No one should write, produce or have to receive junk mail.

It wastes marketing budgets, not to mention precious natural resources. And it annoys vast numbers of recipients who aren’t interested in what’s on offer.

The following is an account of an experience I had. I hope it will help you prevent your direct mail shots from turning into junk mail.

A true story

I took a brief from an account man. It was for a UK national brand – one that should have known better than to make the mistakes below.

“Who am I writing to?” I asked him

“Cold prospects.”

“Do we know anything about them?”

“Not really. They may or may not have a product like ours.”

“So we don’t even know if they might be interested in our product?”


That’s mistake #1: no knowledge of your recipients. Mail to recipients you know little about and you’re bound to fail.

I said, “Can you tell me anything about them?”

“Some have received our communications before.”

“Do we know which ones”


That’s mistake #2: not being able to distinguish between recipients. When you know who’s received previous mailings and who hasn’t, you can tailor messages to be more relevant to the particular groups or cells.

I went on, “And is our offer better than our competitors?’”

“It might be but we can’t be sure.”


That’s mistake #3: marketing without a clear advantage over your competitors. You need to offer prospects something your competitors don’t.

“But,” said the account man, “we do have a special free introductory offer, worth £25.”

Joy! A little difference, a sort of USP.  (The competition was unlikely to be making the same offer). At least there was something to tempt our prospects. I almost danced.

“Now,” I said, feeling more positive, “what about the format?”

“Letter in a C5 envelope with window on the front.”

“Er, surely it’d be better to send a postcard? Then we wouldn’t have to depend on recipients opening the envelopes. We’d save the client some money too.”

“The client has thousands of envelopes that need using up.”

“Okay, so can we print the offer – or some enticing message – on the envelope to make people open it?”

“Afraid not.”

Mistake #4: No incentive for recipients to open the mailer. Envelopes with windows, sent from companies you don’t already buy from, look like junk mail (especially if they have a PPI mark). If you must use such envelopes be sure to print an offer or an intriguing line on the outside to make recipients want to open them.

Tips to make your direct mail more effective

The following are very basic DM tips. Based on my experience though, even some big brands – ones that should know better – need to start applying these:

  1. Get high-quality data so that you can target hot prospects. Try to give your copywriter an insight about your prospects.
  2. Group your prospects based on their different needs, attitudes or whether you’ve communicated with them before. Then make sure your copy is tailored to these different groups.
  3. Give prospects an offer that, in some way, is better than your competitors’ offers – give them a USP.
  4. Unless you’re sending a postcard, include a line on the outside – an encapsulation of your offer, or simply a compelling line that makes them want to open the mailer and have a look inside.

Follow the above tips and there’ll be less risk of your direct mail becoming junk mail.


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