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Expected Direct Mail Response Rates

Posted by Sheera Eby on May 29, 2013

Clients often ask, “What can I expect in terms of my direct mail response rate?” According to the Direct Marketing Association, the average response rate is 3.4% for a house list and 1.28% for a prospect list. This varies by industry and a number of other factors that I’ll outline later.


Interestingly, this number has stayed about the same for past 24 months. One theory on this topic is that as volume has decreased, effectiveness of direct mail has increased. A less cluttered space seems to have created a positive impact on direct mail response rates.



We probably don’t get asked the right questions often enough, such as, “What impacts response rate?” or “How can we increase our response rate?”

Response rate is something that actually can be impacted. Here are the top four factors that impact response.



1. Targeting
Targeting is the number-one factor that will drive response. Predictive modeling and other targeting techniques help ensure optimal spending of marketing dollars. Direct mail response rates are directly impacted by reaching those that are most likely to respond. By leveraging these techniques, marketers can increase efficiency and eliminate waste. This is a fundamental best practice of direct marketing and an important distinction from general market advertising. If you are mailing to your entire universe, your average direct mail response rate is likely to be diluted. Leverage predictive modeling to focus your marketing dollars to reach your target. It will increase the response rate, resulting in an increase in marketing return on investment.



2. Offer
The offers is the second most critical area that impacts direct marketing response rates. Incentives and pricing are fundamentals to making a purchase decision. This should be intuitive as price-value is one of the key drivers in most rational decision making. While positioning and messaging of an offer can play a role in response, the reality is that most people will do the math. It is human nature to translate the offer or incentive into monetary savings. If you have an offer that provides clear savings, we highly recommend incorporating that into the messaging. If you can personalize those savings, that tends to reduce skepticism that results from terms like “up to,” which often creates a lot of angst and leaves an impression that the recipient will never be the beneficiary of the top-end offer.



3. Creative
Unlike some areas of marketing communications, direct marketing is very formulaic. Its guiding principles are to follow direct marketing best practices and to ensure that the technical aspects are as or more important than ensuring the creative is creative. Here are a couple of drivers in ensuring the creative will drive response. Check out my article on 10 best practices for direct marketing for a more thorough analysis.Here are some essential techniques to follow with your creative:


  • Include a printed response device. In general, about 20% to 25% of target customers will respond using the printed response device, i.e., they will mail back an enrollment form. This is because the printed response device serves as both a physical and subliminal reminder to respond. If your current direct mail program isn’t using letters with printed response devices, it’s likely that your direct mail response rate is suffering.
  • Don’t forget the P.S. Historically, the P.S. is the most read area in a letter. The best practice is to ensure that content in the P.S. encapsulates your primary message and includes a clear call to action and deadline. This is a factor that can positively impact direct mail response rates.
  • Personalization drives relevancy. Personalization and tailoring increase direct mail response rates. Tests show that personalized information, including personalized URLs (PURLs), empower and reinforce your direct mail communications. Messaging that isn’t perceived as relevant often doesn’t get a second thought. Generic direct mail packages without personalization are not as effective and produce inferior results to packages with meaningful and accurate personalization. Customers are inundated with information, so make sure your content is relevant and, more importantly, personalized.

4. Interaction with other channels. Response is impacted by other communication touch points. Research has shown that users begin to have message recall sometime between three and four touches. This demonstrates the impact multichannel marketing communications has on every independent touch point. Direct mail response will be impacted by where it falls relative to all other communication tactics.


While average direct mail response rates remain steady, marketers still have a lot of control over impacting them for their individual businesses. Consider leveraging best practices as a mechanism to increase your direct mail response rates.


Topics: Direct Marketing

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