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Direct Mail 101: Get to know the basics

Direct mail can seem daunting and mysterious at first, especially if you’ve never used it for marketing purposes. Don’t be intimidated. 

Full Tilt Direct will walk you through the entire process. Regardless of whether you’re a small business or a significant digital marketer, many of the same principles of digital direct marketing can be applied. What’s different is the production phase and distribution to your audience. 

Let’s break it all down into some basic concepts. First, your direct mail campaign will be comprised of these 7 key steps in our project workflow:

  • 1.

    The mailing list: targeting specifically the customers you want to reach.

  • 2.

    Design and writing: use of bold images, headlines, and a strong call-to-action.

  • 3.

    Print production: your design will be printed on a postcard, letter package, or brochure mailer, on high quality paper.

  • 4.

    Lettershop and personalization: your list of names and addresses will be lasered onto the piece along with a mail barcode, then folded, trimmed and prepped.

  • 5.

    Postage: we’ll apply an indicia, a metered stamp, or a real postage stamp, depending on the format being mailed.

  • 6.

    Shipping and delivery: the finished product gets wrapped and shipped to the nearest postal distribution center.

  • 7.

    Mailing and Tracking: the US Postal Services delivers your piece, and we’ll track it for you.

That’s the quick overview version. Read on if you’d like to take a deeper dive into each step and learn more about our services and what we do to get your direct mail campaign to your target audience.

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Demystify the Direct Mail Process

For those who want to know the nitty-gritty details, let’s take a closer look at the 7 steps mentioned above. We’ve added depth to each step to help you better understand the scope of services we provide every client. We do everything possible to ensure your direct mail campaign is a success.

  • 1.

    Mailing List Services

    We tell all our clients that this is the critical first step. It’s the liquid oxygen in your rocket ship. It’s estimated that 40% of the success of a direct mail piece is weighted toward the list. We’ll be sure to select demographic targets for you based on customer age, gender, household income, region, zip code, or any other criteria that’s a match to the goals of your company’s campaign.

  • 2.

    Creative Services

    Our experienced direct mail creative team will design and write your direct mail piece with one goal in mind: get customers to take action. Whether it’s using engaging visuals and copy, highlighting a toll-free number, a URL, or a QR code that will drive to a web page, our design team knows the importance of the call to action (CTA). The CTA is what will drive a measurable response and it will determine customer response rates.

  • 3.

    Printing Services

    Don’t be put off by terms like DPI, PPI, CMYK, 4-color process, or any other fancy designer lingo. Just know that our creative services and printing services teams know how to get your direct mail from Point A to Point B. All you’ll need to be concerned about is just how awesome it’ll look when it’s printed!

  • 4.

    Lettershop & Personalization Services

    When it’s time to fold, insert, assemble, or apply laser personalization your piece, the Lettershop phase is where the magic happens. If you want to call out your customer’s name using a big font or add a text element that varies from region to region, this is where variable data can be applied to your format. This is a very effective tactic for increasing customer engagement.

  • 5.

    Postage and Handling Services

    Once your entire mail volume order has been printed, addressed, and personalized, it can carry a variety of postage indicators. We can use an indicia (that little box that carries postal permit info), a metered stamp, or an actual “live” stamp — it depends on the format, the desired first impression, and your budget. Note: a live stamp is often used on Letter/Envelope packages and brochures, but rarely on postcards.

  • 6.

    Shipping and Delivery Services

    When your entire campaign is complete and ready to leave the shop, it must be bundled up and shipped to a local postal distribution and sorting center. It requires hands-on work from real people, all in sync to ensure the finished product will reach the USPS on schedule, and in pristine condition.

  • 7.

    Mailing and Tracking Services

    Now that the USPS has your mail volume in their hands, we rely on them for the last leg of the journey. Your pieces will get sorted into the target zip code carrier routes and delivered to the target recipients. Once in the mailbox, it’s up to the recipient to interact with the piece, decide if it’s relevant, timely, trustworthy, presenting an attractive offer, and providing a clear call-to-action for response.

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KPIs for Direct Marketers


Here are some Key Performance Indicators that sales and marketing professionals should take into consideration when managing a direct mail campaign. Planning, preparation, and setting realistic expectations will prove invaluable for your team. 

  • 1.

    Testing your list

    Even a modest campaign of a few thousand pieces can be costly. If mailing a high volume, we recommend that you test mail a small portion of your list and check the results. Even with all the best intentions, no one can predict the response rate you’ll get — but a test quantity will give you actionable data, and a good idea of how it's performing before you mail your entire volume.

  • 2.

    What is a considered a good response rate?

    A 2% response rate is considered good if you’re mailing to an outside list (meaning, a list that was not culled from your own marketing efforts). This assumes the consumers in the outside list have no previous relationship with your company or its services. To the recipient you are essentially a total stranger, so your mailing must work harder when it comes to generating a response. Including a free offer or a limited-time discount can help boost response rates. This is a tried-and-true tactic utilized by the majority of direct mail marketers.

  • 3.

    Customer response volume

    We recommend that you keep your mail volume in sync with your sales team’s ability to handle inbound customer responses. Your test mailing will give you a sense of the rate of customer responses. You’ll be able to use that data as a benchmark for how well your sales and marketing group can ramp up when the full mail volume goes out to customers.

  • 4.

    Maximizing customer leads

    Handling the fulfillment end of a direct mail campaign requires planning. If you’re asking customers to contact your company via email, a toll-free number, or a web page form, how will you respond? In essence, you need to think about how you will maximize your leads and what the best method will be to convert them to paying customers.

  • 5.

    Analyze your results

    Marketers know this is an important aspect of any direct marketing campaign. Did the final response rate fall below, meet, or exceed expectations? Every direct mail campaign you deploy should bring you a return on your investment, as well as grow your customer database. Results will inform what you do with your next mailing.

  • 6.

    Mail and mail often

    Frequency of mailing is an important key to conditioning your audience to expect a mail piece from your company. Frequency can be monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually. A “one and done” approach to direct mail won’t establish a foundation for success. You’ll want to mail your list on a regular basis and keep your brand in the forefront of your audience’s mind. You want them to remember your company ahead of every other competitor in the same market.