Do You Make These 5 Costly Direct Mail Mistakes?

By Beacon Staff

It’s easy to waste a lot of money by making a few simple mistakes when sending direct mail. Here are five common mistakes that are particularly costly:

Using pre-printed postage (indicia) instead of real stamps

The first goal for anything you mail to someone is to get it opened.

Not read. Not replied to.


If they don’t open it, it doesn’t get read or replied to. In many cases, it never leaves the post office. We’ve all sorted mail over the trash can in the post office.

One thing that shortcuts that road to the trash can: pre-printed postage aka indicia. Bar codes are a close second.

A first class stamp, in conjunction with a valid return address, gives you a pretty good chance of getting a returned mail piece with a corrected current address, or an indication that you should remove that name from your mailing list.

In other words, spending .42 once to avoid spending .42 for no reason, repeatedly. You can use various address cleaning services (or software), but many people don’t.

When it’s ok to use indicia: after having sent at least one mailing to the same address list using a real first class stamp.

Another reason to use a first class stamp is speed. Bulk mail is not guaranteed to reach your destination anytime soon, if ever.

Speaking of bulk mail… In 1994, author Jonathan Franzen wrote about Chicago’s 1990’s postal crisis. A few anecdotes from his essay in New Yorker:

  • a Chicago letter carrier helping a coworker start his truck in a post office parking lot stumbled onto 100 sacks of undelivered mail in the rear cargo area.
  • Chicago police in 1994 found 200 pounds of relatively recent mail burning beneath a viaduct and 20,000 pieces of vintage mail (some pieces dating to 1979) in garbage cans behind the house of a retired mail carrier.
  • Chicago firefighters found 5,670 pieces of flat mail and 364 pounds of bulk mail in the attic of postal carrier Robert K. Beverly.

And earlier this month, a North Carolina postman was convicted of similar actions related to bulk mail.

First class stamps send a message. So do indicia.

Not sending the right mail to the right people

Sending the same letter to your entire client list is a bad idea unless they truly are almost exactly the same. Rare, in my experience, even in a very vertical niche.

Are all doctors the same?

You know… chiropractors (yes, that was intentional), heart surgeons, thoracic surgeons, dermatologists, general practitioners, podiatrists, sexologists, psychiatrists, ophthalmologists, and so on. They all need malpractice insurance, medical office software, furniture, and rubber bands.

Are all mechanics the same?

Is a diesel mechanic the same as a HVAC mechanic? Ditto for single engine airplane mechanics, heavy equipment hydraulics mechanics, boat mechanics, jet engine mechanics, etc.
If you were talking with each of these people about accounting services, a website, tools, furniture or rubber bands, the conversation had better be unique to their specific needs.

Is it harder to create different sales materials for different groups of people? Sure.

Is it more profitable? Almost always.

My use of “Almost” leads to our next mistake…

Leaving out a way to measure response

If you can’t measure it, you’d better not mail it until you can. Otherwise, how will you recognize what works and what doesn’t?

Failing to send another mailing to the same person for the same thing

Yes, I mean follow up.

But how many times should I mail stuff to my mailing list? When do I know to stop?

When the newly added mailing step stops paying for itself.

Making a goal of getting a 1% response to your mailing

You’ve undoubtedly heard that 1% is an average response for a successful direct mail campaign. Or 2%, or 5%.

Percentages mean nothing. Return on investment is what you care about.

If you spend $100,000 a month to mail 100,000 pieces of mail (yes, per month) and you get 1 sale, that’s a response rate of 0.00000000001% for each mailing.

One response out of 100,000 might mean a loss of $100,000 or a gain of $1.4 MM. It depends on the price of what you’re selling.

.00001% response isn’t bad, and it isn’t good. It just is.

Next week…Exceptions to the Rule.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him at [email protected].