Direct Mail Made Easy

Direct Mail Made Easy!

Exec-U-Guide Table of Contents


Chapter 1
What is Direct Mail and Who Needs it?
So, Break It Down For Me Why is Direct Mail so effective?
How To Get Started

Chapter 2
Tips on Design and Printing
Making Sure Your Piece is Effective and Gets Noticed
Printshop Terminology

Chapter 3
Tips on Lists and Marketing
Getting The Most For Your Money

Chapter 4
Lettershop Tips
Making them Work For You and Your Business!
The Benefits Of Using A Lettershop
Steps To Success Before You Start

Chapter 5
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
FAQ’s – Creative and Printing:
FAQ’s – Lists and Marketing
FAQ’s – Lettershop

Chapter 6



We’re pleased to offer you Exec-U-Mail’s exclusive Exec-U-Guide for Direct Mail. Developed to give you enough usable information so that you have a greater comfort level with Direct Mail, this guide was created  to make your Direct Mail experience hassle-free and profitable.

Whether you’re an experienced Direct Mailer, doing Direct Mail for the first time, or if you’re just thinking about it as a possibility to increase your future business, we’re sure our Exec-U-Guide will prove useful. We’ve been in the Direct Mail business for more than 30 years. Our job is to make sure you succeed.

We wish you best of luck and success in your Direct Mail campaigns!


What is Direct Mail and who needs it?

Direct Mail is one of the most cost-effective ways to advertise and get your sales message out to those who are likely to buy your product or service. Approximately 6% of small businesses use direct mail marketing as a primary source for generating sales. Many others use Direct Mail regularly for the purpose of obtaining sales leads, to generate store traffic, and to complement other forms of advertising.

So, Break It Down For Me

Direct mail has several components. We will discuss these components in more detail later on. 

    •    The Design and Layout of your marketing piece
    •    The Printing and Production of the piece
    •    The Mailing List to whom you are sending your mail
    •    The Lettershop that will make sure all of this gets coordinated properly and into the mail on time

Why is direct mail so effective?

Direct Mail works because it’s a personal medium. A letter received in the mail is personal and direct. People are happy to receive mail that addresses their interests and needs, answers questions or offers help. It’s a way they can connect to other people and get news that’s personal or that provides them with helpful ideas, insight and information.

Mail is tactile. Your customer can touch it, handle it, unfold it, and ultimately get involved with it. No other medium offers this level of personal, physical contact with your sales message.

No matter that today’s consumers are media-savvy and besieged with advertisements and sales appeals, they still have an inner feeling of normalcy and control when they “get the mail.” They can catch their breath for a minute, sort through the mail and select what they want to open first. They have a sense of anticipation––a “what’s-in-it-for-me” curiosity that no other medium provokes.
How To Get Started

So, where do I begin?

Once you have chosen the product or service you wish to market, determine your marketing strategy by identifying your target audience. For example, age, gender, ethnicity, education, income, occupation, interests, hobbies, pets, vacation activities, health, and physical location are all ideas to help you target a market. This will also help you to narrow down your mailing list.

Next, decide how you want the prospective customer or client to respond, and be sure to make it easy for them to do so. Whether you use coupons, phone or fax numbers, e-mail addresses, be sure that you are clear. Ask yourself the following questions: Does this headline make responding easy? Does the wording move the selling process to the conclusion that I want? Does the overall layout draw the reader in?

Now you are ready to create an offer. You’re ready to write the rough-draft copy and design the graphics, select the paper, production method, and vendors. Talk to your printer and/or lettershop and explain what you are planning. Ask how long it will take to print and produce––ready to mail––each component. Rely on your lettershop for answers to questions about postal regulations and mailing permits. You should be concerned with three key elements: price, quality and the ability to deliver on time. Then you can finalize the copy and graphic design. 

Determine whether you need to test your list and/or your marketing piece. Since what you want to do is get it mailed, if you are planning a large mailing, be sure to utilize the services of a professional lettershop to ensure that it’s all done properly. Then tally your responses––what people are buying and how much they are spending. Keeping track of your responses is critical. This information will help guide you for future mailings. Finally, you are ready to fulfill your orders.  Congratulations, you have just completed your first mailing!
Since there’s so much involved in a successful Direct Mail experience, let’s go back and examine each step of the process in a little more detail. Let’s start with...


Tips on Design and Printing

Making Sure Your Piece is Effective and Gets Noticed

    •    Break up large text blocks with graphics or white space. 
    •    Never lose sight of your main goal which is to stimulate interest.
    •    Don’t get so caught up in the creative proces that you forget to market your product.
    •    Avoid trying to put too much on one page. A cluttered layout may turn the reader off.
    •    You also want to keep art out of the address area of a response card (this will show through an envelope window.)
    •    Teaser copy is written to help get your Direct Mail opened. If the copy does not “tease” a  recipient into ripping the envelope apart, don’t use any.

Printshop Terminology
    •    A blueline lets the customer see the position of copy and art on a sheet before it is put on the printing press. It also allows the customer to make sure that color breaks are correct.
    •    A color key, also known as an overlay color proof, shows each color of the job on a separate sheet of film. 
    •    A match print, also known as an integral color proof, looks similar to a color photograph and shows colors as close to an actual press proof as possible.
    •    “AA” stands for “author alteration.” This means that the customer has made a change to the job after the printer started to work on it. This will cost you money. To save money, try to make ALL your changes while your job is still with the designer. It is much easier and less costly.
    •    The size of the piece affects printing, mailing and postage costs.  A small piece may affect mailing insertion costs, while a large piece may lose postal discounts.  Compare sizes when you ask for estimates and decide where you get the most savings.
    •    The visual impact of annual reports, invitations, folders, letterhead and business cards is dramatically increased with special printing techniques such as the use of foil, die-cutting and embossing.

Details to Consider When Requesting a Print Bid.           
    •    Number of pages
    •    Dimensions
    •    Quantity
    •    Paper (or cover) stock
    •    Type of binding (if applicable)
    •    Number of colors in text, number of colors on cover
    •    Number of photos––either black and white or color
    •    Any special requirements   


Tips on Lists and Marketing
Getting The Most For your Money

You need to make sure that you maximize the benefit from your mailing list and that your message is received in order to ensure the maximum response. Your most important mailing list is your existing customers.
By keeping your current customers informed, you reinforce customer loyalty and stimulate repeat business. Have a sign-up sheet or book for customers to sign to increase your mailing list. Record names and addresses every time you make a sale or receive a phone call. Be sure to add phone, fax and e-mail so you can vary your messages and use the medium appropriate to the communication. If you have a last-minute offer, e-mail may be your best form of communication. Don’t forget the old adage that:

“80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers.” 

You can also say that 80% of your business comes from your existing customers––so treat them with care! If you have not already done so, start compiling your own customer list TODAY.

    •    Use tailored, rented lists to find your prospective customers. After all, Direct Mail can reach those with whom you might otherwise never have a chance to talk with about your service or product.
    •    Consider mailing more often in smaller numbers. If you have a mailer with a suitable offer, you might consider mailing smaller and more frequent campaigns––this will increase response and spread potential risks (or benefits!) over a longer period of time.
    •    Expand your e-mail or online prospecting efforts, especially if you are a merchandiser with an effective online presence.
    •    House mailings can be pre-announced with an e-mail message to let customers know that your mailing is on the way.
    •    Show off your brand and your name. Do not use mystery in the vain hope that your prospects will open your mailing. Let your prospects know right away that your promotion is from a company they can trust by placing your company name and return address on the outer envelope. Otherwise, it seems sneaky. Brand logos (if you have one) are especially good as they belong to you and are not easily copied by others.
    •    Avoid using any wording similar to USPS alerts. For example, avoid using the words “Personal and Confidential” or “Express Mail Alert” since the USPS uses these to alert the public about dangerous mail uses. This is a very common direct marketing teaser and often angers the recipient.
    •    Promotions that look professionally printed will encounter less resistance. Glossy promotions are not likely to be mistaken for personal correspondence from an unknown sender. Avoid hand-written fonts, especially when you are trying to personalize.
    •    Be careful with bulky inserts. Be extremely careful with unusual, non-paper “freebies” like seeds or sample merchandise, personalized pens, etc., that may create mysterious bulk in unopened, unexpected packages. Take note that freebie concerns often may be lessened if they are mailed in packaging such as highly glossy, promotional envelopes.
    •    Do not use slip agents. Talk to printers and insertion providers to greatly reduce or eliminate the presence of cornstarch or talcum-based slip agents in and on your promotions. This can make people nervous.
    •    If your plan is to do one massive mailing, you may want to consider spreading it out over a period of time. If there are any unforeseen events or difficult weather patterns, it could put your entire effort at risk. Spread your pieces over the months that have worked well for you in the past. If you don’t know your best mailing months, you would be wise to test your mailing and compare results at different times of the year.
n    When ordering an outside list from your mail house or list broker, ask these questions:
    • What is the source of the list? 
    • Where is the data from? 
    • When was the list last updated?
    • Percentage of deliverable as addressed?
To go beyond your present customers, you will need to purchase an outside mailing list. Some things to consider are:

    •    Co-op mailing is easy because you have nothing to do, and the cost is low since your offer is one of many in the same envelope.
    •    Resident/occupant lists are household addresses with no names. They are purchased by geographical area and do well for restaurants, cleaners, markets, etc.
n    Actual named household databases can narrow the target market by age, sex, income, home value, lifestyle and/or products they buy, etc.
    •    Business databases are organized by geographical area, type of business (arranged by SIC codes), by number of employees, income generated yearly, etc.
    •    Mail order customers who have responded before to offers similar to yours.
    •    Subscribers to magazines, book clubs, newsletters, etc.

        Have you profiled your best customers to better target the purchase of an outside list?

Mailing lists are offered in a variety of formats. Choosing the right one for you will depend on your mail plans and target market

    •    Electronic data or disk for inkjet addressing direct impressions with intelligent barcode.
    •    Pressure sensitive (peel and stick) labels, used for non-personalized mailings.
    •    Disk, CD or email
    •    Electronic transfer––from one computer to another. This is the most common form.


        Lettershop Tips
        Making Them Work For you and Your Business!
Commercial lettershops perform the following services that ensure your Direct Mail pieces reach their target:

    •  Affix address labels, inkjet or laser
    •  Fold letters or self-mailers
    •  Affix stickers, cards, stamps and tabs
    •  Insert components into envelopes
    •  Sort and tray the mail for the Postal Service 
    •  Deliver the mail to the Post Office

The Benefits Of Using A Lettershop 

Using a lettershop can lower your postage cost up to 60%. Lettershop professionals can analyze, qualify and presort your mailing list using state-of-the-art postal software. That way you can:
    •  Figure postage costs up front. A lettershop can give you cost comparisons and delivery time for First-class single piece and presort,  Second- and Third-class,             standard/bulk, or nonprofit postage.
    •  Plan for enough lead time in your campaign so that you are not rushed.

Be sure all requests for quotes are submitted and received in writing and make sure you have an approved quote before going to press.            
Follow These Steps to Success
Before You Start
Prior to production:
    •  Request a weight count of your pieces prior to
        letter shop services to make sure the correct number of pieces is included. Failure to do so could result in higher costs by incurring additional fees for additional lettershop services.
    •  If you wish your data returned to you for use
        in future mailings or for use within your company or business as an internal resource, be certain to let the computer department know that you will be needing  it and in which format you want it returned to you.
    •  Be sure to choose a reputable Direct Mail house where you feel that you will not be lost in the shuffle because they are too big  and impersonal to care about you and your mailing.

Be sure all requests for quotes are submitted and received in writing and make sure you have an approved quote before going to press.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
Creative and Printing

I don’t like long letters, but I hear that they are usually more effective in direct mail. When is a letter too long or too short?

A letter can be considered to be too short when it does not give the customer enough information to act. Conversely, a letter is too long when it goes on and on.  Statistically, it could be shown that long letters pull better results, but not when they drag.  So write enough to say what you need to say and then give your call to action.

I work for a nonprofit charity. Some of the staff do not agree that a return envelope should be included in the acknowledgement from the prospective donor. Should it be included?

Yes, it actually does work very well to include a return envelope. More often than not, the gifts and donations received from your acknowledgement program will help to offset its costs. Most donors are not offended by its inclusion––they simply view it as another opportunity to make a commitment.

I like the looks and effect of metallic inks on coated paper. Does it work well on uncoated stock?

Don’t waste your money. Metallic inks do not work on uncoated paper as the ink appears flat and even dull.

Why are bleeds so expensive?

Bleeds require the use of a larger sheet of paper. You cannot get as many printed pieces out of one single sheet.  Remember, if you do use bleeds and increase the sheet size, you may need to add more print files to use up the excess paper. And if more press impressions are necessary, it may increase the paper cost.

I received my order and I actually received more than I requested. How come?

It’s not possible to determine the exact amount of waste on a printing press, folder, or inserter until the job is finished. Sometimes, because of piece measurements, a job has very little waste, thus there is an overrun. However, the job could also run short, which could cost you more money in the end to print the shortage. Typically you must calculate and add roughly 5% of the quantity you absolutely must have at the time you place your order––or you could be caught short.

My co-worker tells me that press checks are a good way to proof printing jobs. I get bluelines. Isn’t that good enough?

Press checks are a good way to check color. However, they can be expensive if you treat the press check like a blueline and make changes in the copy. If you use a color press check to proof copy and make changes, the printer must make new plates for the press––plates for which you will be charged. Ask your printer for advice if you are not quite certain how to proceed.

Can you use your fonts if my art department did not include them in my file?

Often font names are very similar yet difficult to match. If your printer makes an incorrect match, it could conceivably change the line breaks in your file, and/or create a totally different look than what you had in mind. An unfortunate scenario may occur when designers do not include hard-to-find, specialty fonts that printers do not own and cannot easily get.

Lists and Marketing FAQ’s

How will I find and reach my target audience?

Your multifaceted lettershop can obtain customized lists of potential customers and then deliver to them the right offer at the right time.

How many times can I use the names on the list?

Generally speaking, a mailing list is rented for only one use. But many list owners allow arrangements for multiple uses of the names on their lists. Ask about and make these arrangements before ordering the names.  Be warned that list owners put decoy names on their lists in order to monitor the number of times a customer uses the names and to make sure that the offer that went out was the offer they approved.

Can I get a better response to my mailings?

Absolutely! Develop and deliver specialized offers to your customers and prospects. Remember, your list is targeted and the names on it are probably interested in the product or service you are selling. Plus, mailing First-class is impressive. It shows your customers that you consider them and their business to be important.

How can I target international customers?

Make sure your list broker has current international lists. Make it easy for these international customers to respond by providing pre-paid business reply cards and return envelopes. It’s a bit more expensive and takes longer for them to get in the mail, but worth it if you are targeting such a market. 

I want to build better customer relationships. How do I do that?

Use your knowledge about your customers to make the most attractive offers. Invite customers and prospective customers to a new product launch if you have one or an open house. Keep in touch with your customer and prospects by keeping them up-to-date with personalized greetings, invitations to events, company announcements, press conferences, and postcards or photo cards. Show your customers in a cost-effective manner that you consider them a priority and that you value their business.

What’s the accuracy of the names and addresses on a mailing list?

Most list owners give a guarantee that a minimum of 85% of the names and addresses are accurate and deliverable. But with the current U.S. Postal Service requirements and mail services, it would probably be safe to assume an accuracy of 95% for active lists which are being mailed by the list owner on a regular basis.
Do you think a live stamp increases response rate?

Some test studies have been done in which a meter mark out-pulls a live stamp or printed indicia, but conventional wisdom says otherwise. The best solution is  is to make a test mailing into a small target market to see what works best for you.

Lettershop FAQ’s

Is there a difference bewteen non-automation and automation mail?

Yes. The difference consists of postal savings. It comes down to how your piece is designed, how your data is prepared, and how your mail is processed.

I want to get automation postal discounts. How much room do I need to leave for the address block and barcode?

The space for the address should be a minimum of 2 inches in height and 4 inches in length. In addition, you must leave a minimum of 3-3/4 inches for the bar code.

What’s the maximum my mail piece can weigh to go standard mail?

Pre-sorted standard and nonprofit mail size and weight requirements are identical. If your piece is below 3.3 ounces you will only be charged by the piece. If your piece is over 3.3 ounces, but under 16 ounces, you’ll be charged by the piece and by the pound. 

How long does it take for standard mail to be delivered?

All standard mail goes by truck. It takes between 5 and 8 working days for local/in-state, within 8-10 days on the West coast, up to 2 weeks to the mid-West and from 2-3 weeks to the East coast. Delivery times are faster if your piece has been prepared for automation mail.

What’s the largest-size postcard I can use with First-class postage?

The largest size you can send is 4-1/4 x 6 inches. 3 x 5 inches is the smallest size postcard for that price. There may be other sizes between these measurements, but they must fall within the U.S. Post Office’s “Aspect Ratio.” Anything that is out of the “Aspect Ratio” will be subject to a postage penalty. 

Is it possible for a lettershop to personalize letters, reply devices and envelopes?

Yes. Fortunately automated inserting and matching technology helps guarantee accuracy of these pieces.

Can I incorporate variable data into letters and response devices?

Yes. For example, when personalizing direct mail fundraising packages, you can ask for a gift range based on that donor’s previous contribution. 

Must I tab all of my mailings for the Post Office?

No. Only automation rate mailings require tabbing. You do not have to tab if you receive non-automation rates. Though postage rate discounts and USPS handling present strong arguments for tabbing, at all times tabbing still remains an option.
Can I still receive the automation discounts if I place teaser copy below the address line of my mailpiece?

Yes. Address block barcoding virtually eliminates prior ZIP+4 design limitations. There are still some design restrictions in place, so ask the experts first.



Automation Rates  Each mail piece must bear the correct delivery point barcode to be eligible for First-class discount rates and must consist of at least 500 pieces and 200 pieces for standard automation rates.

Avery label  Usually printed 33 labels up on an 8.5 x 11 inch page, placed very closely together. Hand applied only.

Bangtail  That little piece of paper on the back of an envelope that gets removed via perforation. It provides another opportunity to get your advertising message across. Commonly seen on credit card envelopes included with your monthly invoice.

BRC  Business reply card

BRE  Business reply envelope

BRM  Business reply mail.  A service that enables mailers to receive First-class mail back from customers by paying postage only on the mail actually returned to them by their customers.

Cheshire Labels  Computer-produced paper labels, usually printed 4 across and 11 down. Machine-cut, glued and applied on mailing piece.
Cheshire Labels  Computer-produced paper labels, usually printed 4 across and 11 down. Machine-cut, glued and applied on mailing piece.

Cleaned List  One that is free of duplication and unwanted names and addresses.

Demographics  Characteristics that define a particular group of people including HHI (household income), age, education level, family size, etc.

List Broker  An individual or company who brings together owners of lists and the Direct Mailers who use them.

Live stamp/Live Postage  A “normal” stamp which a consumer would use, as opposed to metered mailings.

Match Mailing  Matching personalized envelopes with any personalized enclosures, i.e. letters, reply cards, brochures, etc.

Merge/Purge  The technique used to combine names, addresses and related data from various mailing lists to identify and eliminate names for a single mailing or to create a marketing database.

Meter  Postage payment method that prints a denomination of postage directly on the envelope itself.

OCR  Optical Character Reader.  A computerized mail processing machine that scans addresses on mail and applies the proper barcode.

Over Edge Tab  Edge seal required by the Post Office on any unenclosed letter-size mailing qualifying for automation discount.

Piggy-Back Label Usually a pressure-sensitive address label which can be removed from the original mail piece and applied on any return device, i.e. order blank, business reply card (BRC) or envelope.

Pre-cancelled Stamp  Stamps cancelled by printing across the face before they are sold to mailers.

Premium  A free gift sent to a potential customer either with the mail piece (front-end) or after the prospect has responded (back-end).

Pre-press Proofs  (Also known as “off-press proofs.”)  These are made by photomechanical or digital means in less time and at a lower cost than press proofs.

Pre-sorted First Class Mail  Presented in a manner that preserves the orientation and zip code sequence of the pieces. It’s a single mailing of at least 500 pieces, each weighing 16 ounces or less. All pieces must be within the same processing category and all pieces must be individually addressed.

Pre-sorted Standard Mail  Mailing must consist of at least 200 pieces or 50 pounds of individually addressed pieces that must be properly prepared, presorted, labeled and trayed.

Pressure Sensitive Label  Often similar to a  Cheshire label but with self-adhesive back.

Psychographics  The characteristics, habits, attitudes, lifestyle and behavior patterns that can help you identify your audience.

RFM  (recency/frequency/monetary)  A key formula used with most Direct Mail  databases.