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Response rates - what to expect and how to improve them

There’s no point sending out direct mail unless you’re going to get a response which leads to a sale, and thereby increase your ROI. But what kind of response can you expect from your direct marketing campaign and how can you take steps to improve it?


The proliferation of direct marketing channels in recent years creates a quandary in itself. Which channel to choose? Direct mail - via the post – is still proving to be a good option and although response rates have dropped in the last few years, it is still outperforming digital alternatives: 3.4% versus 0.12%.

According to the Direct Marketing Association’s 2012 report on Direct Marketing Responses, the companies canvassed said an average of 23% of their turnover could be attributed to their direct mail activities. And how do they know this? Because the beauty of direct mail is that it is simple to trace back the activity via a source code, making it easier to experiment with different approaches to establish which ones are the most successful for you.

Direct marketing is a big industry with £15.2bn invested in it in 2012. Whether you go the digital or post route, your direct mail campaign doesn’t have to be large and expensive though. Make sure you think about these golden rules to improve your responses:

Clean up your data

The secret is to get the mailing, whether by post or email, to the correct recipient – the person who is most likely to buy whatever you are offering – so it’s essential your data is clean. Much of the printed direct mail that ends up in our landfill sites every year (and there’s approximately 78,000 tonnes of it) is actually because the data is bad and has not been received by the correct person because they are:

·         one of the 6 million people who have moved house each year

·         one of the 700,000 people a year in the UK who have died (£18m is wasted here)

·         one of the 240,000 people who have opted for the Mail Preference Service

·         one of the half a million addresses affected by postal address changes.

It’s worth using a data cleaning service to make sure the data is clean and relevant to the target market.

Time is of the essence

Design your message so that it can be absorbed by the recipient in a matter of seconds – that’s all you’ve got. Let them know succinctly what you’re offering and, most importantly, how it will benefit them. And don’t forget to give the recipient clear instructions how to respond to you. A ‘P.S.’ at the end to remind them of your message and call to action works well.

Put your goods on display

Then it’s case of deciding what format to use. Bear in mind response rates to posted direct mail. Some messages are received better as letters in envelopes, and this presents the opportunity to advertise or repeat your message, or introduce a teaser, on the envelope.  However, what you would display for a cosmetics company would be different from a finance organisation. The latter is probably best left blank and formal.

A DL or A5 postcard allows your message to be read instantly and is a popular choice. Or how about a 3-D format? According to the DMA, dimensional mailings are outperforming standard formats by 250% … but there’s a cost, so you may want to limit these only to high-value prospects. Indeed, quotes more than 85% of executives said they would be more likely to open an item if it was especially large, odd-sized, or appeared to have come by a delivery service other than the Post Office.

Personalise it!

The pièce de la résistance is to add the recipient’s name. Variable data is so sophisticated these days it’s really easy to add that personal touch to make the recipient feel like you are just talking to them.

If that all sounds quite costly, find an experienced mailing house that not only has the facilities to print, collate, fulfil and post your campaign, but make sure your data is clean too.

Asendia UK

Asendia UK has ISO-accredited mailing houses in Bedford and Southampton, where they can do all this, as well as an air conveyance unit at Heathrow for international direct mail. Borne out of a joint venture between Swiss Post and La Poste, Asendia has enormous resources as a postal operator, including the ability to give your international direct mail a ‘local look’ in some countries, which helps to increase response rates and ROI. Call 01234 848415 for a quote or visit


One of Asendia’s products is the hybrid mail service Maileva. If your direct mail is simple, i.e. 1 to 45 sheets (that’s 90 sides!) of A4 paper, single- or double-sided in C4 or C5 envelopes, this one-stop-shop is ideal. Business Reply envelopes can be inserted too, to increase response rates and ROI, and significant savings can be made on mailing costs. Call 01234 227162 for more information or visit


About the author
Catherine Jackson is an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has been a publishing professional for over 30 years, working in newspapers, magazines, and marketing in the education, retail and travel sectors. She has also worked as a freelance copywriter, editor and proofreader before joining Asendia UK as Content Marketing Executive & Copywriter. Google+