How to Improve Your Direct Mail Response Rates

By Bob Baldridge March 23, 2021

Marketers love direct mail because it’s one of the most effective marketing channels there is, with average response rates around nine times higher than email according to the Association of National Advertisers. Even before pandemic-related “Zoom fatigue” set in, digital marketing channels were showing “stagnating and sometimes declining performance,” according to Summer Gould of BRAND United. Gould points to the sheer number of emails people receive these days, combined with ad blindness (our brains learning to ignore banner-like content) and an overall increase in the use of ad blocking software, as possible causes. 


Whatever the reason, direct mail’s strong performance keeps it at the forefront of the omni-channel marketing toolbox, especially for marketers who really want their audience to take action. In one USPS® study, over 60% of direct mail recipients visited a promoted website, and those visitors purchased 28% more items via online channels than people who didn’t receive that piece of direct mail.

Response rate is one of the analytics every marketer should be tracking on their direct mail campaigns. And even if yours is already strong, it’s smart to consider what can be done to improve it in order to optimize your print marketing ROI

When we work with clients on direct mail campaigns, whether we’re targeting our local area here in Dallas or nationwide, here are four steps we take to ensure the response rates are as high as possible.

Response Rate Factor 1: Personalization

The first question I ask when we’re talking about increasing response rates is, “How can we make it more personalized?”

Postcards and other direct mail pieces that have been hyper-personalized are up to 500% more effective. Variable data printing makes it possible for each unique piece of mail to use headlines, copy, imagery, colors, maps, QR codes, and more that are specifically targeted to the individual recipient and designed to evoke a response. We can even print a personalized URL on every piece of mail, which takes the recipient to a unique landing page that has been tailored for their customer journey. 

Response Rate Factor 2: List Building and Targeting

Lists that have been purchased (meaning that these are not your existing customers or leads who are expecting to hear from you but are rather brand new potential leads who may not have heard of your organization) generally have the lowest response rates. Lists made up of your existing customers and/or leads generally have higher response rates. 

This makes perfect sense, but one way you can increase your success when reaching out to brand new leads is to strategically build lists that are similar to your current customer base. Instead of blanketing an entire zip code with a campaign, our team of data optimization experts works with our customers to build highly targeted lists using demographic data. We can even include telephone and email address appends in order to run fully integrated omni-channel campaigns. 

Response Rate Factor 3: A Compelling Call to Action

The call to action on a direct mail campaign is incredibly important. There’s a big difference between “Learn more” and “Claim your 10% off today,” and you’ll see that difference in your response rates. It seems obvious, but make sure your call to action is actionable by using a strong verb. If you can, build in the answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?” Bonus response rate points for baking in a promotion or incentive. 

Response Rate Factor 4: Captivating Creative 

The imagery and colors you use, your font choices, the form factor and size of your direct mail piece, and the print techniques and finishes you use — all of these small touches can add up to make a piece really stand out in the recipient’s mailbox. We consult with our agency and in-house marketers on these choices all day long (see our advice on designing for direct mail!) because we know that they actually make a difference when it comes to ROI.

One thing I love about direct mail marketing (other than how effective it is) is how easy it is to predict, measure, and improve your response rates, campaign over campaign. We can even do A/B testing within individual campaigns, if you really want to have some fun!

Curious about how these direct mail strategies will affect your bottom line? Download our Direct Mail ROI Calculator to get started.