How to use direct mail


  1. Decide what your objectives are: for example, making direct sales, maintaining customer relationships or generating new enquiries via special offers.
  2. Identify your target audience, typically similar to your existing customers.
  3. Establish your budget; consider how much each response will be worth to you, and the likely response rate. Bear in mind that the average response rate for direct mail is 4%.
  4. Plan the timing of the mailshot; avoid holidays, and ensure that mailings that are linked to a specific event arrive in good time.
  5. Build your own mailing list and keep it up to date; keep records of enquiries and existing customers and ask existing contacts for new leads.
  6. Consider renting a mailing list; clearly specify your target audience, how many names you want and whether you intend to re-use the list. Ensure that the list has been cleaned to remove any names that have 'opted-out' of receiving mailings.
  7. Ensure that your use and storage of personal data complies with the Data Protection Act.
  8. Prepare a letter with a clear, attention-grabbing message selling the benefits of your offer; prepare any enclosures (eg brochures).
  9. Design the mailshot to be attractive; personalise the letter and envelope where possible; avoid the appearance of junk mail or spam.
  10. Encourage responses with a clear call to action: make responding easy and consider offering an incentive to reply promptly.
  11. Use test mailings to establish likely response rates, and to compare the effectiveness of different mailshots or mailing lists.
  12. Compare your results with the results of email marketing, online advertising, text messaging or social media campaigns to decide if direct mail is the best method to use on an on-going basis.
  13. Decide how you will handle the response and make any necessary preparations: for example, train employees how to deal with enquiries and ensure you have adequate stocks.
  14. Send out the mailing; consider using a specialist mailing house to handle large mailings.
  15. Analyse the response; record which contacts have been mailed and their response, and update your mailing list for any mail 'returned to sender' or email bouncebacks.

Cardinal rules


  1. specify your objectives and who you are targeting
  2. use an up-to-date and accurate mailing list
  3. prepare an attractive, personalised mailing
  4. encourage responses


  1. commit to a large mailshot without adequate testing
  2. overestimate likely response rates
  3. send a mailshot before ensuring that you can handle the response


  1. Direct Marketing Association
  2. Royal Mail
  3. Information Commissioner's Office