12 Most Common Direct Mail Mistakes

12 Most Common Direct Mail Mistakes

Direct marketing is boring. It is possibly the least interesting way to market your business. While social media marketers get to talk about “conversation” and “engagement,” those of us in the direct marketing world are stuck talking about boring things like “sales” and “profits.”

What could be more boring than profits?

Direct marketing through the mail is even less sexy. With email and other electronic messaging platforms, at least you have the challenge of getting your message properly delivered. The postal service, especially first class postage, takes all of the fun guesswork out of direct marketing. Suddenly, the only reason your offer failed is because your offer sucked. You don’t want that kind of accountability, do you?

If you are determined to use direct mail, and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to just put together another fun video for your three dozen YouTube fans, here are the 12 most common mistakes you should avoid.

1. The special occasion postcard

If you ran into me on the street, would you know my name? If not, feel free not to send me a special offer for my birthday. “50% off my first dry-cleaning,” just for me?! You shouldn’t have. No really, you shouldn’t have. Your insult has made me determined to never give your establishment a try. Ever.

2. One & done

Social media marketers are always gushing about “engaging” your prospects and customers. Direct marketers know most of the benefits of “engaging” with your target market comes from brand awareness and credibility. You may know your target market extremely well, but they don’t know you, and they probably don’t care to get to know you. Consider three mailings to the same list the minimum frequency acceptable, and with rare exception, give-up and move on after seven contacts.

3. Weak headlines

There are three types of readers: those that scan, those that read from beginning to end, and those that scan and then read from beginning to end. The one thing all three types of readers are sure to read is your headline. If you spend six hours writing your copy, at least three of those hours should be spent on your headline.

4. Using stock graphic design

All those online printing vendors that offer stock postcard and letter designs have one thing in common: none of them are customized for your brand or your target audience. This campaign might be the first impression of your business for the recipient. You should hire a graphic designer to make the first impression a good one.

5. Multiple calls to action

Thanks to the QR code junkies, this issue is back! A good direct mailing has ONE call to action. A postcard with the command “Call today to reserve your seat! Space is limited,” has a great call to action. The same command, accompanied by a huge QR code is a mess of confusion for the consumer.

6. Multiple offers

You send a mailer with four coupons: 50% off of product A, 25% off of product B, BOGO for product C, and 15% off any item. Your mailer just went from being an offer to being junk mail. It is now in my kitchen trash can, unconsidered and unremembered. Give me one product and one price to consider. I am not interested in “discovering” what is best for me, I need you to tell me.

7. The non-promotion promotion

I buy things at full price every day. You don’t have to offer a discount to sell me a product or service I legitimately want. If you provide great value every day, I am happy to buy from you. A weak discount will hurt your response rate. 10% off is the equivalent of saying “please buy from me, please, please, please!” Offer a motivating discount, or stick with your original value statement.

8. Missing social proof

Ahh, I see the social media marketers salivating. Sorry gang, I don’t mean putting a link to your Facebook page in your letter. You offer does, however, need some form of social proof to validate my interest in buying from you. Tell me about the thousands of other local customers you already have. Grab my attention with a relevant and unedited testimonial from someone just like me. Inform me that you have been a growing business for decades.

9. Distracting grammar or graphics

Nothing should get between the me and your offer. Graphics can be too fancy. Spelling errors destroy credibility. That HUGE logo you put across the top of your postcard sure makes it hard for me to focus on anything else. Anything that distracts from the message must be fixed.

10. Humor

Repeat after me: “I am not funny.” Again: “I am not funny.” One more time, the repetition will help this stick, “I am not funny.” Did you say it aloud? Good. Never try to be funny via the mail.

11. Mentioning the competition

Small businesses make this mistake more often than national businesses, but even Fortune 500 companies make this mistake. You want to put the jerk across town out of business? Good for you! We could use a little more fighting spirit around here. Do me a favor, though? Do not mention other companies in your direct mail.

12. Skipping the self-mailing

Never send a mailer to a list of leads before you send a test version to yourself. You can mail your letter to your home or office from your local post office. Let your letter go through the normal process. Was your letter thrown away by your admin or spouse? You better make some changes. Did your letter stand out in the stack of mail? You can learn an awful lot by test mailing your piece to yourself.

Now you know the 12 most common direct mail mistakes. How many of these mistakes have you made? Tell me about your direct marketing experiences in the comments.

Featured image courtesy of Uzvards licensed via creative commons.

Jeremy Powers
After nearly a decade of branding and marketing for large companies, Jeremy is now Principal at Winding Staircase, where he wants to help you with marketing your company.

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Jeremy Powers


After nearly a decade of branding and marketing for large companies, Jeremy is now Principal at Winding Staircase, where he wants to help you with marketing your company.

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