How Small Businesses Can Optimize Direct Mail Open Rates


Direct mail is one of the best ways to connect with new customers and rekindle your relationship with old ones. The first thing people see is the outer envelope, so this is the prime area to focus your message and attract attention. It should conform to postal standards, of course, but it should also tempt recipients to open it up and read what’s inside. Here are a few tips on how to optimize direct mail to improve open rates.

Increase the Perceived Value

Include something of immediate value such as a free gift. You could send a pen, a fridge magnet, a small lapel pin or even a coin. People like receiving gifts, and each one also provides an alternative means of advertising that lasts longer than the mail itself. If the item is bulky, such as a pen, recipients will feel it through the envelope, but if it’s something small, like a coin, use a window envelope that shows what’s inside. Another way of inciting curiosity with objects is to place an irregular shaped one inside so they can feel it, but can’t tell what it is.

Maximize the Real Estate

There is plenty of opportunity to reinforce the message, especially if you use a traditional envelope. Before the recipient even gets round to opening it, you can capture their interest by optimizing this valuable space. On the front, of course, goes the name and address, along with postage and return address, but the back is often left blank. Ways to use this space include:

  • Tease the recipient into reading more
  • Include a little more info on your offer
  • Inject a sense of urgency
  • Give the offer a theme
  • Increase the value
  • Show what the recipient will gain
  • Include emotion
  • A call to action

The only thing to be wary of putting on an envelope is humor. What some people find funny, others find offensive, so unless you’re in the joke business, it’s best to leave the funny stuff to others.

Target through Segmentation

Segmentation works whatever kind of marketing you’re doing. Sending to a highly targeted small list nearly always elicits a better response than mailing everyone. Use your demographics data and buyer personas to zoom in on specific interests within your larger lists, and get more out of your direct mail campaign.


Use people’s names elsewhere on the envelope, as well as in the address. Just don’t overdo it, once is enough. Repeat the name in the body of the copy inside, just to reinforce the connection once they open and start reading.

Be Different

Anything with a novelty factor gets noticed. Depending on your industry, bright colors, eye catching fonts, relevant graphics or even placing vital elements somewhere unusual (such as putting the address on the back) have been used to good effect. Obviously, you’ll stay in keeping with your industry expectations, so somber industries such as those in life insurance or funeral services should adopt a suitable tone regarding mail design. A good graphic design company can match the look and feel of your printed marketing materials to your company image.

Test What Works

Sometimes, very small changes can bring much bigger responses. There is no hard and fast rule about what works, so every business needs to experiment a little. If one mail shot produces poor results, don’t give up. Change something:

  • A different font
  • A new color
  • Photos of women instead of men
  • Postcards instead of letters
  • Fewer words
  • More words
  • Punchier language

The important thing to remember is that repetition often brings the best result, so if one mailing fails, change something and try again until you hit the sweet spot.

21 Tips to Improve Your Direct Mail