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How to use direct mail


  1. 1 Decide what your objectives are: for example, making direct sales, maintaining customer relationships or generating new enquiries.
  2. 2 Identify your target audience, typically similar to your existing customers.
  3. 3 Establish your budget; consider how much each response will be worth to you, and the likely response rate.
  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. 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. 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. 7 Ensure that your use and storage of personal data complies with the Data Protection Act.
  8. 8 Prepare a letter with a clear, attention-grabbing message selling the benefits of your offer; prepare any enclosures (eg brochures).
  9. 9 Design the mailshot to be attractive; personalise the envelope and letter as far as possible, and avoid the appearance of 'junk mail'.
  10. 10 Encourage responses: make responding easy (eg with a pre-printed reply card) and consider offering an incentive to reply promptly.
  11. 11 Use test mailings to establish likely response rates, and to compare the effectiveness of different mailshots or mailing lists.
  12. 12 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.
  13. 13 Send out the mailing; consider using a specialist mailing house to handle large mailings.
  14. 14 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


  • be clear what your objectives are and who you are targeting
  • use an up-to-date and accurate mailing list
  • prepare an attractive, personalised mailing
  • encourage responses


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