Postal Power

Secrets to boosting your direct mail's effectiveness
Magazine Contributor
Writer and Author, Specializing in Business and Finance
4 min read

This story appears in the July 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Dubbed junk mail by some, direct mail is the Rodney Dangerfield of marketing. But this don't-get-no-respect medium is actually one of the most effective, precise and economical ways to get your message to key audiences. Jack Rein, a direct-mail marketing consultant and owner of Rein Associates, a direct-mail consulting firm in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, says there are several mistakes entrepreneurs make when launching their direct-mail efforts. Knowing these secrets to success can help you avoid some direct-mail pitfalls.

  • Converse first. If your mailing is going to require a team effort--a printer, list broker, mailing house, graphic designer and writer--be sure to consult in detail with each person at the project's onset. Discuss your goals and invite feedback. Ask the mailing house whether the list should arrive on disk or on labels. And make sure your graphic designer knows the size and weight restrictions for the postage classification you need to meet before he or she starts designing.
  • Buy from a broker. Because selecting the right list is the single most important element in your direct-mail effort, consult a reputable list broker. To find a broker, one good resource is the Standard Rate and Data Service's (SRDS) direct-mail book, which can be found in many libraries. You can also ask your local chamber of commerce or post office for recommendations. A knowledgeable broker will be able to help you find a list that will meet your criteria with minimal waste. Be sure to ask what the "deliverability guarantee" is--in most cases, it's 93 percent. Find out whether you'll be compensated if your return rate from incorrect addresses is higher than that.
  • Use the list ethically. Most lists are rented for one-time use (although you can usually pay for multiple uses) and have minimum purchase requirements. Don't even think about poaching the list to use more than once--most are salted with dummy names that allow list companies to track who's mailing without authorization.
  • Be careful with creativity. It's important to be creative when you're competing for a prospect's attention. But if your piece is an eighth of an inch too big or a fraction of an ounce too heavy for the standard Postal Service weight and size classifications, you could end up wasting big bucks in extra postage. Be creative--but run unusual sizes or shapes by your local post office first.
  • Be benefits-oriented. Too many direct-mail pieces get bogged down in details that don't sell the prospect. Be clear, show your prospects what's in it for them, and make sure your response mechanism is easy to understand.
  • Testing 1-2-3. Test different lists, mailing pieces and offers, and don't be afraid to try new approaches. Rein cites a Columbia House example: By changing its offer from 10 records for $1.99 plus free shipping and handling to 10 records for a penny, plus $1.98 shipping and handling, the direct-music seller increased its response rate by 23 percent.
  • Check your timing. Rein suggests sending local, first-class mailings on Monday. Most pieces will reach prospects on Tuesday, the lightest mail day of the week. Different industries have different times of the year that work best for them; check with your trade association or list broker for recommended times.

Gwen Moran is president of Moran Marketing Associates, a public relations and marketing communications agency in Ocean, New Jersey. She is currently completing a marketing workbook titled Promote Your Business. E-mail her at

Next Step

  • The U.S. Postal Service has set up Business Centers in every state to assist businesses with direct-mail marketing efforts. Contact your local post office for the location nearest you.
  • The Direct Marketing Association is a good source of information and advice to help you improve your direct-mail marketing results. Contact them at 1120 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10036-6700; (212)768-7277.

Contact Source

Rein Associates, 837 Broad St., Shrewsbury, NJ 07702-4201, (732)741-8111

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