The Evolution of Direct Mail and How to Leverage It Today

Despite the popularity of digital, direct mail marketing has been a staple for businesses for years. In fact, it even predates the birth of the United States.

A History of Direct Mail

Direct mail, or any printing for that matter, would not be possible without Johannes Gutenberg’s groundbreaking invention of the printing press around 1440. This technology spread across Europe, with William Caxton setting up his printing press in Westminster Abbey around 1480 to produce custom-printed pamphlets.

Interestingly, in the 18th century, before the Revolutionary War, garden and seed catalogs were distributed in the American colonies.

However, it was in the century that followed that direct mail truly came into its own. Aaron Montgomery Ward is hailed as the pioneer of mail order processes and direct marketing, as he launched his mail order business in 1872 with a simple one-page catalog.

Shortly after, in the 1880s, Richard Warren Sears sent flyers to customers in rural and small-town areas to promote and sell watches.

These entrepreneurs laid the foundation for the direct marketing industry we know today.

Direct Mail Today

Today, an incredible 74% of marketers say that direct mail delivers the best ROI and highest response rate of any channel.  This is according to Lob’s 2023 State of Direct Mail report.

In research by USPS, 57% of boomers, 45% of GenX, 41% of millennials, and 37% of GenZ said would be disappointed if they stopped receiving physical mail. 


How Are Marketers Using Direct Mail?

SeQuel Response surveyed B2B and B2C marketing strategy leaders to get their opinions on the effectiveness of direct mail. Respondents are feeling optimistic about using direct mail, reporting that their direct mail budget has increased over the past year.

In fact, they are very pleased with the performance, with 7in 10 (70%) saying that it has improved in the last 12 months.  An additional 27% said that it has remained steady.

The top three advantages of direct mail as quoted by respondents, checking three advantages, include:

Source: Marketing Charts

Personalization Tips for Direct Mail

The ability to tailor your direct mail piece for the individual recipient can significantly increase engagement, response rates, and ultimately, the success of your direct mail efforts.

Variable Data Printing (VDP)

VDP technology enables you to personalize each piece of direct mail by incorporating unique elements for each recipient. This can include personalized greetings, names, images, and even targeted content based on the recipient’s preferences and behaviors.

Geographic Personalization

Localizing your direct mail campaigns can make recipients feel more connected to your brand. Mentioning neighborhood-specific details or including location-based offers can create a sense of exclusivity and relevance.

Purchase History and Behavior

Leverage data about previous purchases or online interactions to recommend products or services that align with a customer’s history. For instance, an e-commerce platform might send a direct mail piece featuring complementary products to what a customer recently bought.

Special Occasions and Milestones

Recognize important events in the recipient’s life, such as birthdays or anniversaries, with personalized messages and offers.

Tips for Integrating Direct Mail with Digital Campaigns

Integrating direct mail with digital marketing channels like email, social media, and websites can become a powerful part of your omnichannel marketing efforts.

Email Integration

Coordinate your email marketing efforts with your direct mail campaign. Send follow-up emails to recipients shortly after they receive the direct mail piece, reinforcing the message and encouraging further engagement.

Social Media Advertising

Use social media advertising platforms to target the same audience that you’re reaching through direct mail. Upload your mailing list to platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn to create custom audiences for your digital ads. For example, use direct mail to pique recipients’ curiosity by offering a sneak peek of exclusive content or promotions available only on your social media channels. Mention that more exciting updates and offers can be found there, encouraging people to follow you for updates.

Personalized URLs (PURLs)

Include unique website URLs on your direct mail pieces that direct recipients to personalized landing pages. These pages can offer exclusive deals, surveys, or content tailored to the recipient, enabling further interaction and data collection. An approach such as this incorporates both personalization and integration with digital channels.

Tips for Direct Mail Budgeting

Direct mail is a great channel that provides flexibility in both budget and mail volume.


Direct mail campaigns can be scaled up or down to align with your budget. Whether you have a substantial marketing budget or are working with limited resources, you can adjust the scope of your direct mail campaign accordingly. This scalability allows businesses of all sizes to participate in direct mail marketing.


With direct mail, you have control over various aspects of your campaign, including the design, size, format, and content of your mail pieces. This customization enables you to create materials that suit your budget while effectively conveying your message to your target audience.

Bulk Mail Discounts

Many postal services offer discounts for bulk mailings, making it more cost-effective to send large volumes of mail. These discounts can help you achieve a lower cost per piece, especially when sending to a significant portion of your target audience.

Direct Mail Marketing Solutions

In a digital age where inboxes are cluttered and online ads are easily ignored, direct mail stands out as a tangible and personalized means of connecting with customers. See for yourself how our direct mail programs, in partnership with Welcome Wagon, can help you boost customer acquisition and curb attrition. Contact us today!

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