many different situations, limited primarily by the imagination of the advertiser. Stores typically use direct mail to advertise new products or to distribute coupons. Charities typically use the it to raise money or recruit volunteers. Almost any sales pitch can be made in this way.

To create a direct mailing, advertisers will work to create an ad that will appeal to a substantial number of people. They will then send it to a large group of people, depending on the potential audience of the ad. That could be a ZIP code, particular demographic, or entire nation.

Advertisers have found direct mail appealing for a number of reasons. It takes their message directly to the consumer. While consumers might walk away from a television ad or flip past a newspaper ad, they will eventually open their mailbox. Advertisers also like that they can direct their message as narrowly or broadly as they want, using bulk mailing rates. By receiving the mail at home, direct mail puts the advertiser's message in the hands of the consumer at the time the consumer might be likely to read it, along with the rest of the mail.


This advertising method is not without its problems. Over the years, direct mail also became known by another name: junk mail. Some consumers became irritated at receiving numerous ads in the mail each day. Many threw away the suspected ad-filled mail.

Since consumers often throw away mail associated with ads, marketers were challenged to ensure that consumers read their ads. Marketers now use a variety of techniques to ensure that the recipients open their envelope. Some go to great lengths to make the envelope and mailing appear personal, even using special computer fonts that look like handwriting. Others will target the mailing to the most-likely customers by using targeted mailing lists. Many marketers have realized that one of the biggest challenges can be getting the reader to simply open the envelope and read the ad.

Direct mail has entered the world of the internet, and many of the same techniques are showing up electronically in email. Some advertisers now send emails with ads to large groups of consumers. They take advantage of the relatively low cost of obtaining a long list of email addresses and the little time needed to mail to thousands or millions of people. Perhaps not surprisingly, many computer users reacted by deleting what they perceive as "junk email".

Although most people are familiar with using this method to get to consumers, many businesses also advertise their products and services to other businesses. Business to business (B2B) direct mail is a particularly lucrative segment of the market; marketers can target their messages to precisely those recipients that are likely to become customers. In the end, direct mail allows companies to isolate their marketing dollars to high-probability prospects and avoid wasting money on those that are likely to be uninterested.


Discuss this Article

Post 7

I liked the flow of the article. I came across this article while I was searching some facts related to direct mailing. I have a magazine publication business and I use a direct mailing service. I've been listening to debates saying that direct mail marketing is no more and all. I was trying to get some numbers on it and actually came across a few. Here is the latest which I would like to share.

Data from the Direct Marketing Association benchmarks say that direct mail still reigns supreme, offering response rates of 1.1 to 1.4 percent, versus 0.03 percent for email, 0.04 percent for internet display ads and 0.22 percent for paid searches.

I loved this article and more such articles should come online, so that people will believe in such traditional methods of marketing.

Post 5

The USPS offers a great new product: Every Door Direct Mail Retail. No bulk permit needed - no names needed - no address list needed! Cost is $.142 for each piece - mailer can mail up to 5,000 pieces per day. Size/weight requirements involved - check it out on their site.

Post 4

Direct mail is one of the most maligned forms of marketing- as people hate to receive "junk mail". But if you are really marketing to the right audience, you should be able to offer the recipients something they are interested. So it is not junk mail at all.

Direct mail that is properly researched, professionally undertaken and reported is best for all involved.

Post 3

Nice, balanced, short and to-the-point description of direct mail. Direct mail also "plays well" with all other printed and electronic media. Responsible marketers always target all of their advertising and communications media to reach responsive consumers who are likely to want to hear their offers and value their propositions!

Post 2

This is a great post. Direct Mail

Post 1

Mr. Wisegeek,

I just want folks reading this to know that not all direct mail is mailed to a "large number" of people. One of our most successful campaigns was mailed to only 145 C-level corporate managers and netted millions of dollars in sales.

Another example is a campaign we created for a Seattle remodeling contractor. We mailed three different cards to a total of 2500 homeowners, the first in June 2008, the second in August of 2008 and the final one in November 2008. The remodeler booked over $450,000 in sales from the three cards.

One of the secrets is pinpoint targeting. Another is creating a good offer.

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