Planning your direct mail campaign in six simple steps

Essential Guide to Direct Mail

How to measure and test direct mail for better results

By:Canada Post

How to create an 80/20 test to improve results

In life, learning leads to growth. It’s no different for direct mail. Simple tests allow you to learn what works best. For your marketing to be as successful as possible, you should test regularly so you can find out what reaches your target, what resonates with your audience and what motivates your followers to act.

So how do you do it? For direct mail (DM) campaigns, testing starts when you set up parallel mailings. Here’s how:

Create a control group and a test group

Begin by splitting your data 80/20. If you’re using a data provider or a Canada Post Smartmail MarketingTM partner, they can do that for you. The 80 per cent control group will get a mailing based on what’s worked before – your proven results.

The 20 per cent is your test group. Keep this group small to make the most of your budget – while still generating relevant insights. Around 250 responses should be enough to give you reliable information.

The difference in responses between the test and the control groups tell you what parts of your campaign were successful.

Choose one element to test

Even changing only one thing about your direct mail can provide useful information. By testing individual elements, you can better understand things like how customers make choices or which offers they prefer. Doing things differently can also reveal reactions to the style and structure of the mailing itself.

Test your DM format by comparing:

  • Self-mailer vs. outer envelope or a postcard vs. outer envelope
  • Oversize vs. standard size

Test your creative by comparing:

  • Short copy vs. long copy
  • Different calls to action, such as redeem online vs. in-store redemption
  • Different imagery options

Test your offers by comparing:

  • A percentage discount vs. a dollar reduction
  • A free offer vs. a value add
  • Different time limits

Make your DM trackable

It’s important to have a means to track your results so you can compare them. Tracking doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Consider including these:

  • Coupons and promo codes – Redemption rates tell you if your campaign is working.
  • MURLs – Provide a unique marketing MURL on your DM and track visits.
  • PURL – Create a unique landing page for everyone who receives your DM.
  • Dedicated email addresses, phone numbers and hashtags – These also allow you to monitor who engages with you.

Apply what you learn

Once you have the results from your 80/20 campaign, learn from them. Look for what resonated most with your audience and determine how you can apply that knowledge to future campaigns. Continue to test and learn – it will help you continually improve your marketing results over the long term.

How direct mail can boost your business


In today’s do-everything-digital marketing world, it’s easy to abandon the age-old “paper route” when it comes to advertising. But while it may seem outdated, direct mail remains a dependable and affordable way to get your message across, engage with current customers and attract new ones – however big or small your business.

“Direct mail works better than many people realize, even with younger people,” says Sara Clodman, Vice-President of Public Affairs and Thought Leadership at the Canadian Marketing Association.

“The best strategy is to use both physical and digital media to augment messages and improve consumer outcomes.”

“According to research by Forbes, 36 per cent of people under age 30 look forward to checking their mailboxes every day and 95 per cent of 18-to-29-year-olds have a positive response to receiving personal cards and letters in the mail.

Integrate direct mail into your marketing mix to expand your reach

Adding direct mail to your overall marketing strategy is proven to help prop up the other messaging delivered via digital means such as social media, blog posts and newsletters, according to Mike Badour, General Manager of Smartmail Marketing and Partner Solutions at Canada Post.

“When integrated into a multi-media campaign, direct mail can amplify the lift of the total campaign across all media channels,” he says.

“The data assets available today allow for companies to easily integrate physical and digital together to provide increased results, compared to doing one or the other on their own.”

Research done by Canada Post shows that businesses can utilize direct mail to make a definite impact with customers. Details show that 39 per cent more time is spent with integrated direct mail and digital campaigns than with campaigns that use only digital messaging. Customers have 23 per cent higher brand recall with an integrated direct mail and email campaign than email-only initiatives. The sequencing also matters. For example, sending direct mail after the email can lead to 40 per cent higher brand recall.2

“Clients who use monthly digital newsletters, who simply added one or two physical pieces into the cycle, lifted engagement not only on the physical pieces but made their digital ones stronger,” Badour says.

Zero in on your ideal customer

When it comes to the ROI of direct mail, the results can be astonishing because it’s so easy to customize the content to reach a specific audience. The targeting this allows works for both big national retailers and the small shop around the corner – even tiny brands operating solely via e-commerce.

“Businesses can use direct mail to hyper-target their marketing through demographics and location,” Clodman says, adding that the pandemic has inspired some very unique strategies out of necessity.

“People are staying home more and making fewer visits to restaurants and shops. Through direct mail, businesses can reach out to their customers in unique ways and nurture those relationships,” she says.

“Local businesses can tap into consumers’ desires to support local business during the pandemic. And companies can provide coupons or promotional offers at a time when consumers might be in difficult financial circumstances.”

Longevity is another benefit to incorporating direct mail into your media plan. It tends to stick around the house for a while – moving from the mailbox to the foyer to the kitchen corkboard, maybe even getting pinned to the fridge.

As we so often find, tried-and-true methods are still the best. Added together, these benefits are all proof-positive that direct mail remains a robust and practical piece of the marketing strategy puzzle.