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10 Biggest Challenges Facing Direct Mail Marketers and How to Overcome Them

January 7, 2016

The world of direct mail is ever-evolving. New advances, innovations and technologies inevitably emerge each year that typically enhance the effectiveness of direct mail marketing campaigns. However, these innovations can sometimes give rise to new challenges for marketers and understanding how to overcome these will be imperative in 2016.

2016 is sure to be another impressive year for direct mail and there's no doubting it will remain one of the most pivotal cogs in any company's marketing machine but it is important to be aware of potential obstacles and challenges marketers face in the world of direct mail because "forewarned is forearmed," as they say.


Direct mail is no stranger to marketing challenges (as is the case of any marketing channel) so we will take a look at the challenges you're most likely to encounter with the goal of providing actionable advice on what you can do to overcome them.

Challenge 1: Getting the Frequency Right

Direct mail has shown time and time again that it is one of the most efficient means of marketing for high engagement and return-on-investment (ROI), which is largely dictated by getting the frequency with which you send direct mail just right. Send it too little and you'll not maintain that connection with the consumer. Send it too frequently and you run the risk of angering and alienating your consumers.

Unfortunately, there's no golden rule of frequency we can set for you, as every industry and business has a unique relationship with their customers. There are multiple factors to consider when thinking about the regularity with which you need to send direct mail and understanding these will unquestionably be one of the biggest challenges for marketing teams.

It is your goal as a successful marketer to understand and manage the expectations of your consumers; and the best way to find that information is to do some split (A/B) testing to get to the bottom of how frequently your customers want to receive direct mail pieces from you. For instance, determine your target demographic of customers by compiling a list (or we can provide one for you) and segment that list into two separate mailings. Both sets should receive the exact same mailings, but at different frequencies. With modern direct mail tracking technology to compare the results of each campaign, you can determine which segment is responding more positively to your mail.

There will always be factors that affect the frequency with which you're sending out direct mail campaigns, such as a time sensitive offering which will likely require more direct mail instances than something that doesn't have an end date. For example, you have a Black Friday sale coming up in a month, so you might choose to mail out your best offers in a drip feed campaign once per week for the first two weeks and twice per week leading up to the sale. By typical mail campaign standards this is too frequent if the purpose of the mail was to develop a long-lasting relationship, which is normally once or twice per month. It all depends on the goal of your campaign, which we cover in challenge 4.

It is usually the case that split testing your consumer database with different levels of frequency will give you a good overview and understanding of your customer's preferences and once you've found a point that is delivering results, you can use this to inform future direct mail campaigns.

Challenge 2: Keeping Your Database Up-to-Date

One of the principal challenges for any company that holds records for a large number of customers is keeping their details up-to-date and accurate. If the information you have isn't accurate, it makes it more difficult to ensure that your direct mail is reaching the recipient and will be hard to customize it effectively.

Managing one's database is notoriously tricky because people move or make changes to other personal details which will affect the accuracy of your direct mail campaigns. There are certain actions that you can utilize to help keep on top of your database and make sure that it is as up to date as it possibly can be. You can also use QuantumPostcards' business, consumer, new homeowner and new mover mailing lists, which can be segmented by a wide variety of audience information to reach your ideal list during your next direct mail postcard campaign.

Many of the large postal services around the world offer an auditing or validating service of your postal database which can be deployed to make sure that the records you have on file are still accurate and prevent you from sending out direct mail to customers who no longer reside at the property. It is a good idea to routinely go through your database and clean up the data you have on file to make it as accurate and efficient as possible.

Challenge 3: Are You Using the Correct Marketing Channel?

Just because you have a customer's address in your database doesn't mean that direct mail is the right way to market to them. Conversely, you might be sending out emails to customers who respond better to direct mail - it's all about finding that happy medium and making sure that you are utilizing the marketing channel which will command the best response to increase your ROI. The key is to tailor your campaigns to your demographic.

There are no shortcuts here. In order to absolve the dilemma of which marketing channel to use with your customers, the two most important undertakings are split-testing your database and asking your customers for clarification on their favored form of marketing. It is often surprising how freely customers will give you information when asked, but ultimately, they want to be marketed to in a way that fits their lifestyle. Both of these methods will likely yield great returns for your marketing efforts because it will lessen the likelihood of you sending out a form of marketing that fails to resonate with the recipient.

In general, direct mail has statistically remained the best non-human-interactive way to promote a response or action from a customer, so you need to make sure you're using your direct mail campaigns effectively by ensuring that the demographics that you're mailing to are the right ones.

Challenge 4: Getting to the Bottom of Your Goals

Maximizing the effectiveness of direct mail campaigns hinges on approaching each campaign with clear objectives, both that the goals for the campaign are outlined and that you know how you will measure the campaign results so you can gauge its effectiveness in reaching those goals.

Many campaigns can go awry because the project hasn't been properly thought through with specifics. It is too vague to have a goal of "making people aware of my product/offering" or "I want to increase revenue." Instead, have a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely (S.M.A.R.T.) goal: "I want 50 lead prospect to respond by visiting the product X landing page and filling out the 'Contact Me' form by month Y." This way you can tell if they campaign accomplished the results you expect. If you didn't get 50 lead prospects by Y month, then maybe you need to alter the copy of your offer in your campaign or perhaps you need to change your expectations of the mail, but at least you'll have a 'next step' in refining your marketing efforts. By tackling this challenge at the outset of the campaign will help ensure you learn something every campaign.

Challenge 5: Matching the Medium and the Message

This particular challenge, by definition, is not unique to direct mail. The medium-message match is something that you need to consider in every walk of marketing and is an essential catalyst for a successful campaign. Given the prevalence of technology and its immediacy, email is almost invariably the first channel that marketers think of when it comes to reaching out to their customers but there are inherent dangers in relying too heavily on email - not least of which is the fact that direct mail has, time after time, proven to be the better channel for lead prospecting.

Reasons for this might be the perceived increase of effort required to personalize direct mail as compared to the automation of email marketing using the '%Name%' fields (we all know those emails…. "Hey John [%Name%], We miss you!") that makes direct mail more likely to elicit a response from consumers. The irony, of course, is that it is just as easy to do with direct mail as it is with email. Regardless, it's the customer's perception that matters and it's imperative to match the right message with the right marketing channels based on where your customer demographics are looking for that message. Email marketing clearly has a place (mostly on the client-retention side of the coin) but you need to carefully segment your customer database and make sure you're using the most effective channel for each campaign that you're delivering.

Challenge 6: Making it Straightforward for the Customer

This is pivotal in direct mail marketing because you could be sending the most innovative, brilliantly conceived piece of marketing in the world but if isn't immediately clear to recipient how to carry out the action that it's been designed for, it will all be for nothing.

It is extremely important not to make the recipient of your direct mail campaign work too hard or jump through too many hoops in order to carry out an action because anything that is too laborious will just be a roadblock to a sale or some other form of conversion.

The messaging on direct mail needs to be clear, concise and extremely actionable because anything which is too long-winded and confusing will immediately run the risk of losing the consumer's interest and, worse still, maybe even alienate them from your brand. Customizing your direct mail with the customer's name or their birthday, for example, will immediately grab their attention and, once you have that, you need to make it abundantly clear within your core message what you want them to do and how they should do it.

This is a challenge in which many brands often fall flat because they've not properly considered their customers and how they interact with their brand through the direct mail channel. Simplicity the the not-so-secret weapon for successful direct mail campaigns. Direct mail, as with any marketing channel, has only a few seconds of attention to work with, so tailoring the information on a mail piece is just as important as the effort you put into you online landing page. What information does your customer need to take the next action? What don't they need?

For example, in real estate, cards that see the most engagement have a single picture of the property the agent is promoting and a single call-to-action to visit a webpage to find more information or to contact the agent (pick one). What the cards do not have is information that the prospect really desires, such as the listed-property's price and other property pictures. This is intentional, because the advertising agent knows the information the prospects want, they withhold it and only give it to them after that prospect has taken the action desired by the advertising agent. However, the action cannot be a difficult action to take. Visiting a URL or sending a quick text to receive more information is easy for people to do, but asking a prospect to call the agent would be a difficult step.

Anything which seems like hard work to them will instantly be discounted and that's why it is often a good idea to incentivize any direct mail campaigns with exclusive deals and offers because this will instantly make it a more appealing proposition for the recipient.

Challenge 7: Being Creative

It can be all too easy to repeat what's been done in the past when it comes to direct mail marketing and go with the sort of campaign that you know works. However, in order to improve the effectiveness of your campaigns, you really need to think outside of the box and produce innovative, creative campaigns that will really resonate with consumers.

This can be quite a challenge because many companies do not have huge marketing budgets or dedicated time to be creative, but there are plenty of ways in which you can make a direct mail campaign stand out from the crowd.

Several small marketing elements that can make a big impact include:

Use deadlines and limited time offers to exploit the fear of being left out and to create a sense of urgency.

When using envelopes, consider using a see-through envelopes to entice the prospect into opening, to find out what's inside.

Freemiums (offering free gifts, whitepapers, sign-ups etc), are excellent ways to build novel and positive experiences, that will help prospects stay with the piece and take action.

Stickers, tokens and scratch offs promote the prospect to take physical action which in term helps build a commitment to also spend more time with the mailer.

The use of whitespace helps create a sense of calm and keeps the prospects eyes focused. Too much cluttered copy, imagery and/or color can irritate the reader and cause them to quickly lose interest in the piece.

Challenge 8: Managing Your Budget

Of all the challenges that marketing departments face with their direct mail campaigns, ensuring their budget is strictly managed is probably the most boring, yet extremely important one to overcome. Since the underlying objective of almost any marketing campaign will be to deliver a good ROI, this tends to be an area already under intense scrutiny.

Although direct mail is able to consistently produce an impressive ROI, it requires adequate attention to test and learn well how to overcome the previously discussed challenges.

You must have the necessary tools in place to track the effectiveness of your direct mail campaigns because you need to be able to adapt your future campaigns based on your learnings from previous or ongoing campaigns. Luckily, QuantumDigital freely provides many advanced tracking and measurement capabilities to do this effectively. In case you're in the position of securing future marketing budgets, you're ability to quantify channel effectiveness and ROI are exactly what is needed in order to secure future marketing budgets.

Challenge 9: Integrating Digital and Direct

Integrating your digital marketing techniques with your direct mail call-to-actions is essential for a high chance of a successful marketing campaign because the two channels have a symbiotic relationship between them: direct mail supports the online presence of a business by generating traffic and awareness and, in-turn, the online presence strengthens the appeal and effectiveness of direct mail campaigns by having a hub to direct traffic to. One without the other would be like having a fully functional theme-park without a crowd of thrill-seekers or a crowd of thrill-seekers without any theme park rides. Either case is tragic because of the lost revenue or lost opportunity to capture a market.

Likewise, digital and direct marketing should never be seen as separate entities because they compliment each other so perfectly. Every effort should be made to make sure that any marketing you do, be it digital or direct, has a cohesive message throughout and is combined in such a manner as to make sense to the consumer as they journey through your sales funnel.

For example, if you're running social media campaigns through your digital marketing department, making sure that any hashtags or core messages used in the online campaign are reinforced when you are marketing it via offline channels like direct mail. That way, when direct mail recipients do a search online for those specific hashtags, they can see the core message and get a comprehensive view of the campaign to be a more cognizant contributor.

Challenge 10: Getting Your Testing Right

We've touched on this challenge in multiple points throughout this post, but it's worth mentioning again because of its importance. Test your campaigns or, more specifically, split-testing them. This challenge can seem daunting because it takes a lot of forethought to develop systems to measure results, but when done right, will be instrumental to delivering marketing results you crave.

Quick example: split-test your contact database by serving up certain content and/or offers to one section of customers and offer something different (with the same design-work) to the other section of customers in order to establish the sort of content and offers that your consumers respond to the best and thereby enhance the effectiveness of any future campaigns that you run. This test can be duplicated any number of times as long as only one variable(frequency, design, offering, copy, size, packaging, etc.) is changed between the A and B campaigns.

Split testing is one of the most valuable tools at the disposal of marketers. There are various programs and agencies that can help set this up for you to make sure you are using it as efficiently as possible to deliver tangible results properly attributed to your different campaigns.


As you can see, the world of direct mail is filled with challenges but once you've put the practices in place to overcome these challenges you'll be in a position to consistently command a healthy marketing budget for direct mail built upon a raft of successful campaigns delivering excellent return on investment.

Despite all the technological innovations that we've witnessed in 2015 and those which are sure to transpire in 2016, there is no doubting that direct mail will remain one of the chief weapons in the armory of any marketing department. Hence why it is so important to be aware of the challenges that you will likely face and what you need to do to overcome them.