The Complete Guide To Building An Email List With Direct Mail

Yes, it can be done. 


You might be asking yourself: “Why would I even consider using direct mail to build and grow my email list?” You probably run an online business, and use online marketing techniques for traffic, right?

Many of my clients are surprised when I suggest using direct mail to drive traffic to their online sales funnels. The truth is, it’s one of the most effective ways to quickly acquire loads of fresh, highly qualified, and product hungry leads and sales.

I won’t go into much detail in this guide as to why direct mail is one of the best ways to get in front of your ideal target market. I will say is that it’s one of those tried, tested, and true forms of marketing. It has been and continues to be used to build 100 million+ dollar businesses every year.

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Have you noticed that your mailbox isn’t quite as full as it used to be? Mailboxes these days have fewer advertisements, or “junk mail”. This is a huge opportunity for you to capitalize on. Why? Your mail pieces will stand out and be read even more due to less competition for your prospects’ attention!

The fact that most businesses seem to be turning away from direct mail and putting all their eggs in the “online marketing basket”, is further reason for you to go full force with direct mail.

There’s something to be said about running in the opposite direction. Far too many internet entrepreneurs and marketers are out there copying each other, implementing the same terrible marketing tactics, with lacklustre results. I guarantee you, if you try something unique, something that your competitors aren’t doing, it will propel your business forward.

If you aren’t convinced that direct mail is a great and relevant way to drive traffic to your website, have a look at the mighty Google. They are actively using direct mail to get businesses to try their PPC platform, Google Adwords. Google figured out that it was profitable to reach out to prospects offline.


The Direct Mail Format I Like to Use

As an internet entrepreneur and marketer, your goal is to get your prospects to go from reading your mail piece, to visiting your landing page. In my experience the most effective way to accomplish this is by using postcards.

It’s very important to keep the length of your copy relatively short, to the point, with lots of calls to action to get the prospect to visit your landing page. You really shouldn’t try to sell your product or service on the postcard itself. It’s your landing page’s job to do the selling.

What you really want to do is present your product or service in an intriguing way, without giving up too much vital information for someone to make a decision right then and there.

For those who are used to media buying, think of it as a display ad. With banner ads, you’re selling the click right? Well, with postcards you’re essentially doing the same thing. You want your prospect to visit your landing page for more information, or to claim a free gift in exchange for their email address.

The difference is that with a postcard you’ll have much more space to fill it up with copy. You have to be very strategic in how you craft your postcard to entice the prospect to visit your website.

There are many different formats of postcards to choose from. I’ll list some of the more popular sizes being used today. The standard size of course being around 4”x 6”, there are subtle variations of this size, such as 4.25” x 5.5”. You can go larger with a card that’s 6” x 5” or 6” x 9” (there are size variations in between, too). All the way up to the jumbo 6” x 11”, and up to the standard letter size that we’re all used to, 8.5” x 11”. There’s tons of different sizes for you to choose from and test.

If you’re on a tight budget, give the standard 4” x 6” size a try. They are quite inexpensive these days to print.


Designing Your Postcard

Before we get started on the design, I want you to find some of the postcard advertisements you’ve likely received in the mail this past week.

Perhaps you’ve received some oversized postcards from your local pizza spot, or fast food joint. Maybe you received a half dozen postcards from various real estate agents in your area. Have you noticed a trend? Chances are they all look relatively the same.

In general you’ll notice that they all have:

  • Nice looking graphics
  • Glossy card stock
  • A focus on the brand, or company logo.
  • Poor copy
  • Selling you a product or service

They all tend to blend into a pile of “junk mail”. As I touched on earlier, businesses tend to copy each other, they erroneously think that nice looking graphics will help with sales. They also tend to think that the more their brand gets exposure, the more people will visit their business or purchase something from them.

Our focus is on direct response marketing. We need to elicit an immediate response from your prospects, and persuade them to take action.

In order to be successful with direct mail, your mail piece has to be noticed and read. And if you send sales letters, your envelope needs to get opened and contents read.

Let’s dive in, and explore what your postcard *should* look like:

It should:

  • Have a clear headline to catch your prospects’ attention
  • Not be cluttered with graphics. That being said, you can use graphics sparingly, as long as it helps to deliver your message.
  • Have clear and concise copy with a focus on benefits (Remember, don’t try and sell your product or service on the postcard)
  • Have multiple clear calls to action to your free offer
  • Have testimonials, if possible.
  • Have a unique URL or phone number for tracking purposes

Here are a few examples:

Chipotle keeps it simple with a message that everyone can get behind.

This simple real estate postcard offers some “insider secrets.” No matter the time or the age, everyone wants to know a secret.

The above is by no means an exhaustive list, however it will give you a good foundation for the elements needed for a successful direct mail postcard.

Some of my most successful postcard campaigns didn’t have any graphics at all, and were printed on a canary yellow card stock. You can (and SHOULD) test other card stock colors. Your goal is for your card to get noticed and read, so a nice bright card, without distracting graphics, a great headline, and a few clear calls to action will go a long way.


Finding a list

With direct mail, there are many ways to source out a list of your ideal prospects to mail to. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be looking at working with a list broker. In my opinion, it’s the easiest and most effective way to get the best lists for your mailings.

List brokers won’t cost you anything additional, they are paid by the list owners. They also typically work on a commission basis, so please beware of sketchy brokers out there trying to make a quick buck off of you by renting you terrible lists. I’m not trying to scare you, it can happen, so it’s important that you do your due dilligence before renting a particular list.

Use common sense here, if you think you’re outright being lied to, or are being pushed lists that don’t really make sense for your target audience, it’s time to find a new list broker.

It’s a good idea to create a relationship with your list broker as they are an integral piece of your marketing campaigns. There are many great brokers out there, who will bust their hump trying to get you the absolute best lists out there.

I recommend checking out this directory of list brokers.


The types of lists available

There are two types of lists available, compiled and respondent lists:

Compiled lists are compiled from available public information. Examples of these kinds of lists are ‘new movers’ lists, new businesses, yellow pages advertisers, or demographics based mailing lists.

Compiled lists typically have a lower response rate, but are typically much cheaper to rent/buy. For compiled lists I recommend checking out Info USA.

The second type of list, respondent lists, are my favorite, and are the most effective in terms of response rates and targeting. Please note that these lists, in general, are rented for a one time use. Don’t try your luck by mailing a list more than once, if you haven’t paid for it. List owners add decoy names to make sure their lists aren’t being mailed repeatedly.

Respondent lists are the best as the people on these lists have actually responded to an offer. Someone could have bought a product, inquired about a product or service, or have subscribed to a free trial, for instance.

The key differentiation is that within respondent lists there are those who have actually purchased something, versus those who haven’t. I really like buyers lists, and I recommend you start off with those. You want to target people who have been proven to buy something.

Respondent lists are typically more expensive, the average cost being around $200/M (per 1000 names).

It’s also important for you to keep in mind HOW the respondent list was generated, was it by direct mail, radio, TV, or internet? Most lists will show the source, and I recommend you stick with lists generated by direct mail, as these people have been proven to respond to a direct mail piece in the past.


Choosing your list

So you’ve spoken with your list broker, and he or she has sent you back a list of data cards to look at. It’s time for you to pick a list (or a few) to test.

You should first start by reading the list description, and keep in mind that these have been written with sales in mind. They usually give you a good idea of what the particular list is about, though.

Also take note of the size of the list, it’s important to choose a list that isn’t too small for you to “roll out” on. The size of the ‘universe’ of names should be one of the first things you look at.

Other key points to look at:

  • List source: As I mention earlier, this is how the list was generated, stick with direct mail.
  • Unit price: If dealing with a buyer list (as you should), this is the price the customer paid for the product.
  • Sample required: With direct mail it’s typical that you have a 5,000 name minimum.
  • Selections, a.k.a ‘Selects’: Additional demographic/psychographic information you can tack on to narrow down your name selection. You can typically choose state, zip, age, income, sex, and so forth.
  • Last update: When was the list last updated? Important information as you want the most recent additions to the list. Also known as ‘hotlines’.

Once you have analyzed the different lists, it’s time to contact your list broker and ask for the list usage. In the direct mail world it’s transparent information to see what the list usage has been. You can even sometimes see if a particular business has done repeated mailings, a clear indicator that the list was profitable for them.


Printing and mailing

This part of the campaign isn’t as overwhelming as it may seem. When I’m testing a direct mail campaign, I really like to work with a direct fulfillment mail house. A mail house is a company that will take care of your printing and mailing needs. That means, no worrying about dealing with a printer, making sure your postcards get to the post office, are pre-sorted properly, and so on. A proper direct mail house will do it all for you.

It’s that kind of simplicity and service that I look for.

A mail house will clean up and process your list through the NCOA (National Change of Address) directory, CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System) and PAVE (Presort Accuracy Validation and Evaluation).

The process of dealing with a mail house is straightforward. Once your postcard design is ready to your liking, send the file to your mail house representative. If you’re unsure of the dimensions, ask for a template to send to your designer.

Then discuss with the mail house rep whether or not you want to mail first class, or standard (bulk) mail. For postcards, I recommend first class. You’ll be able to see how many pieces are undelivered.


Tracking and testing

As an internet marketer, you should know the importance of A/B split testing and tracking everything you do. It’s imperative that you properly test many different aspects of your direct mail campaign.

When I’m sending prospects online to my landing page, I always use a unique URL or phone number to track my campaigns and split test.

Here’s a basic example of how I would structure this:

I suggest testing two or more lists, but for this example we will talk about using one list.

Let’s say I decided to rent a list of 5,000 names. I’ll start off by testing 2,500 names on that list with one postcard stock color, canary yellow, against a light blue card stock.

On the yellow postcard, I’ll use a unique URL, usually a .com domain name.

On the light blue postcard, I’ll use a different URL.

I then setup a redirect on the domain names that point to my landing page. So that when people visit the prospect will be forwarded to my landing page, with a unique parameter in the URL I can use to track the yellow post card test.

I would then do the same thing for my light blue postcard, the prospects who received the light blue postcard would visit

If you don’t want to overcomplicate the coding aspects of this, you can do this VERY easily. All you need to do is create two different landing pages, with a unique auto-responder form on each so that you can easily test which leads come from where. Assign the landing pages to both of your domain names, and you’re all set.

Other elements to split test are:

  • Headlines
  • Sub-headings
  • Colors
  • Images
  • Sales copy
  • Calls to action

There are a plethora of elements you can split test, be creative, but please only test one element at a time, or else you won’t know what is actually making the difference during your test.


Measuring the effectiveness of your campaign

If you want to ensure that you’re making smart marketing decisions, you should measure response rates and ROI of your direct mail list building campaigns.

Many marketers will only focus on response rates, but ultimately you want to see what kind of ROI you’re getting for your campaigns. That’s what matters in the end. Is your campaign making you any money? Justin Brooke, a brilliant marketer and founder of the IM Scalable marketing agency, has explained this perfectly in his blog post: “Why Your Conversion Rate Is a Liar & a Thief”

Typically in the direct mail marketing world, response rates are calculated for sales. But since we’re trying to get opt-ins for our email list, so we need to look at this from a different angle.

With direct mail, the assumption you should make is that you will get a 1% response rate for sales, at least that’s what you should strive for. Since we’re talking about opt-ins, it could be higher, but this can vary dramatically depending on your offer, market, and other factors.

If you haven’t done so already, figure out how much you can spend per lead, and use this metric as a foundation point for your campaign.



Building an email list with direct mail may be overwhelming at first, but if you take everything step-by-step, and take your time, you’ll soon realize it’s not difficult at all.

The benefits of having access to such ultra-responsive prospects is incredible. I’ve found that the customers I generate through direct mail are far better than any other advertising media I’ve used. An added plus is that you’ll notice your overall lifetime customer value will shoot through the roof. Direct mail customers are, in my opinion, the cream of the crop.

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