What is direct mail?

By Cara Lawson

5 minute Read


  • Insight

Every day, an array of mail falls through our letterboxes. When you pick up a pile of post, you’re holding a huge variety of mail types. There’s ad mail and business mail, door drops and direct mail, programmatic mail and partially addressed mail.

Today, we’re shining a spotlight on one particular type – direct mail. Here, we’ll explain exactly what direct mail is and why it delivers more than just another email in your online junk folder.

What is direct mail?

Direct mail is mail addressed to an individual. It can be used for either businesses sending bills, statements or account details to customers, or for brands to use it as marketing channel to send advertising direct to your customer or prospect. In order to send it, you need to have a database of people. Generally, this is your own database gathered with the consent of the individuals. However, you can mail to householders by using non-personally identifying databases through Royal Mail’s Partially Addressed service, which is 100% GDPR compliant.

Is it just a letter?

No! Direct mail isn’t always a letter. It could be a package, a catalogue, a postcard, or just about any other format. Garden centres could send a pack of promotional seeds to a customer, a laundry brand might incorporate a scratch and sniff element onto a postcard, banks could send new formats of credit cards, or a clothing brand could send a lifestyle led catalogue showcasing a gorgeous photography collection of summer clothes.

Why do brands use direct mail?

Brands use it to communicate with their clients, customers and potential customers. They tend to use direct mail for important information, like bills or changes to services. However, direct mail is also an effective way to market new business to your existing clients or generate sales from former or potential customers. A new innovation is programmatic mail, which sends a piece of direct mail to someone who, for example, visited an online shop, put items in their basket but never checked out. The shop could use direct mail to advertise similar products with an incentive such as free shipping to encourage the customer to return to the sale.

Does anyone even open mail?

Of course they do! Remember, this is mail that’s addressed to them, so it’s relevant and something they want to receive. Royal Mail found that 92% of direct mail is opened, and 48% of UK adults took action after receiving it. According to TGI, 58% of those over 65 and 46.6% of those in socio-economic group E have not used internet in the past year, so if you’re trying to reach this audience you need to be using mail.

Why should my brand use it?

Direct mail is an effective way to market new business to clients, generate sales from new customers and amplify your other marketing streams. BrandScience found that the online component of campaigns pays by 62% more and TV components 37% more when direct mail is added to the mix.

Do I need a database to send direct mail?

Yes. But there are ways around having your own database that are still GDPR compliant. One of our favourites is the partially addressed system, which allows you to profile on household level instead of individual. It’s easy to use – you simply upload your existing database against our partially addressed database and the technology shows you the addresses that aren’t already on your database. So, if you were a car brand, you could identify all the people on a street who didn’t already own your brand of car and target them with a personalised mail piece. The resulting mail would be addressed to the ‘householder’ and is one hundred percent GDPR compliant. 

Is this GDPR compliant?

Yes, as long as you’re sending it to your own database, which was consented in accordance with the GDPR, then it’s totally compliant. Make sure you run a data cleanse on your database before mailing so you are only mailing to people who are still at their address and you don’t end up wasting budget with letters returned to sender.

Is it good value for money?

It’s hard to estimate return on investment without knowing the size and demographics of the database. Though, Royal Mail estimate that direct mail delivers an average of £3.22 return on investment for every £1 spent. This is higher than digital marketing’s average of £3.12 for every £1 spent.

Why not send an email instead?

You might think that sending an email is the easier option. If so, ask yourself how many emails you ignore every day. We all receive hundreds of unopened email ads daily, far less than those coming through our letterbox. Mail stands out. Simply put, it’s more engaging and memorable than email. If you would like to plan a direct mail campaign with us, please get in touch.

Source: Royal Mail

Cara Lawson image

About the author

Cara, our Head of Client Services, brings extensive knowledge and client relation attributes to the Dragonfly team. She thrives in the busy project management environment. Her strategic knowledge of print, creative, production and postage solutions are second to none and she is consistently offering innovative and creative solutions to add value for her clients. Cara appreciates the ‘no one size fits all’ approach and prides herself in her bespoke approach with her clients.