The Top 5 Direct Mail Mistakes To Avoid

Published On: September 24, 2015

Direct mail is a highly relevant marketing channel for many industries, but you can’t just create a campaign and bombard customers’ mailboxes with little thought. All the elements of a direct mail campaign need to work together in harmony to be truly effective and strike the right chord with your audience.

With more than 50 years in print and direct mail expertise, the experts at JohnsByrne share their thoughts on the biggest mistakes they’ve come across working with a variety of clients across industries.

Don’t worry, they also share solutions to these common mistakes!

1. Using Bad Data

There’s nothing worse than sending your direct mail piece to an old address, a deceased person, or just the wrong person that results in an undeliverable piece. After spending time and money on crafting, executing and delivering your campaign, all that effort is wasted if it goes to the wrong person. Everything about your campaign can be compromised if it doesn’t reach the right mailboxes.


Ensuring you are reaching the right audience with your direct mail offer is critical. Having the right data is the first commandment of direct mail. If you purchase a list, you need to ensure it contains the right data.

In addition, all data must be clean, up-to-date, and accurate. If you’re using an existing database, list hygiene is essential or you could end up with outdated contact information or duplicate data.

Even if the list contains clean, up-to-date information, your mail campaign can still be a failure if recipients aren’t interested in your product or service. To avoid this issue, it may be a good idea to purchase a lifestyle list to ensure the target audience is the appropriate market for your offer. Even in this case, it’s still important to consider only sending one mailer per household, rather than individual pieces addressed to each resident. In addition, you need to check addresses against Do Not Mail files to ensure you aren’t sending messages to someone who has opted out of receiving promotional content in the mail.

2. Doing Too Much

Customers can easily get caught up in the allure of reaching thousands or millions of potential customers with one mailer. The bigger your reach, the bigger the success, right? Wrong. Crafting a direct mail campaign that targets a very large audience can be a recipe for disaster.


While it may be appealing to dramatically increase your customer database potential with one mailer, it hardly ever results in a good response rate or campaign ROI.  Instead of bombarding a massive group with direct mail, it may be a better idea to send a targeted campaign to a highly specific audience.

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Targeting a smaller audience allows you to truly tailor the piece to meet the needs and expectations of your audience. A targeted campaign can mean a custom offer for your particular audience, a creative that resonates with their lifestyle and even language that speaks directly to them. A targeted campaign will result in better response rates and overall better ROI.

3. Disregarding USPS Regulations

Direct mail mistakes to avoid
All too often, customers design pieces that look amazing but end up being denied by the postal service. High-end mailings, in particular, tend to have a higher risk of being turned down by the postal service. Formatting, pop-ups, or even closures can cause a mailer to be rejected for by USPS for not adhering to direct mail mailing regulations. Not being able to send your direct mail piece is costly in more than one sense; a delayed delivery, wasted printed pieces, and printing costs and fees.


Before fully executing and producing your direct mail piece, it’s important that you verify that your piece will meet USPS’ guidelines for direct mail. An experienced print supplier should be able to guide you along the way to ensure deliverability of your piece. However, you can also work with the USPS Mailpiece Design Analyst team to guide you during the initial design stages of your marketing campaign.

Your direct mail supplier or USPS Mailpiece Design Analysts can help you determine:

  • Test paper for acceptable thickness rigidity, barcode print tolerances and more
  • Classification of your piece
  • Analysis of readability and automation compatibility

With a team located in all time zones, the USPS Mailpiece Design Analyst team can usually get you an answer within 48 hours. Depending on your piece, you may need to send photos, measurements or even a prototype for full analysis. While it may seem like a lot of work, it’s worth getting USPS approval before going into full production.

4. Boring Creative

Even if everything else about the campaign has been well executed—from the list to cross-channel integration—creative can derail the effectiveness of the mail piece. Dull, uninspired creative on its own can be the downfall of any direct mail campaign. Wrong colors, bad font choices, bad offer placement or imagery can cloud the rest of your direct mail piece’s effectiveness.


USPS Mailpiece Design Analysts

First and foremost, the creative needs to match your target audience’s preferences or it won’t drive conversions. A creative should reflect your brand, target audience, and the offer altogether. For example, neon colors may not be the best choice for financial services mailers. In addition, irrelevant graphics may distract recipients from the message. The more you add to the direct mail, the less likely that customers will be able to identify one clear takeaway.

Outside of color choices, there are still other things that can go wrong with your creative. For example, cramming too much text onto a small postcard can be disorienting. The copy should be concise and clear enough for a customer to easily understand at a glance.

5. Lack of Measurability and Testing

How do you know if a campaign is working if you have no way to track it? It is difficult to determine return on investment (ROI) of a campaign if you don’t use a call tracking phone number or customized URL. An important step of any direct mail campaign should be to determine how to measure the effectiveness of your campaign. Lack of parameters for measurement is the equivalent of shooting in the dark. How will you know if your campaign worked or not?


When working with agencies, companies and marketers, measurability is critical for reviewing campaign performance. Coupon codes and personalized URLs are one way of tracking the effectiveness of your campaign. However, even before launching your campaign, it’s recommended that you test with sample groups. Whether you use focus groups or send out small batches of your mailer for testing purposes, you might just be surprised at what you can learn.

Testing for different imagery, verbiage, or even colors can make a big difference in response rates. Paper stocks, coatings, placement of offer, a different way of presenting the offer can increase response rates dramatically.

Ideally, campaigns should be tested in advance to determine how they will resonate with your audience. An untargeted campaign with an ineffective creative is a waste of your marketing dollars. A good way to gauge how your campaign will perform is deciding on the desired result and working backwards to determine what you will need to do to hit that goal.

Avoid the Top Mistakes by Working with a Professional

Because of the significant number of obstacles that can quickly derail a direct mail campaign, it may be a better option to team up with experienced direct mail professionals who can advise you through every facet of direct mail, from the list to the creative.

Launching a direct mail campaign in the horizon? Contact the JohnsByrne team for a free consultation on designing a compelling direct mail campaign.

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