An easy guide to direct mail for home services businesses

Vincent Ninh
July 18, 2023
min read

Digital marketing is awesome. From social media to Google ads, advertising on the web offers businesses so many ways to reach customers, even in the smallest niches.  

Does that mean that traditional advertising methods are a thing of the past? Not quite.

Direct mail marketing, for instance, is a tactic that continues to be effective for businesses even in this day and age. For the uninitiated, direct mail marketing consists of directly sending physical mail to targeted recipients.

In fact, companies spent $41.9 billion (yes, with a “b”) on direct mail marketing in 2021, and that number was expected to rise by 3.5% in 2022. 

Let’s go over why direct mail works, and how to make it work for your business. 

People still like physical mail 

Retrieving and opening mail is a highly personal experience, and, for many, an enjoyable one: 41% of Americans look forward to checking their mail every day. For businesses, direct mail campaigns are a great opportunity to be a part of this experience and to make a memorable impression. 

Companies who use direct mail as part of their marketing strategy often see positive results. In fact, the customer response rate (or when a customer engages with a business as a result of a marketing campaign) for direct mail is around 9%, which is higher than any other marketing channel. For reference, the response rate for email and social media hovers around 1%. 

Planning a successful campaign 

Like with any type of other marketing campaign, some level of planning is needed to make direct mail work for you. 

You don't need to plan anything too elaborate, but at least establish a basic goal and strategy. Even spending just 30 minutes on it will make a big difference. Here’s what you should think about before you start designing and mailing things. 

What are you trying to achieve?

Setting at least one key goal is a crucial first step to building your campaign. This goal (or these goals) will guide your strategy and how you execute it, plus it will give you something to determine success by. 

It’s better to have a specific goal than a broad one, but it’s better to have a broad goal than no goal. Here are some sample goals you could set for a campaign:

  • To spread the word about your business to a new audience (also known as brand awareness)
  • To gain 75 new customers 
  • To obtain a return on investment of $5,000
  • To get 50 current customers to perform a maintenance/routine service 

What’s your budget?

Think of setting up a main objective for your campaign as step 1a, and establishing a budget as step 1b: both affect each other significantly so you'll want to think about them at the same time. 

To give you an idea of how much you can expect to spend on a direct mail campaign, here is a breakdown of key expenses:

  • Mailing list: If your campaign targets new customers and you want to narrow it down by more than just location (e.g., only homeowners), you might want to purchase a mailing list. This can run you $40-$300 per 1,000 addresses. (We cover mailing lists in more detail later in the article.)
  • Design: USPS estimates that outsourcing design would cost you $100; you can probably expect to pay $100-200 for a postcard, letter, or self-mailer.
  • Printing: Per USPS, printing should cost you $0.32-0.45 per piece.
  • Mailing: Depending on format and quantity, mailing via USPS will cost you $0.19-0.50 per piece.

If you need a helping hand in forecasting your budget — or how far your budget can take you if you’ve already nailed it down — USPS has some great tools for that. The “Explore My Budget” tool estimates that you could create, print, and mail 8,000 postcards for ~$4,000 (including a purchased mailing list). 

Who should you mail?

There are three ways you can target your audience for a direct mail campaign; the type that’s best for you will depend on your goal and budget:

  • You can buy a list: If you want a highly targeted audience and have the money for it, buying a mailing list will ensure your ad is as relevant as possible to the people who see it. You can narrow down your audience based on many factors, including homeownership and income. As mentioned earlier, it should cost you $40-300 per 1,000 addresses depending on what company you buy it from and how narrow your target audience is.
  • You can use USPS to reach specific neighborhoods: USPS has a free service called Every Door Direct Mail, which you can use to send direct mail on local routes of your choosing. You can only target entire mail routes, but USPS allows you to filter routes based on demographics such as average age range, household size, and income. 
  • You can use addresses you already have: Targeting your existing customers can be a great way to test the waters when it comes to direct mail: you already know they’re a relevant audience and you don’t need to pay for their addresses. 

What will your offer or message be? 

Direct mail marketing is a channel full of potential. But, without the right message and visual appeal, it remains just that — potential. Here’s how to take care of the "message" part of the equation:

  • Be relevant: Good timing is essential when marketing to customers: you want to capitalize on the times that customers need you the most. If you’re an arborist, you could run a campaign a few weeks before spring reminding people when and how to water the trees — and that you’re happy to help, of course. If you were to run one in the summer, your message could be about tree care tips during a drought. Whatever you do, make sure your message is helpful and timely to customers. 
  • Be enticing: Throwing in an offer in a direct mail piece is a popular strategy, and for good reason — people love good deals. In fact, 83% of people say that coupons greatly affect their shopping habits. Do you have an offer or promotion that’s worked for you in the past? Direct mail is the perfect place for it.

Creating a piece people will remember

You’ve got your direct mail strategy all laid out — now it’s time to execute it. How do you create something that will catch the customer’s eye? Here are a few tips.

Three types of formats you can use

First, let’s go over the different types of formats you can use for direct mail. Technically, you can send pretty much anything the post office allows, but you're better off using one of the three formats that have proven to work and be cost-effective: postcards, letters, and self-mailers. 

  • Postcards: A direct mail postcard looks just like the one you sent grandma when you visited Disneyland — except that instead of talking about Splash Mountain (RIP), you give a coupon for a free on-site estimate, and instead of grandma, it’s a prospect who needs your services. 
  • Letters: If you want more space or to create a more intimate experience, placing your mail in a traditional envelope might be the way to go. A good way to use this format would be to include a letter introducing your business and giving customers some seasonal advice, and a coupon.
  • Self-mailers: A self-mailer is the best of both worlds: it’s a mailer that includes multiple panels (three or four) that can be folded down to postcard size and be sent directly without an envelope.

A neat design doesn’t have to be complicated

You’ve got all the logistical stuff figured out. You know what offer you want to give out. You’ve drafted your copy. To complete your masterpiece, you now need to design something that will catch the customer’s attention (or you can outsource the work, of course). Here are three key concepts to keep in mind as you create or review the mailer:

  • Less is more: Clutter isn’t so pleasing to the eye in real life, and the same is true when it comes to marketing collateral. Don’t oversaturate the design with too many words or images. Make sure you include negative space so that what you do have stands out. 
  • Have a clear call to action: What exactly do you want the recipient to do? Tell them clearly in a call to action, which should correlate directly with your offer (e.g., “Call us today for your free estimate!”).
  • Use authentic imagery: One of our top recommended strategies for content marketing and social media marketing is to take photos of your work to help customers visualize what they’re missing out on.Why not use those photos in your direct mail assets? Actual photos of your business and services will be more powerful than stock images.

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