What Is Direct Mail Advertising?

Daphne Mallory

Direct mail advertising is a form of marketing in which print materials are sent directly to the consumer’s mailbox. There are many different types of ads that fall under the umbrella of direct mail. For example, businesses often purchase print coupons that are included in newspaper inserts or will send a letter or postcard directly to the customer’s address. Other forms include catalogs, brochures, and fundraising letters. Direct mail advertising campaigns can often be custom designed to fit within a budget. It differs from other forms of marketing in that it directly makes an offer to the consumer and often gains a response to that offer.

Businesses may print coupons as part of a newspaper ad.
Businesses may print coupons as part of a newspaper ad.

There are many advantages to using direct mail advertising to reach customers. It’s often very cost effective, because it can use bulk mail rates to reach a large number of customers. It also tells the business owner how effective it is as a means of drumming up new business. For example, the number of coupons that are used can be tracked, or the owner can see how much of an increase occurs in sales following the campaign. Direct mail advertising can also allow start-up companies to tell customers about their new product or service and often at cheap rates compared to broadcast or newspaper ads.

Samples of new products might be included in a direct mail advertising campaign.
Samples of new products might be included in a direct mail advertising campaign.

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The costs of direct mail advertising make it very attractive to businesses. Postage accounts for about one-third of the expense. The business owner can purchase a mailing list of postal addresses in order to target specific neighborhoods and other demographics. This becomes more cost effective over time, because mailings can be sent to the same customers over and over again. The specific piece of mail has to be designed and written, and then there are printing and packaging costs to consider as well. The amount of color that’s used in direct mail advertising can also increase the printing costs.

Direct mail is a form of low-cost advertising.
Direct mail is a form of low-cost advertising.

There are some risks to direct mail advertising that new business owners should be aware of. For example, response to campaigns can sometimes be overwhelming. If a business sends 20,000 mailers out, but has only 10,000 products in stock, it can lead to customer dissatisfaction if the business can’t fulfill the large number of orders on time. Another disadvantage is that many people don’t like receiving what they perceive as junk mail. Depending on the quality of the direct mail and whether it catches the customer’s attention, it may simply end up being recycled. Depending on the service or product, direct mail marketing can sometimes fail to produce the correct results, especially if the business owner doesn’t have a list of customers that’s well targeted.

Sales flyers are a common form of direct mail advertising.
Sales flyers are a common form of direct mail advertising.

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Discussion Comments


@ocelot60- I think you make a good point, but I also think that direct mail advertising of special sales can be effective. Including coupons that can be used at the business is also a great way to grab the attention of new customers that might not otherwise have paid much attention to this type of advertising.


I have a friend who has a small business, and she tried direct mail advertising to get more customers. Though it was affordable, she didn't feel like it was very effective. She decided to advertise less to stretch her advertising dollars, but began using newspapers and radio. She's been much happier with the results.

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