Direct Mail Promotional Best Practices

We have years of experience with hundreds of brands across thousands of campaigns and have learned that there is no more effective call to action than offering a discount to a customer.

The perception of value is critical, even to affluent consumers shopping premium brands with high AOVs. Promotions provide that perception of value, a perception of urgency and an incentive to shop. The lure of a promotion matters most. In practice, promotion usage is low; it is typically less than 30% of matchbacks.

Promotions are especially effective for customer acquisition as they mitigate price as a barrier to buying. We have not found that the subsequent value of customers is negative based on the use of a promotion for acquisition.

While results have proven that a 15% discount (minimum) without a hurdle is the most effective promotion, brands can opt to drive response with a different kind of promotion.

The most common promotions are:

  • Percentage off (with and without a hurdle)
  • Dollars off (with and without a hurdle)
  • GWP
  • Sweepstakes
  • About Free Shipping

Communicating Offers in Direct Mail

Prominently display the offer on the direct mail front cover and back cover. Repeating the offer on interior pages is acceptable and appropriate as well.

Offer Examples – % Off

Offer Examples – $ off

Offer Examples – Tiered $ Off

Offer Example – On Cover and Interior Pages

Offer Example – Quick Release Card

For an additional cost ~$0.04 each, brands can communicate a discount on a quick release card (QRC). QRCs are effective traffic drivers for brands with retail stores.  The best placement for a QRC is a front or back cover.

Operational Consideration: Coupon Codes

Some brands require a coupon code for redemption. There are two types of coupon codes.

#1. Single code assigned to the promotion for use by all consumers. These codes are designed into the creative and can appear anywhere in the direct mail piece.

#2. Variable coupon codes per customer. The coupon codes are provided by the brand to the mail house to be appended to the mail file. The codes are inkjetted onto the printed piece along with the consumer’s address. There are limitations as to where inkjetted codes can appear and how they look.

Operational Consideration: Disclaimers

Promotions with few disclaimers, terms and conditions are most enticing to consumers. But many brands find it necessary to include disclaimers to protect their businesses.

Typical disclaimers include:

  • Offer ends Date tbd – an end date of no later than 30 days drives a sense of urgency
  • On your next order –  include this disclaimer if the dm piece bearing the discount is used as a package bounceback  so customers don’t expect to get the discount on the order just received
  • On your first order – limits the code to one-time, first-time use
  • This offer cannot be combined with any other special offer, such as…
  • Offer applies to U.S. customers only (if applicable)
  • Gift cards and sale items are excluded from this offer (if applicable)
  • Full terms and conditions of this offer can be found on our website at
  • Be sure to state which channels the offer is valid in if limited

GWP (Gift With Purchase)

GWPs are less effective than percentage off or dollars off promotions. While less effective, a GWP can distinguish a brand from a competitor and be an enticement worthy of communicating to consumers.


While a sweepstakes will generate a large quantity of new names, these promotions will not provide quality names. Sweepstakes must be on-brand, accessible, and yield a cost per net new name less than $1 to be successful.

About Free Shipping

Free shipping is a cost of doing business online today. It is a purchasing consideration and can be the winning factor for a consumer contemplating similar products from two brands, but it is not a promotion. Free shipping should be promoted even by brands that do not give a discount.

Free Shipping and Free Returns

Even more powerful than free shipping for mitigating barriers to buying: free shipping & free returns. If your brands offers free returns, promote it. Free returns becomes a high-ranking consideration for shoppers during gifting seasons.

Triggered Promotion Programs

Triggered promotion programs are timed to deliver an offer that coincides with life events that naturally drive a flurry of shopping. These direct mail pieces put the brand top of mind when the consumer has a high propensity for buying. These pieces are printed in bulk. A set quantity is mailed at pre-determined intervals such as 1X/month.

Triggered programs include:

  • Customer Birthday
  • Thank you
  • New Mover
  • New Mom

Triggered Birthday Example

Everyone loves a birthday greeting and gift! Birthday creative often resembles a birthday card and is often personalized, i.e., variably printed with the consumer’s name.

Triggered Thank You Example

Sending a Thank You after a purchase keeps buyers engaged and increases purchase frequency. Creative can suggest ideas of what to buy next.

Triggered New Mover Examples

Elements of New Mover promotions: messaging that acknowledges the consumer’s move, inspirational imagery and an offer.

More Promotion Opportunities

Many brands review their order flow and introduce promotions during lulls. Since many of the costs in a distribution center are fixed, the promotion fills in volume during the downtime.

In general, it is difficult to change consumer behavior; the consumer buys when the consumer wants to buy.

However, the following promotions can prove effective in catching a consumer’s attention:

  • Friends and Family offers
  • Anniversary events
  • Reactivation offers

Friends & Family Promotion

Friends & Family promotions are typically aggressive, offering a 20% discount or higher. Brands often run Friends and Family offers in September through October in order to capture more customers in the run-up to the important holiday season.

Reactivation Offers

Reactivation promotions target customers that have not purchased in more than 2 to 3 years. Use email to test offers (make sure your cell sizes are valid), then promote the winner  in direct mail.

Anniversary Promotions

When a company celebrates its own anniversary, it can pay to make customers part of the party. One of the most well-known is Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale. The legacy brand’s biggest fashion event of the year is a pre-sale of fall styles. It takes place in July, boosting sales in the notoriously slow days of summer.

Want to collaborate with print creative pros on your direct mail project? Drop us a line or give us a ring. We’re here for you.

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