Politics & Society

What Is Direct Mail? Understanding the Importance of Direct Mail to Your Business or Political Campaign

Written by MasterClass

Jun 7, 2019 • 4 min read

Many people hear the words direct mail and immediately think of junk mail. But for savvy business owners, advertising professionals, and political campaign managers, a direct mail campaign can be one of the most cost effective and efficient marketing strategies available. Using direct mail is an invaluable tool for large corporations and small business owners alike for attracting new customers and engaging their target audience. It can also play an integral part in political campaigns on the nationwide or local level.


What Is Direct Mail?

Direct mail is a low cost marketing campaign that involves sending unsolicited advertisement mailers to targeted addresses. In a world full of targeted internet ads and viral campaigns, direct mail may seem like an old fashioned marketing tactic, but research shows it’s still one of the most effective ways for political campaigns to advertise.

What Are the Different Methods of Direct Mail?

Most direct mail marketers generate mailing lists or purchase existing lists from an outside source. The postal services offers services specifically for marketers including standard marketing mail and Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM). There are two primary categories of direct mail advertising: shared mail and standalone mail.

  • Shared mail. Shared mail is a type of direct mail marketing where different businesses and/or campaigns use the same direct mail piece to advertise their respective services. Oftentimes advertises will contract with a direct mail service (examples include Valpak, RedPlum or Clipper magazine) to circulate their direct marketing spots via shared mail.
  • Standalone mail. Standalone mail is any direct mailing that advertises one service or business and doesn’t include other advertisers. Standalone mail gives the advertiser the ability to personalize and target their ads much more than shared mail. Outside of USPS sizing regulations, there is really no limit to what can be sent through standalone direct mail, which is part of what makes it such an exciting marketing strategy.

What Are the Different Types of Direct Mail?

When creating a direct mail advertising campaign, you have several different options for the type of mail you choose to send. Consider which direct mail option best suits your campaign or service and potential customer or voter base. Popular types of direct mail include:

  • Coupons: Mailers offering discounts to targeted customers can help highlight new products and incentivize potential customers to use your services. Coupons are an effective form of marketing no matter what demographic your trying to target.
  • Announcements: When starting a political campaign, a direct mailer can be a very effective way of spreading the news to potential voters. Announcement mailers are also useful for local small businesses use direct mail all the time to drum up anticipation ahead of a grand opening or special sale.
  • Free Samples: One advantage of direct mail over email marketing, is the ability to send physical samples to clients. If your company sells a beauty product or non-perishable food, samples sent through the mail can be a very effective way of engaging your target customer base.
  • Catalogues: Catalogues are one of the oldest forms of direct mail marketing. They are a tried and true method of showcasing the whole range of products your company offers and presenting them in an appealing format.

What Are the Advantages of Direct Mail?

Direct mail has many unique advantages that digital campaigns lack. Even companies that rely on a younger customer base find that direct mail is capable of reaching and engaging customers in a way that digital campaigns often cannot. Some of the advantages of direct mail include:

  • Cost-Effective: Direct mailing can be an incredibly cost effective advertising campaign. Using bulk postage and printing can also help cut down on overhead. While a simple email campaign might cut out these costs altogether, it’s also much easier for people to filter out email advertisements and much harder for advertisers to stand out in your typical consumer’s crowded email inbox.
  • Targeted: Direct mail offers a couple different ways to target potential consumers. Political campaigns and businesses can choose to use their own existing customer lists, purchase mailing lists from marketers or utilize every door direct mail to target a specific zip code or neighborhood.
  • Efficacy: Direct mail often yields a higher response rate than more modern digital advertising and, depending on your demographic, can be a more effective way of reaching your customer base. It also provides a unique opportunity for small businesses to personalize a follow-up message for existing customers in order to generate further business.

What Are the Disadvantages of Direct Mail?

Like any advertising campaign, direct mailing does have some downsides. When thinking about what sort of marketing campaign best suits your business or political movement, it’s important to consider the potential downsides that come with a direct mail advertising campaign. Some disadvantages of direct mail include:

  • Privacy Issues: Some consumers may be annoyed by the intrusiveness of unwanted mailings. At a time when more and more people worry about the spread of private information, it’s always a possibility that potential customers will react negatively to an unsolicited direct mail piece.
  • Environmental Effects: Because direct mailings are a low-tech, paper based form of advertising, they create a fair amount of waste. Marketers who are worried about generating unnecessary waste can consider using recycled paper or cutting down the number of mailing they send and focusing on more targeted campaigns.

There is a reason that direct mail marketing is still one of the most popular forms of advertising in the United States. It’s simple and effective, and anyone with access to a post office can start a direct mail campaign. Even tech savvy advertisers who specialize in digital marketing encourage their clients to use direct mail as a low cost, high return method of reaching potential clients or voters.

Learn more about political campaign strategy in David Axelrod and Karl Rove’s MasterClass.