Top 3 Direct Mail Marketing Blunders

Don’t underestimate the value of direct mail marketing despite today’s digital age. That’s actually one of the best reasons to use direct mail—because so many have reverted to online-only tactics—direct mail can give you an opportunity to stand-out from the competition.

Over time, I think we’ve all seen some very detrimental direct mail mistakes. Some are simple like typos in the copy and others are just downright unfortunate like donation return envelopes with the wrong address. The worst mistakes are the ones that end up costing the most.

Here are some thoughts on the worst direct mail campaign mistakes you can make.

direct mail marketing blunders1.  Miss the call to action. The whole point of doing a direct mail campaign is to get someone to take action or the next step in furthering their awareness of your company and its products or services. Don’t put the reader in the driver’s seat—that’s your job. Give them a very specific all to action. If your piece is missing directions on what to do next—like download this report, register for this event, call for more information—whatever it is—you’re missing your opportunity to take this prospect to the next step. You have to tell the reader what you want them to do.

Highlight what’s in it for them. Be specific about the value or benefit they will get by doing what you’re asking them to do. If you can, add in a comment from an existing client as this helps to increase your credibility. Have them discuss the benefits in terms of the outcome or results someone can expect. Remember that it’s all about the reader—not you.

If you want them to engage with you, you have to go be beyond simply getting their attention and get them to do something that causes them to interact with you. The more they interact with you, the better the opportunity for a relationship and the possibility for a sale or a referral.

2.  Ignoring the shipping details until it’s time to ship. There’s nothing worse than creating a direct mail campaign and then discovering that the shipping costs are going to exceed the budget. Determine the outcome you’d like and then plan the campaign with that in mind.

direct mail marketing mistakesThe first thing you have to consider is how will you get the piece opened? In many cases, just a regular letter won’t cut it. You have to come up with something that intrigues the receiver to want to open it as soon as they see the letter.

For many, creating something that represents lumpy mail is very effective, however, it does cost more. In many situations, I have added a relevant book to a mailing and that certainly adds cost—the cost of the book and the cost to mail/ship the item. However, in every circumstance, it has gotten opened and was well received with a follow-up conversation that lead to a meeting. And that was the outcome I was looking for.

Businesses are often reluctant to add in more expensive items simply due to cost, but these items, a book or a sports team souvenir is useful in getting attention and opening the door to a meeting. Consider sending out a much smaller number of letters when you do this and be absolutely sure to follow-up. If you don’t follow-up, you’re the one that messed up.

If you do decide to do just a paper mailing with a large list, be sure to look up mailing regulations regarding address locations, folding and paper weight to ensure you budget accordingly. To determine if the address has to go in a specific location to ensure the lower cost mailing. Consult with your printer and mail provider to ensure the most cost efficient methods are used.

3.  Overall lack of planning. Plan these campaigns from start to finish. Be prepared to answer the typically questions who, what, where, when questions:

How many pieces are in the entire campaign? Keep in mind that it takes 6+ touches to get someone to respond if the recipient isn’t
experiencing traumatic symptoms to a problem. The problem you solve might not be causing them the greatest grief today or even in 3 months, but potentially 6 months down the line. If your budget doesn’t allow for 6+ touches, you ought to think about a different tactic.

direct mail marketingWhen will the piece go out and what should the timing be for each of the subsequent pieces? It’s important to think this through so that you avoid instances where the recipients could be preoccupied with month-end or year-end or some other industry scenario. Plan your schedule to get maximum attention.

What will be in each piece? In many cases, it’s a good idea to use the first piece to simply verify the address details on your list. You can go with a simple smaller post card that uses reduced postage for the verification. Then maybe on your second piece you go with lumpy mail to ensure it gets opened and reviewed. Then maybe you go with postcards again for the next 2 or 3 pieces and then something lumpy again. Plan it out so you know your budget, who’s going to be performing the work to get it out there, and what the topics are for each piece.

When most of us think of direct mail, we think of campaigns that involve buying mailing lists that start in the thousands and it just doesn’t have to be that way. Even for much smaller B2B businesses, doing direct mailings with lists as small as 10, 50 or 100 are worth the time and investment. The key to is to plan out your messaging, with 6 to 10 touches, and be consistent and routine in delivering that messaging.

Success is also about being willing to take a chance on doing something a bit different with your direct mail to ensure it gets opened and it gets the attention it deserves.

If your direct mail campaigns need some new life, touch base with us and see if we can help.


  • Great article. Thanks so much. You’re absolutely right, we’ve all seen “very detrimental direct mail mistakes.” If I could add one, I’d say that a lack of branding on direct mail materials is also a common problem. There’s no point sending material to people if they don’t know who it’s from and what you do. Thanks for the great list and good luck to everyone about to start a direct mail campaign!

  • Excellent point. I know I’ve seen several pieces arrive in my mailbox where I’ve not been able to really identify the company and understand what they do.
    Thanks for the comment Cal!

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