Advantages and disadvantages of direct mail marketing

Posted in: Guides

Direct mail marketing is exactly what it sounds like – physical mail, which goes directly to your target market. It’s sometimes referred to as advertising mail, letterbox drop, and – at its worst – junk mail. It may be a letter, a leaflet, brochure, postcard, or even package.

Direct mail enables businesses to promote their products and services to a specific customer group. When it’s done correctly, direct mail builds customer relationships, encourages patronage, and generates sales.

It can also be used as a way of sharing vital information. Thames Water’s fat busting campaign “Bin it – don’t block it” had a huge impact. In direct mail targeted areas, there was a 26% reduction in sewer blockages and 70% of residents said they had changed their behaviour when disposing cooking fat and wet wipes.

But how do you know if this strategy will work for your business? Before you finalise your marketing strategy, let’s break down the advantages and disadvantages of direct mail marketing.

Advantages of direct mail marketing


With other forms of marketing and advertising, it is impossible to be absolutely sure who has taken note. Direct mail allows you to target a very specific audience, so you control exactly who gets the message.

This is because you can control mailing lists using certain criteria to extrapolate your mailing data. Before you select your criteria, it’s important to identify what you want to achieve from your campaign. If you’re seeking to raise general brand awareness, you might seek a wide audience. If you’re looking to increase sales, then a quality mail out will generate a greater return on investment (ROI).

In practice, Business to Business (B2B) direct mail might specify an audience based on job title, company size, geography, or even industry. B2B direct mail is a great way to reach decision-makers, who may be difficult to reach through other channels. Business to Consumer (B2C) marketing might choose criteria such as age, or gender, household income, or hobbies and areas of interest.

Whether B2B, or B2C, using highly targeted criteria provides the best possible results.


 Direct mail is a personal form of marketing. The intimacy of opening a physical piece of mail addressed to you can’t quite be replicated in the digital world. It creates a physical and mental connection between the sender, and the recipient.

Direct mail excels at helping you build and nurture relationships with your customers. On average, direct mail is engaged with more than four times as indirect mail. 45% of direct mail remains in homes for a month or more. 31% of direct mail leads to commercial actions. Direct mail definitely drives consumer activity.

Businesses often choose to invest in direct mail marketing as part of an overall marketing strategy. In 2020, the RSPCA utilised cold addressed mail (no previous relationship between the sender and the recipient) to find highly targeted prospects, and Partially Addressed Mail (PAM) and door drops to extend the campaign’s reach. The results were phenomenal.

Across the campaign, donation revenue was 87% above target; 47% more donors were recruited than target numbers; cold mail delivered 150% more donors than target; revenue from PAM was 88% higher than predicted; ROI on door drops improved by 59%.


Another advantage of direct mail is that you can control when it is delivered, and to how many people. This allows you to protect against overwhelming response.

In 1998, Crown Wallcoverings & Home Furnishings was forced to reschedule its direct response TV campaign just one week after its launch.

Crown’s advert featured a pure white room, as viewed through the eyes of the occupant, and a voiceover that asked “Need Inspiration?“, along with details of how to obtain a Crown brochure. This prompted an unprecedented 4,000 calls on the first day alone to Crown’s call handling service and Crown was forced to defer some of its commercials because of the overwhelming response.

A positive reaction to each response generated is essential, to maximise the results of your direct mail campaign. A poor reaction will damage your customer relationship before its even begun. Controlling the direct mail means you can control the response, and resource it appropriately.

Direct mail is flexible. Campaigns can be created to fit most budgets, large or small: you choose.


As we’ve already noted, it is not possible to be absolutely sure who has seen, and acted, as a direct result of indirect marketing.

When you know who you’re targeting, you can measure their response. Using a well defined call to action (CTA), such as a voucher, a specific landing page, or telephone number will help track response rates.

To quantify your response rate, sometimes called a conversion rate, divide the number of people who took action, by the size of the total audience.

It’ll also help you understand what worked, and what didn’t, for your audience, and that will help you better target future marketing communications.

Disadvantages of direct mail marketing


Some people dislike marketing mail, and will consider it as no more than junk mail, and discard it without even a second glance. How you present your marketing communications will have a big impact on how successful it is. Design, relevance to your target audience, a clear and compelling call to action, and incentives can all contribute to increasing prospects.

Domino’s national marketing department distributes 270 million leaflets to UK homes every year, at a cost of £10 million. Leaflet distribution is second only to TV advertising in successfully promoting the Domino’s brand.


Direct mail can be quite expensive, especially if you are mailing to a large list of customers. It is definitely cheaper to send out emails compared to physical packages. However, as a direct result of receiving mail:

  • 92% have been driven to online or digital activity
  • 87% have been influenced to make online purchases
  • 86% have connected with a business online
  • 54% have engaged in social media
  • 43% have downloaded something*

If your company is looking at increasing their presence and want more leads and ultimately sales, a complimentary direct mail solution could be the answer.

Time Consuming

Direct mail can be very time-consuming to create and send out: design and print, batching up and delivering can be a long process. There are also legal and compliance considerations surrounding security and confidentiality that must be taken into account. Outsourcing direct mail marketing can remove these challenges, leaving you to concentrate on your customers.

You may not get an immediate response from your B2B direct mail campaign, so it can be difficult to gauge its effectiveness in the short term. However, the average time people keep leaflets in their homes has increased 124% in the last six years – 38 days* – so it’s worth staying patient.


It’s no secret that customers are more environmentally conscious these days. A lot of people out there avoid using print and direct mail as they want to stay eco-friendly. There are numerous articles out there talking about how paper production causes deforestation, and that the energy used in production causes harmful emissions. However, the paper and print industries are actually one of the most sustainable (if done right).

With a major impact on businesses operations, it is important for companies to be carbon-friendly in order not only retain current clients but also attract new ones who prioritise environmental friendliness when making their purchase decisions!

Trees are a regenerative material and paper is a versatile material able to be recycled again and again for different uses. This means that you can recycle old paper before you have to cut down more trees. Also, both lithographic AND digital print can be sustainable, depending on if you take advantage of sustainable ink. For a more in-depth walk through of the eco-friendly potential of direct mail, check out our article on it here.

Seize the Data

Design of your direct mail is of immense importance, but the data you use to select your target audience is critical. When choosing your data, you’ll want to consider quality, how much it will cost, how much data you will get (volume), and its recency. It’s worth noting that data decays by up to 40% per annum.

Targeted, personal direct mail has its place in our increasingly digital world. If you’re serious about building your business, contact us today on 01625 870000 and ask us about the marketing edge of a direct mail campaign.


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