A Guide to Direct Mail (Or, How to Be the Best Garbage)


THe secret to making excellent garbage
is never forgetting that you're still garbage

Believe it or not, direct mail is performing better now than ever. Spam has moved to email, so there's a lot of newly open space in the old-school mailbox. Unfortunately, everything else has also moved to email, so there's roughly a 100% chance that everything a prospect receives in the mailbox is going to be unwanted or unsolicited. That's the pond we're swimming in, and we shouldn't forget it.


Decent direct-mail ads are easy. 
Just do these 5 things.

  1. Survive the trash-pile
    People divide their mail into a read-pile and trash-pile. Most advertisers try to escape the trash-pile by relying on hyperventilating headlines and visual noise.
  2. Drive the prospect to one specific action
    The ad should ask the prospect to do one specific thing, be it visiting a specific website for a specific reason, visiting a specific store for a specific promotion, or signing up for a specific offer within a specific timeframe. One precisely articulated, time-contingent action—and nothing else.
  3. Include an incentive (usually a coupon)
    Coupons work. They've always worked. Since the dawn of time.
  4. Fulfill your promises
    The action you're asking the prospect to perform needs to be performable. So if you're offering a discount, make sure that discount is real and easy to apply. If you're driving to a custom-made URL, make sure that URL exists.
  5. Track your data

That's it. That's literally it. Decent direct-mail ads are as simple as these five rules. But excellent ads? That's a different story. You'll have to stay branded and dignified within the context of all the paper nonsense people receive in the mail.

Now. Go forth and be the best garbage you can be.

David Jones