How to Personalize Your Direct Mail

Add a Personal Touch to Your Direct Mail Campaign


Person holding envelope with handwritten sticky note on envelope

In this day of e-mail overload, receiving a letter that isn’t a bill or junk mail can be a real treat at the end of a long day. You’ll open a hand-addressed, hand-stamped letter first, right? Marketers are figuring out that in many cases, personalizing their direct mail pieces can result in greater response rates and increased sales.

John Schulte, president and chairman of the National Mail Order Association, previously worked as the advertising and marketing director at a bridal gown store. He sent direct mail letters to newly engaged women, which were hand addressed and hand signed, and included an offer to receive a free gift in the store. The campaign resulted in a 20% response rate, he says, and customers said they opened the letter because it was hand addressed. “They thought that was special, and reflected that we were really interested in helping them,” he adds.

Personalization can be more expensive and time consuming to execute, so direct marketing experts suggest using it strategically; noting to use it on higher ticket items. These tactics, like employing handwritten notes for clients, will always elicit higher responses.

Employees at a North Carolina firm send one thank-you note per week through the mail to stay connected with clients. The thank-you note program has resulted in a greater percentage of repeat business and faster payments from those who have received notes.

Personalizing direct mail pieces can go far beyond a handwritten note. Here are some creative ways to use personalization in your campaigns.

1. Attach a sticky note

Mark Bodzin, an online advertising executive, headed a campaign at a former job consisting of a piece that looked like a torn-out page from a newspaper. Affixed to the upper right section of the newsprint was a sticky note handwritten with the target’s first name and a brief message. The response rate skyrocketed from 1-2% to 4.5% with personalization. He says, “It was such a powerful piece that I received letters from people asking if they knew me.”

2. Provide a useful, personalized service

If you’ve ever moved into a new town and had to figure out the basics all over again, such as finding Post Office™ locations, schools, hair salons and doctors, you know much work it can entail. Seattle-area healthcare provider The Everett Clinic, in conjunction with its advertising agency Frank Unlimited, recently launched a direct mail piece for families new to the area. The mailer is labeled with the family’s name and a highlighted driving route and distance from that home to the nearest clinic. The agency used a prominent search engine’s maps technology to help create the pieces, which are mailing to 1,500 recipients monthly, says agency principal Susana Cascais.

3. Make it funny

Everybody loves cartoons. That’s the philosophy behind CartoonLink, a Seattle firm that has produced cartoon-based direct mail programs for 30 years. The company creates cards and mailers imprinted with cartoons, and personalizes them by inserting the customer or prospect’s name into the cartoon caption. The company developed a subscriber acquisition campaign for a well-known advertising magazine, which delivered the highest gross response in four years and the highest payment-with-order in the publication’s history, according to CartoonLink president Stu Heinecke.  The offer included an 8″ x 10″ print of the cartoon for people wanting to frame it. “While most promotional mail gets screened away, recipients tend to treat ours as keepsakes,” he says. A campaign featuring cartoon greeting cards for an insurance company generated a 100% response rate, based on 1,200 prospects who agreed to meetings with sales reps in follow-up calls, Heinecke adds.

4. Use technology to streamline efforts

Real estate companies depend heavily on referrals and 1-to-1 marketing, so everything has to be personalized. “We wanted to create a product that had all the benefits of self-created direct mail pieces without the time and cost,” says Chad Rueffert, president of From Your Friends, a Colorado Springs–based marketing firm focused on the real estate industry.

The firm partners with local restaurants and attractions to create a monthly postcard featuring a discount offer at the venue. The real estate salesperson then uses an online design tool, provided by From Your Friends, to personalize the postcard by adding their photo, contact info, personal notes, a scanned signature, new listings, or detail on the local real estate market. Clients have shared that the program has increased sales, and that customers often call agents to thank them for the postcards and to offer new names for the mailing list, Rueffert says. Many of his real estate clients close three or four deals every year because of the program, he says.

Polly Traylor writes about business, technology and marketing from Golden, Colorado.

B-to-B Marketing, B-to-C Marketing, Creativity, Dimensional Mail, Large Business, Measurement, Medium Business, Personalization, Printing, Prospecting, ROI, Small Business, Trends