Direct Mail Marketing Guide and Real-Life Examples
Alright my little friend, let's buckle up and learn about the relatively secret world of Direct Mail Marketing.
Most of the direct mail articles online talk about "clever" marketing. But you and I are greedy little monkeys that aren't looking to "be clever"....we're looking to make profit.
So this article specifically focuses on how to get your direct mail to generate actual sales. This includes how to get people to keep your pieces of direct mail, get them to call or email, or how to take a specific action. We'll provide examples of all of these.
So kick back with your favorite beverage and your favorite note-taking device and read on!
What is Direct Mail Marketing?
Direct Mail Marketing means you are sending a physical piece of mail to someone in the hopes they buy something from it (or take some action from it). Send Piece of Mail --> They Order --> You Make Money. Simple!
Downsides to Direct Marketing:
- It's complex: Transporting, printing, and sending physical mail involves a lot of moving parts.
- It's expensive: It costs money to send each and every piece of mail.
- It's not editable: If you want to change one thing in your direct mail campaign it's very hard.
- It's hard to track: You don't get analytics or instant feedback like on the internet.
Despite these major drawbacks, there's many upsides to direct mail:
Upsides to Direct Marketing:
Now just because something is more labor-intensive and more expensive doesn't mean you shouldn't do it:
- It can be insanely profitable: It's still pretty much the highest-converting form of marketing in history.
- You can send actual "stuff": Because it's physical mail you can send actual "stuff" and not just information.
- Less people "spying" on your tactics: It's easier to fly below the radar with direct mail.
- You can get creative on your delivery: You can make "lumpy mail"
- You get to "enter" the customers home: It's a direct line between you and the customers inside their house.
While the internet is an efficient way of marketing, direct marketing is an effective way of marketing (when done correctly).
Direct Mail is one of the LEAST crowded inboxes:
If it was 1982 and I check the mailbox in the morning, it would be FILLED to the brim with massive amounts of junk mail!
But now that level of junk mail has gone down because many marketers are flocking to email marketing or the internet instead. This means people's email inboxes are very crowded now, but people's physical mailboxes are less crowded (::sniff sniff:: I smell an opportunity here) 😉
So if we can make a very effective direct mailer, we can potentially bring in a lot of $$.
Your mail should pass the A-Pile / B-Pile Test:
The "A-Pile / B-Pile Test" is something coined by Gary Halbert that says:
Basically it boils down to:
A-Pile: People keep.
B-Pile: People throw away.
Now OBVIOUSLY you want all that expensive mail to go in the A-Pile and get opened right? This is where some clever copywriting concepts (and a little guidance by your old copywriting pal Neville) comes in handy!
Below we're going to get into a bunch of great direct mail marketing examples taken from my personal swipe file.
These are all real-life examples from the real world:
Real Estate Full-Page Direct Mailer:
This is a pretty great flyer from Realty Austin. It's a full page flyer on a thick-stock paper so it feels very high quality and sturdy.
Pro's: They did a pretty great job on this flyer. I specifically like on the back there is an event list that can get stuck to the refrigerator! That's pretty cool because it actually provides the customer some valuable information. It provides juuusstt enough useful info to where someone might not immediately toss it in the trash.
Con's: I would like to see some sort of "Free consultation" or "Free listing" or any offer that gets them to call. Optionally they could also put an email opt-in that says "Get hidden listings not on the MLS yet" or something that will make people WANT to signup to an email newsletter.
Real Estate Direct Mailers for Houses:
This is a FANTASTIC flyer that I have received over 10 times so far. You can see that in my swipe file alone I collected 3 different versions of it!
Pro's: It really hits the reader over the head that for ONLY $XXX/mo they can own a home instead of renting. They are dropping these flyers at all the condos and apartments downtown where rents are often a minimum of $2,000/mo. I think a lot of people do a double-take and think "I'm paying $3,000 for an apartment, maybe I can get a house instead?"
Con's: Not much I would change on this. The fact that I get this flyer so often indicates it's working damn-well.
Real Estate Flyer with Events Calendar:
Pro's: I actually really like the flyers this real estate agency sends out. They are kind of weird in shape (they are very long) and so they kind of "stick out" a lot more than regular mail. They always include some "helpful" advice on their flyers such as cool lunch spots, or the UT football calendar.
Con's: I think they could more prominently feature some of their listing charts (the one they had was great), or add "Get a tour this week" or something that has a sense of urgency.
Piece of shit scammy mail trying to impersonate official documents:
It's harder and harder to scam people with mail nowadays because you can look up any product/service/person on the internet and find out if they're legit or not.
However there's still some shady stuff that goes on. For example when I bought a new car, within a week I started receiving letters like this:
These letters try their best to imitate my Lexus dealership, the DMV, or some government agency.
These documents are just several of the maaaannnyyy pieces of mail I've received like this which do their best to make you think they are either: The DMV, your car insurance company, your car loan company, or your car dealership. I've only kept a few examples of these, and they make me furious.
They often call themselves "The Motor Vehicle Division" or "Motor Vehicle Services" in order to make people think it's the Department of Motor Vehicles (an actual government office in the United States).
I'm sure this tactic of "posing" as someone's insurance company works to a degree, and fools a lot of people into buying added insurance they probably don't need......but it makes the world a worse place.
Mail like this often sells a product most people don't need, and it relies on confusion and deception to make their sales. This is where my own moral compass says this tactic has gone too far.
Direct Mail Church Flyer Example:
Con's: Confusing as to what action they want taken. Social media icons are on a piece of un-clickable mail (seriously??). The text on the back is wwaaaayyy too small. I could barely read it.
My Suggestions: This church should send the same piece of direct mail but make it a CALENDAR OF EVENTS that people can hang on their fridge.
This was overall a pretty bad piece of direct mail. It had no call to action, is extremely user un-friendly, and has no possible way of knowing it worked at all.
If the point of this piece of mail is to get people TO THE CHURCH, they should make a calendar of events. That would probably perform far better than this.
Liquor Delivery Mail Flyer:
Pro's: This actually looks like a pretty damn great flyer. Pretty much instantly you know precisely what they are selling (a liquor delivery service).
Con's: The only way to make this better would be to add some sort of "timed incentive" for people to order. It could say something like: "Order by Friday the 22nd and get a free bottle of wine!" Something like that could encourage to people to order NOW instead of wait around.
Food delivery mail flyers:
Pro's: Door Dash gets an A+ for the image they used. The flying food image INSTANTLY shows what they are selling (and in kind of a fun way)! I almost wish I had that flying burger picture on a shirt 🙂 They also give a coupon that's featured very prominently and is personalized by zip code so they can track the flyers effectiveness:
Con's: There's nothing super-wrong with this flyer. Food delivery is now a suuuuppeeerr-competitive space, so any advantage over the competition is great. However I think the margins on the business are so low, it'll be hard for any of them to maintain a strong direct-mail presence (compared to some real estate agents who are making more than $50,000 per sale).
Pet Food Delivery Flyer:
Awwwwwwwww what a cute chocolate lab! This flyer gets an A++ just because of that pic (no joke....I kept that flyer on my counter for 2 weeks straight just because I liked looking at the happy lab) 🙂
Pro's: Eye-catching image for pet owners, and instantly shows you what they do.
Con's: On the back I would've put at least one customer testimonial such as, "We normally have to lug big heavy bags of food every week for our two labs, but with Tomlinson's the bags are delivered to our door!"
Tech Support Direct Mail Flyer:
Here's a great flyer I saw offering tech support primarily for Apple products. This is actually a fantastically designed flyer that can easily be shared around an organization.
Pro's: Easy-to-understand images and statements. Personal letter from the owner showing his great credentials. 20% off discount coupon. Large and easy phone number to call. Describes different scenarios they can help with (Fix tech for schools, churches, offices etc).
Con's: Nothing I can readily see. This was a pretty solid direct mail flyer.
Air Conditioning Direct Mail Sales Letter:
Whoever wrote this letter has DEFINITELY taken a cue from old Gary Halbert and Dan Kennedy sales letters. This was a piece of mail that came in an envelope and read more like a "letter" than a "flyer" like a lot of the examples above. This was a great mailing (it's not "pretty" in the traditional sense, but I can tell it probably performed extremely well):
Pro's: Very personal sounding. They show all the work they'll do for only $69. They have 2 guarantees. Owners and employees are all shown in the mailing, they all look friendly and trustworthy.
Con's: This letter has been sent multiple times to me (which means it's probably working damn well), but I live in an apartment building! This means never in a million years will I have to pay someone to fix my air conditioner, the apartment handles all that jazz. They could've probably saved coin if they removed apartment buildings from their mailings. However in the grand scheme of things they probably only lost a couple of hundred dollars on this, but made many-many-thousands from the business this mailing brought in.
Dental Direct Mail Flyer #1:
Pro's: Looks very "professional" and clean. Shows a list of all services. Displays contact info very large. Clearly is going for a crowd without insurance. Offers good coupons. Each mailing drop probably costs them between $2k and $5k and brings in 2-5 patients which can be worth up to $3,000/each.
Con's: Pretty generic looking. Can easily get lumped into B-pile. No personalized intro from the head dentist or staff (Example: Neil Patel D.D.S. has 16 years of experience and was rated the 2015 Austin Dentist of the Year.)
Dental Direct Mail Flyer #2:
There's a lot of dental flyers that go out, because each lifetime client they gain can be worth thousands of dollars. Here's another one I saved:
Pro's: They tried to personalize it a lot (which soorrrt-of works but not totally).
Con's: Not super clear what services they specialize in, they're kind of all-over-the-place. The descriptions made me think these dentists are not super experienced. Almost read like they were just graduated. The "Grand Opening" statement doesn't mean anything, and can often associate it with "un-experienced." The slogan "Dentistry Redefined" doesn't mean a damn thing, and is actually more confusing than helpful.
Things like "Grand Opening" are awesome in industries like nightlife and food.....because you want to be the FIRST to experience it! However in the medical industry, you don't want to be the "first patient" for anything. You want to be like the 150,000th patient.
I would love to see future promotions from these guys include some sort of "Dental Checklist for Kids" or "Flossing/Brushing Guide". This direct mailer is very much B-Pile material.
As dentists just bringing in a few clients per mail drop can reap huge profits, so the easiest step for their next mailer would be just focusing on 1 or 2 of their top services they perform such as Invisiline braces (Example: We've straightened the teeth of more than 800 Austinites without braces! Come in for your 100% free consultation to see if it can work for you).
Direct Mail for custom courts:
This is a piece of mail advertising custom court floors for homes by SportCourt:
Pro's: This flyer is supposed to just make you AWARE of the "Sport Court' product, which it does. I like the picture it shows, as it kind of sums up the product.
Con's: For starters I live in an apartment, and pretty much ZERO PEOPLE who live downtown have space for a basketball court in their condos or apartments, so blanketing all of downtown with this flyer is a waste of money. The flyer is super basic and could've done a better job getting people interested in the product. Maybe it could've thrown out some interesting facts such: "SportCourt improves the value of homes" -or- "SportCourts can be installed for between $800 and $12,000" -or- "Replaceable tiles on SportCourt means damage to one area does not effect the rest of the court."
Direct Mail for Car Dealership (w/ Combination Box):
This piece of direct mail also features a little scratch-off game, and also this "Combination Box" which you pull the tab and a glowing number appears:
Pro's: Almost impossible not to go, "HUH??" when you see that combination box. If someone was interested in a new Nissan during the time this flyer went out, it's highly likely they would take notice.
Con's: Not much, pieces of direct mail are often super-tested and work extremely well (and are very trackable).
Direct Mail Advice for High-Converting Mail:
So here's some of the things you should take into account when sending out a piece of direct mail to thousands of people:
- Don't try to be "too clever." Making “clever” puns is fun, but it doesn’t capture attention or make sales.
- You only have a few crucial seconds before someone tosses you in the trash, so get to the point immediately.
- Local business do very well with direct mailers. It's very easy to "blanket" your area with mailers through the post office.
- To really score a touchdown on your direct mailer, get the customer to hang it up on their fridge.
- Make sure your business has high enough margins to afford the expenses of a mail drop. Business with very low margin and low customer return rates are bad. Business with high margins and high customer return are good.
Download this entire Direct Mail Guide including all the samples and markup shown here:
--Share it with colleagues--
--Save for your own files--
--Show it to clients--
I hope you enjoyed this post and learned a lot. Join the email newsletter for a good time (and more fun guides)!
P.S. In the comments leave your feedback for one of the pieces of mail.
P.P.S. ....or in the comments let me know of a piece of direct mail that got your to call/buy immediately.
P.P.P.S. If you're looking specifically for real estate direct mail, see our post on real estate flyers.
P.P.P.P.S. You can also see our full direct mail swipe file and browse for ideas.
P.P.P.P.P.S. Brochures aren't neccessarily direct mail because you're not always mailing them to consumers, so we made a whole seperate post (complete with breakdowns and examples) over here about how to write brochures.