Innovative Direct Mail Marketing Ideas That You Must Consider

Innovative Direct Mail Marketing Ideas That You Must Consider
29 January, 2023 • ... • 5092 views
Natalie Voloshchuk
by Natalie Voloshchuk

Direct mail is a cost-effective channel to reach customers that not many marketers use. It has a high return on investment (ROI), can be precisely targeted, is trackable (although that’s a bit more complicated than in digital), and has less competition compared to digital channels. 

In this article, we’ll dive into creative direct mail ideas and inspire you to give them a try.

What is direct mail and why is it effective?

Direct mail (also called advertising mail, letterbox drop, mailbox, or admail) is any physical correspondence you send to people via postal mail. The aim is to introduce your business to prospects and turn them into customers. It is a great channel to use both for B2C and DTC marketing and has its own impressive share of benefits compared to digital methods.There are a number of reasons why direct mail is effective.

Direct mail can be targeted precisely. One simple way to do that is the Every Door Direct Mail service by USPS (in the U.S.), which lets you send promotional mail to customers in different areas. As the service uses the USPS’s recipient base, you won’t have to search for people and their addresses yourself. Another way is to use the mailing lists you collected yourself.  

It has a high ROI. The average campaign ROI of direct mail is 112% (for letter-sized envelopes).

If you are curious about what your direct mail ROI could be like, here is a convenient direct mail ROI calculator that can help you estimate the cost and returns.

The results can be tracked. Here’s how: сreate separate contact information for each mail campaign. If your goal is to get people to visit your website, create a dedicated landing page or UTM tags and point to it in your mail. To make the process easier for your subscribers, add QR codes or shorten the links. If you want to get calls — dedicate a unique phone number to use just for that. Then, when someone visits that landing page or calls that unique number, you’ll know they came from a successful direct mail campaign. 

It’s impossible to end up in the spam folder. An email can go to spam and the recipient won’t see it, but this can not happen with direct mail. It will always be put in the mailbox, and the owner will see it together with the rest of the mail. 

There is no need to opt-in for direct mail. To legally send promotional emails to someone, the recipient needs to first give their permission for that. Businesses need to ensure double opt-in, disclose its privacy policy, etc. There is no national-level prohibition (in the U.S.) to send direct mail advertising, though.

Direct mail works great with digital marketing strategy. As part of a multi-channel strategy, it compliments marketing efforts and can also be a pathway to digital channels (like social media and a website).

Direct mail is less common. With fewer marketers sending it, it makes it a rarity in a prospect’s inbox and something to get excited about. Especially if you make it more personal by adding a handwritten stamp or writing the recipient’s address by hand.

Direct mail is tangible and it sticks around. To achieve that it needs to have something attractive to the customer. A $10 off coupon for a local pub or a gift card for a flower shop, an invitation to the new shopping mall in the neighborhood, or a sticker with a useful checklist. There is no need for a brick-and-mortar location — it can be a discount to an e-commerce store too. When people get this type of mail, they will likely stick it to their fridge or leave it on their table. Then, people might remember the coupon when they need that product and choose your business instead of a competitor.

It increases brand awareness. In the example above, people eventually remember and use the brand’s offer. But what if they don’t? Will the mail  just lay there, and be eventually forgotten? Not necessarily. They may not have a use for it now, but they saw your logo, your brand name, and what you do. And if the day comes your mail recipients need something you offer, they might just visit your site and buy it. It wouldn’t happen without your mail because they wouldn’t know about you. But after people learned of you, the opportunity appeared — that is brand awareness in action.

Creative direct mail ideas to help you promote your business


One of the simplest things to send is a postcard with contact information and a CTA (call-to-action). 

Companies like VistaPrint, MOO, 48HourPrint offer direct mail design templates to choose from and customize. The postcards can be made in many different sizes, with different types of paper, and in a wide range of colors. Some companies also provide direct mail services — they not only print it but send it to your customers on your behalf.

Postcard design template by VistaPrint
An example of a postcard template at VistaPrint. Source: VistaPrint

Try using postcards made from thick premium papers, or use oversized postcards (they come in 6×11 inches instead of standard 4×6 inches) in order to stand out from the other mail.

Coupons (or coupon codes)

89% of millennial shoppers in the U.S. agreed that they would try a new brand if they got a coupon or a discount for it. Coupons also make it easy to track the return on investment of a direct mail campaign.

They can be put on a postcard, printed on a hand tag attached to a product sample, on a flier, or on other printed materials.

An example of a coupon template by VistaPrint
An example of a coupon template by VistaPrint. Source: VistaPrint

Birthday or anniversary discounts

Offering discounts or promo codes for a customer’s birthday or an anniversary is a good way to foster brand loyalty and remain top of mind. It can be as simple as a postcard or a separate printed piece added to a catalog, brochure, or another type of mail. 

The timing is important for this kind of promotion since you want your postcard to arrive right on the day of the event or as close to it as possible. Especially if you add a time limit for the discount to be claimed.

A postcard template for a birthday discount
A postcard template for a birthday discount. Source: PostcardMania

Brochures with detailed information

If you’d like to give more in-depth information, consider sending brochures instead of postcards. Thanks to their format, it’s easy to add photos, icons, illustrations, product guides, menu listings, and other things that don’t fit on a postcard. You can see a brochure template’s front and back sides in the slider below:

Front side of a brochure template by Canva
A brochure template by Canva that can be customized, printed, and shipped. Source: Canva
Back side of a brochure template by Canva
A brochure template by Canva that can be customized, printed, and shipped. Source: Canva

Interactive mail

Interactive mail, as the name suggests, is meant for the recipient to interact with it. It calls for physical action by interrupting readers’ train of thought and bringing their attention to the mail. 

Some examples of interactive mail include:

  • Giant stickers (that may contain an emergency shutdown checklist for a boiler, for example)
  • A ring sizer (good option for companies that sell jewelry)
  • Free product samples or testers (i.e., perfumed paper slips, shampoo testers, etc.)
  • Lumpy mail (mailers filled with something to make them bulge, not flat)
  • Scratch-off (an option for a coupon)
  • 3D glasses or a magnifying glass (along with a postcard or a brochure with some of the information hidden, where the 3D glasses or the magnifying glass’ role is to reveal the hidden to the user)
  • AR prints (images or text that move or become 3D when viewed through a smartphone’s camera)
An interactive mail piece by healthcare provider AmeriHealth New Jersey with a magnifying glass
An interactive mail piece by healthcare provider AmeriHealth New Jersey that focused on its Medicare plan. A magnifier was taped to the letter, and an image for each benefit of the plan was hidden in the picture at the right. Source: Who’s Mailing What!


Catalogs are a great choice since they let you demonstrate multiple products. Some of the oldest mail-order catalogs in Europe and North America existed since the end of the 19th century (i.e., Thonet (released in 1859), Kastner & Öhler (released in 1885), Sears (released in 1888), Spiegel, Freemans (released in 1905)).

Modern companies that actively use mailed catalogs include Oriflame, Lands’ End, Lillian Vernon, and others.

Free samples

Free product samples are an effective and widely used way of marketing that introduces  potential customers to the business. They have a number of benefits for both companies and their clients:

  • People can try products without leaving their homes.
  • Product samples remove the price barrier — samples let people try the product first without spending money, and this in turn makes the decision (to buy or not to buy) easier for a potential customer.
  • It’s cost-effective with bulk rates of mailing services.
  • It’s a great way to support multi-channel promotions, like during new product launches.
  • As an added benefit, the business can receive real feedback from the target audience.
Samples of Oriflame’s chosen cosmetics and perfumes
Samples of Oriflame’s cosmetics and perfumes. Source: Oriflame

Overall, this tactic fits any kind of product where it is possible to offer a sample 1) of the same quality as the actual product, and 2) of the adequate size that gives the recipient a clear idea of the product or service (perfume strips are a good example).

Free samples work great for cosmetics, food, and drinks (i.e., small chocolate plates, wine in 0.2-liter bottles), car care products, pet food, and many others.    

Direct mail marketing best practices to make the most out of your campaign

There are multiple ways to improve your direct mailers’ open rate, response rate, and ROI, on top of sending a good medium like a postcard or a catalog. Here are a few of the best practices — suitable for small and bigger businesses alike.   

Include a clear CTA

Call-to-action, or CTA, is one of the most important parts of any marketing campaign. Best direct mail CTAs are clear, noticeable, and logically continue the flow of the rest of the content in your campaign. 

Define the action you want your prospects and customers to take and choose the CTA to represent it. Keep it simple by offering one place to learn about your business or redeem a discount.

Make your CTA stand out: box it, or use bigger bold letters than for the rest of the copy, and place it into the center of the postcard/mail.

A precise copy leading to a clear CTA example
A precise copy leading to a clear CTA by a snow contractor Greener Side Inc. from Taylor, Michigan, U.S. Source: PostcardMania

Include links or QR codes in your direct mail

Mailers can be used to get your leads into other channels like social media or a website. A way to do that is to add a scannable QR code or a shortened link to the direct mail-specific landing page. This way, you’ll be able to both get people there and track the results. 

A postcard with two QR codes and a shortened link
A postcard by BHG Financial organization in Florida, U.S. They use two QR codes and a shortened link to advertise loans. Source: Who’s Mailing What!

Offer a limited-time promotion

Limited-time promotions create a sense of urgency and appeal to the fear of missing out on something good or popular. They often happen during the holiday season and get heavily promoted via digital channels. Used together with direct mail, limited-time promotions can be an incentive that turns a prospect into a buying customer.

A week-long -50% sale, free shipping, or special extra benefits for new customers could tip the balance for an undecided lead and get you more sales. 

A postcard with a limited-time discount offer
A postcard by a hair and beauty salon Hair By Katy Salon used as part of the COVID-19 reopening plan. They made a 50% off offer with a clear expiration date and further limited it by saying it only works with this postcard. Source: PostcardMania

Always personalize

Personalized direct mail works better than a non-personalized one. One of the best marketing ideas for direct mail is to address the recipients by name. Another is buyer’s interest — i.e., if someone has a car, they may be interested in car insurance or car care products.

You can personalize any aspect of your direct mail piece with Variable Data Printing (VDP). It allows you to customize customers’ names, addresses, ages, genders, add graphics and images for each print piece while printing in bulk. Some print and mail services (i.e., PostGrid) offer VDP and make personalization very easy.

A personalized postcard by a roofing company
A personalized postcard by a roofing company Crest Exteriors in Plano, Texas, U.S. They targeted households damaged by a recent severe storm. Source: PostcardMania

Handwrite your stamp for postcards

A handwritten note is one of the best ways to connect with customers when it comes to a direct mail campaign. Together with personalization, it gives a special and premium feel that is hard to come by in the age of automatic digital ads.

Handwriting is also time-consuming — especially for businesses with large mailing lists. The solution is to use a custom stamp that will give the impression of handwritten text.

Custom calligraphy return address stamp for direct mail
Custom calligraphy return address stamp for direct mail. Source: Paper Pastries

Give your customers something to keep

Direct mail has an advantage over digital in that it is tangible and can stick around. Make your mail stand out by giving your customers something fun and practical to keep. 

A pad of sticky notes, fridge magnets with calendars, or something else handy is more likely to be kept than thrown away. Keep your mailer even more memorable by making these items branded. Click on the slider below to see some examples: 

Branded calendar gift for customers
Branded magnetic notebooks to gift to customers
Source: National Pen

Pique curiosity with non-standard envelopes and shapes

When someone is sorting through their mail, how it looks and feels to the touch helps decide whether to open it or not. This tangible aspect of direct mail is a great advantage. You can add an object inside the envelope and pique customers’ interest. 

The popular way to go about it is using mail inserts and buck slips.

Buck slips, also called “buck inserts” or “buck sheets” are single, unfolded sheets frequently used as inserts. They are approximately the size of a dollar bill, measuring around 8.5×3.5 inches or smaller. The small size makes them a great envelope stuffer, and the “go-to” for direct mail campaigns.

It also combines together nicely with the idea of giving your customers something to keep — like a fridge magnet, sticker pad, or branded notebook. But mail campaigns can make creative use of multiple things — a penny, a USB drive, or a pen, to name a few.

An example of buck slip design by PGprint
A buck slip custom design, offered by Source: PGprint


Direct mail has a number of unique benefits digital channels can’t provide. Although it’s relatively similar to direct email marketing, it can engage the sense of touch, has less competition, and has the ability to stick around in the customer’s home and keep your business top of mind. 

Postcards, coupons, interactive mail in the form of free samples, and birthday or anniversary discounts are all great to use in your direct mail campaign. 

Consider using these direct mail types to get the most out of it: 

  • Postcards
  • Coupons
  • Birthday or anniversary discounts
  • Brochures
  • Interactive mailers
  • Catalogs
  • Free samples

The best direct mail ideas are always those that are most relevant to your business. Consider your overall strategy and goals, and if the benefits appeal to you, give it a try. 

29 January, 2023
Article by
Natalie Voloshchuk
Natalie is a content writer and blog writer that specializes in SEO and on-page optimization. Her specialty is marketing and sustainability niches, with years of actual hands-on experience in the roles like digital marketer generalist, webmaster and Facebook advertiser. Outside and in the course of work, Natalie remains an animal lover and a human-nature coexistence enthusiast.
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