Direct Mail

Remember Direct Mail? It's About to Become A Disruptive Marketing Tool

By: Lewis Gersh


Maybe you’ve heard Megan Brennan, the 74th Postmaster General of the U.S. Postal Service, discuss the agency’s efforts to modernize and meet the challenges of the 21st century. If you haven’t — and let’s face it, postal mail flies well below today’s tech-targeted radar — you might be surprised to learn that the Postal Service partnered with to deliver groceries in San Francisco, built an augmented reality app to enhance what’s in your mailbox, and created an online hub that allows customers to give their carrier specific delivery instructions. In other words, neither rain, nor sleet nor technological disruption will interfere with the mail, and that’s good news because as Brennan put it, direct mail is “the most direct pipeline to the consumer.”

The question is: What can retailers do to make sure they’re capitalizing on this new, tech-spirited innovation at the Postal Service and lead the charge to marry digital technology with direct mail? As it turns out, there are plenty of opportunities. Direct mail is at the beginning of a renaissance that’s already begun to transform shopping.

Catalogs Gone Wild
A few years back, the conventional wisdom was that the internet would kill the catalog. The catalog didn’t die, however, and retailers like J.C. Penney, which had given up on a physical mail presence during The Great Recession, have actually resurrected the catalog, citing both consumer preference and an omnichannel strategy.

Of course, the catalog’s renaissance isn’t just about rehashing an old concept. Retailers have had to evolve the medium in order to speak to today’s connected consumers. Anthropologie, which calls its catalog a journal, views its catalog as an opportunity for content marketing that’s on par with, or better than, what you would see in a magazine. A growing number of retailers take a similar editorial approach to their catalogs, with Ikea going so far as to produce a tongue-in-cheek video for the company’s “bookbook.” And then there’s Restoration Hardware, which is legendary for its 17-pound, 3,300-page catalog that takes content marketing to encyclopedic proportions. But the catalog isn't only getting better, it’s getting smarter.

A number of retailers are using web analytics to customize catalogs. L.L.Bean is just one example. As the company’s chief marketing officer recently explained, L.L. Bean can create multiple versions of its catalog based on a consumer's online browsing habits. Therefore, instead of sending every customer the largest book, Bean can send a custom edition targeted to each customer’s interests. Meanwhile, online retailers like Bonobos are discovering that a physical catalog gives the brand more latitude to grab shoppers’ attention while at the same time deepening the data around customer purchasing habits.

Mail-to-Store Conversions
Like the catalog, physical retail was also supposed to die, thanks largely to the threat of showrooming. As it turns out, the fear of showrooming was overblown. A recent IBM report showed that while the number of consumers who go to the store and then use their phone to check prices on the web ticked up slightly, the amount of money those shoppers spent dropped drastically. At the same time, retailers have seen the rise of a trend known as “webrooming,” which is when consumers start the shopping experience online but go to the store to complete their purchase. What’s going on here? We’ve arrived at our omnichannel future, and it looks nothing like we predicted it would, largely because of direct mail.

A few years back, when everything was supposed to be about mobile, there was this idea that direct mail would go away because retailers would use real-time data to shoot customized coupons to shoppers’ phones as they moved around the store. It was geo-targeting on steroids. Eventually retailers came to understand that the concept was probably a better fit for "The Jetsons" than a real life brick-and-mortar store. What happened instead was that direct mail turned out to be the ideal tool for geo-targeting, not to the specific store or aisle, but to the ZIP code. Instead of driving consumers crazy with offers in-store, retailers figured out that they could use direct mail to drive their customers to the store in a given area. More importantly, retailers discovered that they could use direct mail to achieve "presence."

What do I mean by presence? Look at the experience of a retailer like Nordstrom: customers who have a multichannel relationship with the brand spend four times more than those who don’t. Direct mail in the form of a catalog can drive consumers into the store, but direct mail post store visit can also retarget consumers back to the website. Direct mail is the conduit retailers use to move customers between channels, and as such it's the method by which retailers remain present in their customers’ lives between store, home and digital.

‘Smart’ Cards (and Envelopes)
Intelligent Mail Barcode reporting technology makes it possible to sync up direct mail with online channels and capture attribution between online and offline. Meanwhile, new tools like Real Mail Notification allow retailers to align email marketing with direct mail campaigns. And, of course, improvements in printing technology combined with CRM and other real-time data tools have dramatically reduced lead times to the point where it’s possible for retailers to deliver a customized direct mail offer immediately after a store visit.

While some of these applications are new, the technologies that drive them have been around for several years or more. In that sense, what's old is new again. And just as the first iteration of direct mail disrupted retail, so too will direct mail 2.0 disrupt and transform the future of retail.

Author: Lewis Gersh

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Avoid Pitfalls When Designing Your Direct Mailpiece

By: USPS Delivers

To create a successful direct mailpiece, at some point you may need to think like a machine—an automated mail-processing machine. That’s what will be “reading” your envelope or card for key information. Mistakes in design can mean your mail doesn’t qualify for automation discounts—or in the worst case, prevent your pieces from going through the mail at all.

Here are three pitfalls to watch out for:

Odd Shapes

You want your mailpiece to look unique to catch customers’ attention, but an odd shape may not be the best way to do that. Certain shapes like squares and tubes are charged a higher price because those pieces must be processed manually. Such pieces are referred to as Customized Marketing Mail, or CMM.

Speaking of odd shapes, don’t mail bulky, odd-shaped things like pens or bottle caps in regular letter-size envelopes. You’ll pay more in postage, and the items are likely to damage the envelope and be lost.

Address Mistakes

The delivery address must go on the front of the mailpiece, the same side as the postage. And on a letter-size piece, we recommend placing the address within the optical character reader (OCR) area. This means the address should be within these boundaries:

  • 1/2 inch from the left edge of the piece
  • 1/2 inch from the right edge of the piece
  • 2-3/4 inches from the bottom edge of the piece
  • 5/8 inch from the bottom edge of the piece

A return address is required in some cases. For instance, you’ll need one if you’re asking the Postal Service™ to return mail to you that can’t be delivered, or if you’re paying with precanceled stamps or a company permit imprint. The return address always goes in the upper left corner of the address side of the mailpiece.

For more details, refer to the Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) 202.0, Address Placement, and 602.1.0, Elements of Addressing.

Misplaced Markings

When you look at a piece of direct mail, you’ll see several markings on the envelope or card. While they may mean nothing to your prospective customers, they are important to delivering the mail, and they need to go in specific places. These include:


Postage, which can be paid with a stamp, meter, or permit imprint, goes in the top right corner. Information on the class of mail—for instance First-Class Mail®, Marketing Mail™, or Nonprofit—must be printed as part of, directly below, or to the left of the permit imprint, meter imprint, or stamp. For details on other options for price-specific markings, refer to the DMM 202.3.5, First-Class Mail and USPS Marketing Mail Markings.


Endorsements are markings that tell the Postal Service what to do with mail if it can’t be delivered. For instance, you may want them to return it to you or provide you with address change information. For details on where endorsements can be placed, refer to DMM 202.4.0 Placement and Physical Standards for Endorsements.


Barcodes contain a wealth of information that helps USPS® track and route mail more efficiently. To receive automation price breaks, your mailpieces must have a barcode. For details on barcode placement, see DMM 202.5.0, Barcode Placement Letters and Flats.

Consult a Mailpiece Design Analyst

Regulations can be confusing if you’re just starting out. To be sure your design will work, it’s a good idea to work with a Mailpiece Design Analyst (MDA). An MDA is a specially trained postal employee who can tell you if the finished piece will be mailable and suggest ways to make it eligible for the lowest possible postage rates.

By carefully following these suggestions and working with an MDA, you can design a mailpiece that is cost-effective and, most importantly, reaches your prospective customers.

Author: USPS Delivers

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What Is The Right Size For Your Direct Mailpiece?

By: USPS Delivers


When you’re planning a direct mail campaign, one of your first decisions will be what size mailpiece to use. That decision will affect how much space you have for your message and how much you pay in postage.

Take a look at the three most commonly used sizes for direct mail.

Postcard Requirements

  • At least 5″ long x 3.5″ wide x 0.007″ thick
  • No more than 6″ long x 4.25″ x 0.016″ thick

What you should know

Postcards are an inexpensive way to get an immediate message to customers—they don’t even have to open an envelope. First-Class Mail® postcards are a great value, too. You pay a lower price than for letters and get all of the benefits, such as forwarding and return services, that come with First-Class Mail service.

However, when you send postcards via USPS Marketing Mail™ service (formerly called Standard Mail), there’s no price break. They cost the same as letters.

Letter Requirements

  • At least 5″ long x 3.5″ wide x 0.007″ thick
  • No more than 11.5″ long x 6.125″ wide x 0.25″ thick

What you should know

If you use a standard No. 10 envelope, your piece is clearly a letter. But if you decide to create your own special envelope, or you design a piece to be folded to letter size, be sure to keep the letter dimensions in mind to avoid paying a higher price.

Letters can be mailed at First-Class Mail service or USPS Marketing Mail rates. Unlike postcards, they receive a price break when sent at Marketing Mail rates.

Flat Requirements

  • Have one dimension that is greater than 11.5″ long OR 6.125″ wide OR 0.25″ thick.
  • Can be no more than 15″ long x 12″ wide x 0.75″ thick.

What you should know

The Postal Service uses the word “flat” to refer to large envelopes, newsletters, and magazines. The maximum size for a flat provides plenty of room to put lots of material in the envelope. But keep in mind that weight usually affects price—the greater the weight, the higher the postage, especially for flats sent as First-Class Mail service.

Size It Right

Choosing the right size to fit your budget and needs can help you save time and money in the long run.

Author: USPS Delivers

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