by Rishi Patel

Direct Mail is the most effective marketing strategy in existence. In fact, it has been shown to provide one of the highest returns on investment out of the marketing mix. For every $167 U.S. marketers spend on direct mail, they gain $2,095 in sales. It also achieves a response rate 37 times greater than email.

This marketing medium is highly versatile in both its formats and applications. Its objective, however, is almost always the same: to make a striking and ideally lasting impression on its recipient. Here we will discuss the types and formats of direct mail, what they are composed of, and the pros and cons of each kind.

Traditional Direct Mail Package

Let’s begin, quite aptly, with what is called the Traditional DM Package. The components of this package are as follows:

  • An outside envelope.
  • A personal “letter” to the customer.
  • A lift note or brochure.
  • A reply card or business reply card.

The elements of this mailpiece ought to have a strong and cohesive design. Each component must be able to stand alone in the case that the recipient views only one of them. There must be an offer and a call to action that spans the entire package.

  1. The tactile and personal nature of the envelope mailer is highly effective in generating personal leads and sparking business-to-business interaction.
  2. Envelope mailers allow for a variety of inserts.
  1. They are expensive. In relation to other forms of Direct Mail such as postcards and self-mailers, envelope mailers are quite a bit more costly.

Self-Mailers (also known as Folded Self Mailers, or FSMs)

This is a simple, all-in-one format that requires no envelope. While it is akin to the postcard, the self-mailer is usually a folded piece with more room for information.

Self-mailers include can include:

  • Fold-over pieces
  • Tri-fold pieces
  • Pieces with a perforated tear-off
  1. Because these pieces require no envelope, they are significantly less expensive.
  2. Simplicity- because they are comprised of only one piece, there is no need for cohesive design to span across multiple items.
  3. There is an assortment of options to choose from within this format.
  1. They are easily perceived as marketing mail, or, as some people see it, junk mail.
  2. If the piece is not properly folded or tabbed, it runs the risk of becoming nonmachinable and requiring a higher postage cost.

Simple Postcards

This is the smallest, simplest and cheapest format that direct mail offers. Because they are so cost-effective, postcards are used by millions of small and local businesses to promote their offerings. Some characteristics of the simple postcard are:

  • They lead with a concise selling proposition and follow with contact info
  • Often used for lead generation and single-product promotion
  • They often make use of a hook or enticing graphic to grab attention
  1. As was mentioned above- the simple postcard is highly cost-effective.
  2. Postcards are efficient and versatile, with the ability to deliver an array of messages in a straightforward format.
  3. The postcard is easy to view, with no envelope to open. Regardless of whether or not it is thrown away, it had still had some marketing impact.
  1. Again, they are small. There is not much room for detailed graphics or extensive information.
  2. Postcards are by design unable to house any useful inserts.

Large-Format Postcards (Billboards)

This format is the postcard made bigger and stronger!

It boasts more information real estate while still retaining the benefit of lower postage rates.

  1. A large-format card is an easy-to-view piece that can hold a larger amount of information. There is also more room for eye-catching graphics and logos.
  2. Despite being larger, this format is still cost-effective and doesn’t require the extra expense of the envelope.
  3. This Direct Mail format is said to have the highest response rate.
  1. The postage costs with increase when mailing First Class Mail pieces.
  2. Inserts are not possible with this format either.


Magalogs refer to the mailing of catalogs and brochures. They are designed to look like magazines, and feel less like a sales piece. An excellent example of a magalog is mark. by Avon.

  1. Lots of real estate to showcase products & information.
  2. Consumers tend to keep catalogs and magazines around as reference/reading material.
  1. Expensive to produce & mail
  2. Expensive and time-consuming to design


What we call the SwagBomb is the ultimate direct mail package. It is essentially a DM Package, taken to the next level. SwagBombs consist of a sales letter, multiple brochures and/or a catalog, plus promotional items such as custom flash drives.

  1. They provide the prospect with useful, branded products they will use and stay on top of their mind.
  2. Due to their physical & personal nature, they can garner high open rates.
  3. They are highly customizable.
  1. They can be extremely expensive to produce & mail.
  2. Usually not suitable for high volume mailings.