4 Types of Direct Marketing That Can Go Far Regardless of Your Budget

Looking for certain types of direct marketing but worried about the cost? You have many options at a lot of different price points—find what works for you.
February 13, 2018

Trying to reach local customers through direct mail marketing? There are many types of direct marketing options out there, from the relatively cheap (though, sure, nothing is cheap these days) to the money-is-almost-no-object approach.

At the same time, price is relative. Let's say you go with postcards, which are generally considered the cheapest of all the types of direct marketing available. But if you send out 100,000 postcards, you could end up having a much more expensive marketing campaign than if you mailed out, say, 25,000 letters.

Whatever your budget, consider exploring these types of direct marketing options for your company.

1. Sending postcards as one of your preferred types of direct marketing.

As you would imagine, this strategy is often the cheapest way to go.

Some direct mail marketing companies promise to get your postcards mailed out for pennies per card. But you can't just factor in the cost of mailing your card. Unless you can do it yourself or have an employee do it, you'll probably have to spend money on designing the postcard and writing the marketing copy. You'll also have to pay for printing. And if you don't have a mailing list compiled from your customers' records, you may also have to purchase one.

So how much dough are we talking about?

Prices vary. But Evan Roberts, the owner of Dependable Homebuyers, a home-buying company in Baltimore, says that he recently spent 47 cents per postcard—including printing costs—when he mailed 4,000 of them to prospective home sellers. He spent $1,880 and had what he felt was a disappointing 0.5 percent response rate.

Roberts might have done better with a product that was a little less niche. After all, not everyone is selling their home. The normal direct mail we think of—oversized postcards—can work for businesses offering a coupon for a service that most people need. For example, oil change coupons, says Heather Shoning, who owns a marketing studio, h3mediaworks, in Boulder, Colorado.

2. Teaming up with a direct mail magazine.

Along with running her marketing studio, Shoning also publishes a new direct mail magazine that will service a county southwest of Denver. (The magazine makes its debut this spring.)

Naturally, she feels that direct mail magazines are the way to go.

“I became a publisher of this type of magazine after working as an editor for one," Shoning explains. "I saw how well the model worked for advertisers and how engaging it was to the customers who received it."

The best of these magazines, she says, feature local content created by local writers and photographers.

As far as price goes, as usual, it varies. But Shoning says it can be comparable and even cheaper than sending postcards.

“Oftentimes, an ad in a magazine of this type is less expensive than a postcard mailing and reaches an engaged audience. For a small to mid-sized business that serves a local geographic segment, this can be an effective marketing channel with high ROI," she says.

Your optimal mail piece will vary depending on the service offered, the areas being mailed, the demographic of the recipient and the time of year.

—Evan Roberts, owner, Dependable Homebuyers

But how much money are we actually talking about?

"Direct mail magazine ad pricing can be all over the board just like the quality of the magazines," Shoning says.

"For a high-quality, glossy direct mail magazine, ad pricing could run anywhere from $500 for a quarter-page ad to $3,000 for a two-page spread," she continues. "It really depends on the quality, longevity and distribution. My magazine rates fall within this range as well."

Depending on how many consumers the publication reaches, $500 or even $3,000 might seem like a dirt cheap rate.

Shoning advises business owners to look for a magazine that is a collection of local content and is mailed to local residents free of charge.

“If the articles are general with few local ties other than advertising, keep looking," she advises.

When you find one that you like, Shoning suggests negotiating editorial exposure in your advertising commitment. (That is, see if the editor will mention you in their articles.)

“That goes a long way in consumer minds," Shoning says. “It's a way for consumers to get to know, like and trust the business or business owner."

That wouldn't fly with newspapers, which typically keep their journalism departments separate from the advertising department. But with a direct mail magazine, it just might work.

3. Reaching out to your prospective customers with a letter.

“If you can identify the right buyers, you can send out personal letters at just the price of a stamp plus the materials and the envelope," says Robert Barrows, who owns R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising & Public Relations in San Mateo, California.

While Evan Roberts wasn't too thrilled with his return on investment for his postcard mailings, he says that letters have worked out better for him. Recently, Roberts sent potential customers letters in a “pink invitation-style envelope." At 84 cents, it was more expensive than the postcards. But Roberts says he had a higher number of call-in leads than he did with the postcards—this time it was 1.25 percent.

But before you start spending a ton of money on any of these types of direct marketing, Roberts suggests not blanketing the entire community or region with your mailings. There are a lot of factors that could lead to a successful mailing or not.

“Your optimal mail piece will vary depending on the service offered, the areas being mailed, the demographic of the recipient and the time of year," he says. Roberts suggests doing some testing first to see what works and what doesn't—then you can do a larger mailing.

You can even test things like content or design. It's how Roberts landed on pink for his envelopes.

"Our marketing team came up with the pink envelope color through experimentation," he says. "We sent out a variety of colors and tracked the response rate. Surprisingly pink had a 33 percent higher conversion rate than all the other colors, which performed about the same."

4. Going with lumpy mailing as one of your types of direct marketing.

Lumpy mailing is a term used to describe direct mail that has some bulk to it. It's a funny name, lumpy mailing. But it's one of the more expensive types of direct marketing, making it no laughing matter.

Take Robert Weinberg for instance. Weinberg owns Purple Giraffe, a Dallas-based company that specializes in making custom-made compressed T-shirts. His business markets to other businesses and nonprofits that want to reach customers through direct mail.

Weinberg thinks that consumers tend to open lumpy direct mail for a variety of reasons. For starters, they usually don't know what the package contains. 

"I'm not a psychologist, but I would surmise that this goes back to Cracker Jacks and boxed cereal. As kids we loved to find that prize at the bottom. In some sense, chunky mail inspires that same sense of intrigue that we all had as kids," Weinberg says.

He speaks from personal experience. Weinberg throws out direct mail, too, if he can quickly ascertain that it's a random ad. But he recently opened up a large red envelope from a trade show when he felt a pen inside.

Another thing to consider: If your marketing materials contains something useful, like a pen or a calendar or a magnet, chances are it'll be kept. That's why Weinberg thinks his direct mailings work for companies.

"Everyone wears t-shirts. No one throws out a T-shirt," he says.

Weinberg says T-shirts work well for his clients because they can package the shirt with coupons or instructions that tell the consumer something like, "Wear your T-shirt to our restaurant on Tuesdays and get a free appetizer."

Of course, if you've never done direct marketing before, you may be squeamish about spending your budget on something that some disparage as junk mail. But just as you're taking a chance with direct marketing, you're hoping some prospective customers will take a chance on you.

It isn't a perfect system. But when these types of direct marketing work, and you reach a customer who would have never otherwise heard of you, it can really pay off.

Read more articles on marketing & sales.

Photo: Getty Images