Five things you should know about direct mail (before your next mailing)

By Josh Olszewski

direct mail in mailboxes
Thinking about sending a direct mail campaign but not sure where to start? You’re in luck! We’ve compiled five of the most frequently-asked questions and provided some brief answers to help you with your next mailing.


Who should I send the mailing to?

When deciding who to send a mailing to, you should first ask yourself what you want to accomplish. Do you want to increase brand awareness? Strengthen your customer base? Increase store traffic? Whatever your goal is, there’s a targeted address list for that.

Prospect Lists
Prospect lists can be an effective way to reach potential customers. These lists are available to rent for one-time use, or multiple uses throughout the year. What’s great about these is they allow you to home in on your specific target audience. Want to target people who live in your city? How about specific neighborhoods or ZIP codes? Prospect lists can also be targeted towards people’s spending habits, household income, lifestyle, and more. These lists are updated frequently so you can be sure names and addresses are current.

Current customers
Already have a customer list? That’s an excellent place to start! Current customer lists are great for sending mailpieces that provide customers with special offers, exciting company updates, loyalty rewards program details, etc. Direct Mail Companies can “scrub” these lists to ensure customer addresses are up to date so you know pieces are being sent to the correct addresses.


What kind of mailing should I pursue?

Not all mailpieces have to look the same. In fact, you might choose a different direct mail format based on your goals and the information you plan to send.

Envelopes are useful for securely sending a myriad of different pieces, like business statements, letters, and reply envelopes. When choosing envelopes, you have the option to use windowed envelopes and non-windowed envelopes, each that come in different sizes to fit your needs.

Self-mailers are another option and are great for communicating in fun and unique ways. Whether it be a card, brochure, newsletter, or something in between, self-mailers come in many shapes and sizes and are great for capturing attention.


What’s the deal with postage?

Presorted Postage is determined by the size, weight, and class of a mailpiece. When deciding what kind of mailpiece you’d like to send out, it’s important to keep these standards in mind:

  • Minimum Mailable size: 5” long x 3.5” high x .007” thick
  • Maximum Letter Size: 11.5” long x 6.125” High x .25” thick
  • Maximum Flat Size: 15” long x 12” high x .25” thick

Mailpieces that fall into the flat category will qualify at higher postage rates than those in the letter category. Letters that weigh over 3.5 ounces will be classified as a flat. Additionally, odd-shaped or square mailpieces will have an extra surcharge, since they are non-machinable.

Presorted Postage is also calculated by class of mail. Classes include Standard Marketing Mail, Presorted First Class, & Nonprofit. When deciding what class of mail to choose, it’s important to keep in mind that each class will have a different delivery standard and price. For instance, Presorted First Class will allow your pieces to be delivered in homes faster than standard marketing mail, but the postage will cost more per piece.

Nonprofit mail allows organizations to send mail at lower rates and still receive Standard Marketing Mail delivery standards. However, not all nonprofits are eligible for nonprofit postage. Organizations must register with USPS to qualify for these rates.

Average delivery expectancies are as follows:

Standard Marketing
Delivery: 3-5 business Days, excluding holidays

Presorted First Class
Delivery: 1-3 business Days

Delivery: 3-5 Business Days, excluding holidays

NOTE: Organization must be registered as a nonprofit with USPS to receive Nonprofit Postage.


How do I ensure my mailpiece is USPS-compliant?

Direct mail pieces that are not USPS-compliant can be bad news for your organization, since they can incur additional fees or simply not get delivered. There are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare a mailing.

Size / thickness
By using the size and thickness guidelines above, you can be sure your mailpiece is USPS-compliant and will qualify at the postage rate you want. We have additional resources available for sizing guidelines here.

Address position / Barcode clearance
The recipient address needs to be clearly visible on either the front of the envelope, one side of a card mailing, or the final panel of a folded mailer. It’s important to have all the necessary fields such as:

Address Line1
Address Line2
City, State, ZIP

In addition to the above information, you can also add company name and/or title. In place of first and last name, you can also use “Current Resident” or other placeholders. As we’ll explain below, many pieces can contain an Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb), which can help with tracking. Barcodes can either be placed in the address block or the barcode clear zone on the bottom right corner of the mailpiece.

For more information on addressing or barcodes, check out this USPS 201a Quick Service Guide.


How do I know recipients are receiving my mailpiece?

Placing an Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) on your mailpieces allows USPS to scan each piece as it moves through the mailing system. This scan information is then made available by third party tracking software. Using this software, organizations can track where each mailpiece is at any given time. Direct mail organizations have access to this tracking information and can provide these details after a mailing has been sent.


Well, that just about covers the basics. Still have questions about direct mail? Let us know, we’d love to help!


Related articles: 18 direct mail stats every marketer should know and Six direct mail mistakes to avoid


Josh Olszewski is a Client Services Representative at Extend Your Reach. He helps clients manage their projects from beginning to end, ensuring that every piece works together to meet their goals.


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