1. operated by largely automatic equipment.

"a fully automated process"

“Can you write another article?” Amanda asked. The topic is: “Could automated direct mail increase your customer response rate?”

“Sure!” I replied. I just needed to figure out what “automated direct mail” was. I mean, I thought I knew, but I needed to be sure. I turned to my most powerful research tool – Google – which was predictably unhelpful. It seemed that automated direct mail was often a product name, or a software package.

So, what is automated direct mail, and can it indeed improve response rates?

I think I prefer the term “coordinated marketing” to “automated direct mail.” Tying together multiple efforts is virtually always going to improve response. It’s the same principle as in sales – one seldom makes a sale on the first attempt. Generally, it takes a number of sales calls to close the deal.

Direct mail is a terrific marketing channel. Recent studies by ANA and the Winterberry Group showed that direct mail had the highest return on investment of any direct marketing channel. Still, here are some inherent weaknesses to direct mail that need to be overcome:

1) It’s expensive. Sorry, but it is. A direct mail effort typically costs anywhere from $.40 a piece to $1.00 a piece, and nothing about it getting less expensive. Postage, paper, and labor keep going up. But direct mail is an investment, and most often a good one – but you want to be sure to maximize the value you get from every piece of mail.

2) Direct mail requires effort to respond. There are no “buy now” buttons on a mail piece. A QR code is as close as you get. To respond, a prospect needs to go to a website, or call someone, or maybe mail off a check. You can send the right offer to the right person at the right time and still not make the sale, because they set that piece of mail on the kitchen counter and forgot it. Countless sales have been lost on the walk from the mailbox to the kitchen.

Coordinating your marketing efforts can help overcome the shortcomings of direct mail alone by raising interest and providing more opportunities to respond. Here is one approach you may consider.

First, soften the target before the mail ever gets there. You can send emails in advance of the mail piece. Today’s mail tracking and predictive analytics can allow you to deliver an email a day or two ahead of the mail. Email is an inexpensive channel – that can be both a strength and a weakness. By itself, response rates – or even open rates – can be low, but it can deliver a brand impression. Your real effort is yet to arrive. Another obvious way to deliver an early brand impression is Informed Delivery. Informed Delivery costs almost nothing (sometimes less than nothing – USPS might pay you to use it), and it is a perfectly timed message in an email that comes from the Postal Service that typically has a 70% open rate. Your prospect will see an image of the piece – or the image you replace it with – as well as a button that can take them to your offer landing page. This morning email builds anticipation for the mail piece that is about to be delivered. If the offer is right, your prospect should be all atingle by the time they gather their mail from the mailbox.

As we said above, that doesn’t promise a response – they still have that long walk from the mailbox. But another email on the evening they received the mail piece (or maybe the next day – you need to test the optimum time) reminds them of that offer that so entranced them and gives them another avenue of response.

What?! They still didn’t respond? No problem – you have another email ready to go a day or two later – another chance to respond. You have also learned something about your prospect at this point that may make them a better prospect. Did they open your email? More than one of them? Email stats will deliver that information. Are they an Informed Delivery subscriber? Did they open the Informed Delivery email? Maybe they have multiple subscribers in the same household. You can learn this from your Informed Delivery post-campaign data, and again narrow down your best prospects. Informed Delivery subscribers tend to be more engaged with their mail, by definition.

Armed with this data, you can send another more targeted mailing to your most likely prospects. Don’t forget to include all the other channels in those efforts also.

There are a lot of variables that will impact how you create your campaign – email list availability, other channels available, like social media or other web-based channels, and your budget. The key is to coordinate them into a campaign. Don’t ever just do a “mailing” – they’re too expensive on their own. Make it a campaign.

The essential tools to doing this successfully are planning, measurement and the right business rules. The best campaigns are flow-charted before they begin. Anticipate every action that may occur, and have a next step planned. If a prospect opens an email, record it. If they don’t, they may go into a different pot. If they go to your landing page – good for you! Record it. Huh? They still didn’t buy? Record that too. Consider retargeting to give them another chance.

A great tool for coordinating all of these efforts is Informed Visibility. Every piece of mail can be tracked so you are reacting accordingly. Just because mail was delivered in one location, doesn’t mean it was delivered everywhere the same day – or even the same week. Use every scan event for each piece of mail as a trigger for another action in your campaign. Be sure to have an action planned no matter what they may do.

As you gather data from your first efforts, use it to create your next effort – aimed at a better qualified audience based on what you already learned. Maybe a small mailing – retargeting those who abandoned your landing page or opened your email. Timing counts – it should all be a coordinated campaign around the same offer, the same theme. This is where automation comes in. Have every next step cued and ready to go. Deploy it based on your business rules and your plan.

When it is all done, you should have new customers or donors, and a more refined list for your next campaign.

Dave Lewis is President, SnailWorks. He can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2024 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.