Here are 7 tips to skyrocket your direct mail open rate.

Direct TV-3-two up

This direct mail piece was difficult “not” to open.

Direct mail (DM) campaigns continue to be used in MASSIVE numbers across North America as a valuable tool for customer acquisition and upsell. In fact, $44.5 (US) billion was spent on DM efforts in 2014 in the U.S. with a median ROI rate of 15-17%.

It remains an extremely viable sales tool. In fact, the 2015 Direct Marketing Association Response Rate Report ranks direct mail at the top of the direct media response rate charts at an average of 3.7% (up from 3.4% in 2012 – and only second to telephone’s 8-9%) when mailing “house lists” of current and past customers and 1% for “prospect lists”. Use an oversized envelope and up your response rate average to 5%. In comparison, mobile comes in at .2%, email, Social Media and paid search all average .1% response rates.

None of these direct mail stats matter, if you can’t get your envelope opened. 

It’s shocking how much time companies spend on crafting the offer inside their direct mail package. When in fact, if the envelope doesn’t get opened, the entire campaign is a bust. Here’s a simple checklist that will help you to focus on getting the envelope opened so that your business will be on the upside of the stats. Keep in mind that the higher the open rate, the higher the response rate.

  1. Name it. Without the recipients’ name you are already knocking double-digit percentage points off of your open rate. Addressing the piece to the actual person (and spelling it correctly) is step one in sparking an “interest” in opening the envelope. Of course, for many reasons, it’s not always possible to get the recipient’s name. You can see the example shown at top of this article is addressed to the “current resident.” In this case, the sender used several factors from this checklist to counteract “sales mail distrust” in an attempt to boost getting their message read.
  1. Handwrite the “to and from” address. Hands-down, this is THE most effective way to get direct mail opened. To most of us, a handwritten envelope says “I’m your FRIEND and I have something ‘IMPORTANT’ to share with you OR invite you to.”  The recipient simply cannot help themselves from wanting to KNOW who it’s from and what’s inside. And, if it has their name on the envelope, it WILL get opened. 

If your business simply cannot handwrite thousands of envelopes, which is totally understandable, here’s a couple of online tools to check out:

a) provides a terrific service to easily design a custom card or postcard using your own graphics or a personalized message in your very own printing with your very own signature. Create a template and use it again and again. The entire process is completed online. Choose a template, design your own, or a little bit of both. Add the messaging, input or upload the recipient’s contact details, then press send. SendoutCards prints out the high-quality card and envelope addressed from your business, slaps a real stamp on it and out it goes. For Canadian customers and Canadian customer bound cards they truck the cards across the border to be mailed with a Canadian stamp. Impressive. I challenge you to create a free card at Send it to a client and see if it gets opened.


b) For purists with a budget wanting to get a near 99% open rate, service companies exist that will actually handwrite the envelope and/or contents, fold, stuff, lick the real stamp and mail from your postal jurisdiction. You can even choose the handwriting style that best matches your business. Yes, it is true. Literally, hundreds of real people are handwriting your letters. My favorite company is . Mail Lift will produce one letter or an entire campaign. At the rate of $3 – $10 per letter, it appears costly, yet at a near 99% open rate, it will be worth the investment to achieve the desired results. Visit the site and have one sent to you for free. You’ll be sold!

  1. Use a real stamp. Nothing screams “I’m trying to sell you” like a bulk mailing machine stamp. Certainly bulk mailing (over 1000 pieces) will save budget  – but the bulk mailing stamp is a BIG RED “junk mail” flag and will ensure that your open rate plummets. So ask yourself – do we want to secure a new customer – that we can potentially upsell again and again – OR – do we want to save money on this mailing?
  1. Use an “odd” size envelope. The standard #10 envelope is typical of direct mailing campaigns and are often overlooked or passed up on by recipients as “sales mail”. The 2015 DMA survey reports oversized envelopes with a higher average response rate of 5% vs 3.7%.
  1. Use provocative messaging on the envelope that speaks to your IDEAL BUYING CustomerOR – no messaging at all. If you are able to handwrite the envelopes – DO NOT use messaging, not even the name of your company should be included with the return address. The overall idea of using handwriting or a blank envelope is to provide an element of mystery so that the recipient is sooooo curious that they’ll have to open it up to see who sent what.

To get optimum open rates, envelope messaging must be enticing to the recipient and ideally, should promise a solution to the problem that your product or service provides.

  1. Color it up! White envelopes are ever so … yawn … boring. Bright colored envelopes attract attention and generate energy – so use them! If white envelopes are your choice, whenever possible – use full color, or at least, spot color printing.
  1. Use a current list – dead mail NEVER gets opened. People move, they divorce and pass away, addresses are input incorrectly. A list older than 6 months is considered an old list and will have significant undeliverable pieces.

The best lists that deliver the highest response rates are house lists which pull 5x higher response rates. That means the most important job you have next to closing sales is always to be collecting and updating data on your customers and prospects. This is the goldmine of nearly every business. Strategically, direct mail can be an excellent tact to reactivate a lapsed customer and/or to upsell an existing one.

When renting prospect lists, try to get list of “paid subscribers” to traditional magazine or online content that is of interest to your IDEAL BUYING Customer. Typically these lists have above average response rates because they’re a) up-to-date and current and b) if a subscriber is interested enough to put money up to get more information on the topic, and it’s your topic, then they’ll very likely to be interested enough to open your piece.

As mentioned at the beginning of this posting, always integrate marketing efforts to drive up response rates! It’s been my personal experience that a follow up phone call will as much as quadruple a DM response rate. Direct mail warms up the target so that they have already had at least one exposure of your product or service.

Test, test and test again. NEVER change your entire process all at once. Do one test at a time … envelope size, color, messaging, handwriting, labels. It’s called A-B split testing. Place a different tracking code on the response mechanism – one for the A group and one for the B group. That way, you can easily track the response rates for each.

Direct TV-DM Piece

Surprise. The cleverly labeled, oversize, color envelope direct mail piece is from DirectTV.

Now … go get at er!

Charlene Brisson, MAPC

3-Step Marketing Pro @


PS … Forty percent of consumers say that they have tried a new business after receiving direct mail, and 70% have renewed relationships with businesses that they had previously ceased using.