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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Commercial Printing: Direct Mail Is Alive and Well

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I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to get my fill of email advertising. Since the onset of Covid, my daily allotment of email has risen from about 100 per day to close to 160 emails. Through this miasma, I have to search for relevant emails from clients as well as educational emails referencing commercial printing.

So going down to the mailbox each day and finding only a handful of letters and maybe a few direct mail pieces is a relief. Chances are, I’ll even skim most of the direct mail since it usually pertains to custom printing. Someone has been paying attention. They know what I do and don’t want to read, and the overall mail volume is manageable.

In light of this I recently read a handful of articles from Ironmark ( regarding the blessings (and prudent use of) direct mail in current times. You may want to look up these articles: “Direct Mail Drops: How Many and How Often Yield Best Results?” by Reid Broendel, 04/28/20; “Direct Mail: Stronger Than Ever in the Digital Age,” Blake Leppert, 11/03/20; “How to Raise Engagement with Super-Personalized Print Pieces,” Lynne Kingsley, 01/23/19; “Setting Up Variable Data Printing for Personalization Perfection,” Garner Leidy, 07/25/19; and “How to Get Extremely Targeted with Your Direct Mail Campaign,” Chris McCready, 08/02/19). Together with other direct mail articles on this website, Ironmark provides a great survey of why direct mail is effective in general, and how you can reap its benefits, particularly in a digital age.

Why Direct Mail Is So Effective

To paraphrase these articles from Ironmark, here are some observations:

    1. People love to get mail. It’s a break in their day, and it often promises something new and special.


    1. People love the tactile nature of direct mail, particularly when it takes advantage of interesting paper stocks, coatings, and other design elements that can’t be replicated online.


    1. People particularly like receiving mail directed specifically to them.


    1. According to market research, this is true for all recent generations, including Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Millennials, etc.


    1. If the mail directly addresses the interests (and past buying history) of recipients, you’ve got their attention.


    1. “Customers who receive a direct mail piece, on average, spend about 30 percent more than those who didn’t” (“Direct Mail: Stronger Than Ever in the Digital Age,” Blake Leppert, 11/03/20).


    1. People like direct mail because they can carry it around and read it anywhere, anytime (presumably because it doesn’t require an electronic reading device) (“Direct Mail: Stronger Than Ever in the Digital Age,” Blake Leppert, 11/03/20).


  1. “More than 60 percent of consumers who get catalogs in the mail visit the website of the business that sent it” (“Direct Mail: Stronger Than Ever in the Digital Age,” Blake Leppert, 11/03/20).

So learning about direct mail and deploying it to the benefit for your business is a prudent investment of time and money, both in terms of gaining new clients and holding onto the ones you already have. If you collect relevant demographic data (everything from names and addresses to personal shopping history and personal interests), direct mail will allow you to maintain a connection with your customers, keep them interested, and keep them updated regarding your new and current offerings.

What Works?

All of the Ironmark articles I read encouraged direct mail marketers to do the following to ensure success:

    1. Consider your goal. Is it to “thank clients for their purchases,” “welcome them to a select event,” “send a company update”? (Setting Up Variable Data Printing for Personalization Perfection,” Garner Leidy, 07/25/19).


    1. Collect good data. You may want to research CRM (customer relations management). CRM software helps you to target those prospective customers who may benefit from your product or service. At the same time, it filters out those who probably would not (based on your specifications fed into the CRM software). This way you don’t waste money sending direct mail pieces to those less likely to be interested.


    1. CRM software allows you to collect names and addresses of potential clients, as well as trace their interests, buying habits, and levels of education. Using variable data printing (a powerful feature of digital commercial printing that allows you to vary each direct mail item you print), you can speak directly to each current or potential client. People prefer to read direct mail that addresses them by name and provides information of interest to them.


    1. Include your prospect’s name numerous times in the direct mail piece.


    1. Ironmark’s articles (in particular, “Direct Mail: Stronger Than Ever in the Digital Age,” Blake Leppert, 11/03/20) encourage you to not forget current clients. Yes, go after new ones, but remember that it takes a lot less time and money to keep your current clients happy than to interest, qualify, and begin to work with new ones.


    1. Plan on sending out direct mail in batches (Ironmark suggests three separate “roll outs”). This is because repeated exposure to the same offer can have exponentially positive results. Sometimes, in fact, people need to see a message up to eleven times before they become interested in working with you.


    1. In particular, sending out direct mail in batches and then following up with emails, connections to PURLs (personal URLs), surveys, and such, can keep your brand “top of mind” (as the marketers say). Without becoming annoying, you want to keep as close a connection as possible with your clients and prospects. This allows you to cultivate more leads, attract new customers, keep current ones, and drive traffic to your website.


    1. If you want to follow the aforementioned rule of sending out direct mail in batches, “Direct Mail Drops: How Many and How Often Yield Best Results” suggests doing this at approximately 21-day intervals.


    1. Since digital commercial printing allows you to alter every single piece of direct mail you send, start with an awareness of your potential client (buyer persona) based on the demographic data you will have collected with your CRM software. (You may want to research “segmenting.”) Then, decide what portion of your direct mail piece will be static (common to all pieces) and what elements (name, address, past buying history, expressed interests, and such) you will want to directly personalize. Collect the InDesign files and address data files (and other variable data files), and share these with your custom printing supplier early in the process to determine the best way to prepare for the three, 21-day-apart direct mail roll-outs.


    1. Use new and old media in tandem. A thought-provoking direct mail piece that catches the interest of a prospect can send her/him to a website that will initiate a two-way exchange. The potential client can use a URL printed in the direct mail piece to link to a PURL, or scan a QR Code to link a special web page. There he or she can get more information on what you offer. It’s not about whether direct mail or online marketing is better. It’s about how you can use both to reinforce your marketing message. Projecting your brand across all channels (print, electronic, signage) can have a profound, synergistic effect.


    1. Incorporate into your direct mail campaigns those materials and processes that can’t be replicated in email marketing, such as special paper stocks, foil stamping, special paper coatings, die cutting, and such.


  1. Engage the reader’s intelligence. (This is called an “involvement device.”) This may include a contest or puzzle (as suggested by “How to Raise Engagement with Super-Personalized Print Pieces,” Lynne Kingsley, 01/23/19).

Applying these suggestions will significantly increase your response rates. Your goal is to have your direct mail piece land in front of your client, or prospective client, at the very moment they need it and are ready to receive and absorb its message.

The Takeaway

I’d like to leave you with three quotes from Ironmark’s articles that you may find interesting:

    1. “Accorrding to Infosys, 59 percent of shoppers who have experienced personalization believe it has a noticeable impact on purchasing” (“Setting Up Variable Data Printing for Personalization Perfection,” Garner Leidy, 07/25/19).


    1. “Ninety-one percent of customers are more likely to shop with brands who recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations” (“Setting Up Variable Data Printing for Personalization Perfection,” Garner Leidy, 07/25/19).


  1. “According to Forbes, ‘Companies who adopt data-driven marketing are more likely to have an advantage over the competition and increase profitability. In fact they are six times more likely to be profitable year-over-year’” (“How to Get Extremely Targeted with Your Direct Mail Campaign,” Chris McCready, 08/02/19).

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