Direct Mail Marketing: Dead or Alive?

There are many methods of marketing your freelance writing services. From managing a freelance writing blog to attending networking events, your options run deep.

In the past, direct mail marketing was all the rage. Freelancers, as well as professionals in many other industries, found this to be an effective means of drumming up new business.

The question remains: is direct mail marketing dead or alive?

I’ll be the first one to admit that this form of marketing makes me nervous. On the surface, it appears to be nothing more than “throwing money down the drain.” However, this did not stop me from running a recent test.

I sent out 2,000 postcards to small businesses within a 250 mile radius of my office. Although I didn’t know want to expect, it was fun to think about the prospects of attracting new business.

The result: nine phone calls, six emails, and three new clients. Of course, it has only been a couple weeks so it is possible that more people will get in touch in the days to come.

In the long run, I believe that I will more than make my money back. It would have been nice to generate a higher conversion rate, but with direct mail you never really know what is going to happen.

Will I try this marketing method again in the future? Maybe, maybe not. Before making a decision I need to see if more business comes rolling in and how much I earn from the clients that already signed up.

Do you have any experience with direct mail marketing?

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Chris is a full-time freelance writer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He specializes in web content, sales copy, and many other forms of writing. Chris has two books in print, as well as hundreds of articles in local and nationwide publications.

10 thoughts on “Direct Mail Marketing: Dead or Alive?”

  1. Direct mail marketing is quite alive (though it sometimes transforms itself (in a burst of pixels) and becomes… internet marketing.

    (If you’re wondering, I have lots of experience with direct mail, even used to work for The DMA).

    And now that you’ve done one mailing, after you wait a few weeks, and see the full response, you’ll have a better idea of what to do for your next mailing. You can’t predict exactly, but you can see what works (or doesn’t) and refine it.

    Hmm, I think you’ve given me the idea for a blog post! 🙂

  2. In my previous incarnation as a receptionist, part of my job was endless envelope stuffing. We sent copious amounts of marketing material to our entire customer list and it must have worked well, because we kept on doing it week after week.

    However we did end up getting a number of calls from people who were simply fed up with receiving so much junk in their letter box. it is important to be targeted about whop you send to and not to overload them with information and advertising.

  3. I have tried it, though not for my writing business. I arranged to have 15,000 postcards distributed relating to my tax consultancy. I gained two clients from the two inquiries I had. Yes, even that meant the exercise paid for itself, but there are more effective ways of marketing.

  4. Chris, it works because it’s a great novelty. Who knew snail mail would stand out so well? But the “easy” Internet marketing, while fast, easy and cheap, fails often because it’s so fast, easy, and cheap. Everyone is doing it. Messages bombard people’s in boxes. But a postcard? Super easy to send, and it’s not such an assault on the psyche to get one postcard versues one more email.

  5. A couple years ago I did a test run and sent out 20 to 40 pieces of mail in search of new customers. I never received responses from that attempt and abandoned it because I already know that sending that number of emails equals a new project or 2 for me (then again, I send very targeted emails to companies who are likely to be my customers). So I abandoned the phsyical mail approach and exchanged it for using an email approach, instead.

    I also don’t plan to do it again because it seemed like a waste in terms of paper, stamps, and I don’t respond to advertisements in my mailbox. Had I received a better response (as in 10 to 40 letters equaled at least 1 new client), I would have kept this approach, though.

    It is interesting to hear that it works for other people, though.

    • Like with most marketing tactics, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. There will always be specific campaigns that are duds. It could have been anything from the list to the timing to the copy in the mailers that caused that campaign to fail. You never know. It might be worth another look now. 🙂

  6. I was a graphic artist at a direct mail organization. I loved it! Not only did I design ads, I wrote and rewrote ad copy. I believe in keeping direct mail ‘clean’ and simple. This is my artistic side coming out. Create eye-catching direct mail. Don’t overwhelm potential clients with funky colors. Be professional.

    Your offer is highly important. I remember certain businesses being overwhelmed with new clients because they had ‘strong’ offers. Give potential clients a ‘reason’ to contact you. What do you have to offer them? Think about that before you send out direct mail.

  7. Direct mail is the harmonious blending of 3 critical elements: the list, the offer, and the timing. You must have the list nailed down – otherwise everything else doesn’t matter. And you creative/offer should grab eye balls and hold on!

  8. Years ago (back in 2001/2002) I built a very successful multi-million dollar company based solely on direct mail campaigns. I started to notice that responses were dropping like a rock in 2004/2005. Now the same mail pieces, even altered versions of their successful previous letters, no longer pull even a fraction of the marginal (but fruitful) response rates (around 1%). Today I’m lucky to see a quarter of 1%. Mostly the response rates are so dismal that they aren’t even close to what it takes to break even on the mailing. After trying multiple campaigns from my old-school 8-pagers in a #10 envelope to postcards, nothing works to any degree to make it pay off, even in the long run with monthly subscriptions, upsells, and other future opportunities for profit. My opinion is that direct mail is dead as much as it pains me to say it.

  9. It’s not dead at all. You just have to adapt to the changes in the market and watch what’s working. An old, outdated model might be dead but direct mail is not.

    One method that I have had a lot of success with is handwritten letters. We’ve stopped postcards and have been doing handwritten letters. We’ve adapted the envelope size as well; it’s now a small envelope. These two items combined have averaged over 2.5% response rate in our market for our product. Postcards were doing less than a 1% response rate.


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