Choosing The Right (Measurable) Outcomes for Direct-Mail Campaigns

Choosing The Right (Measurable) Outcomes for Direct-Mail Campaigns

There’s some new research from the B2B marketing-research firm Ascend2 about the value of direct mail.

The firm surveyed 441 marketing and sales decision-makers and found that 84% of respondents believe direct mail helps them improve their company’s image, while even more said that direct mail drives leads for their business and generates brand awareness.

In addition, marketers said direct mail helps them:

  • Drive traffic to a website — 53%
  • Convey detailed information about products/services — 39%
  • Drive more foot traffic to physical locations — 36%
  • Complement online marketing efforts — 32%
  • Improve overall marketing ROI — 32%

That’s impressive support for direct mail’s ability to perform many of marketing’s core tasks: brand-building, driving leads, driving web traffic, and increasing foot traffic.

These outcomes speak to the why of direct mail. So let me ask you: What outcomes are you expecting from your mailing – and are they as direct as these?

The end in mind

Outcomes are the logical result of purposeful direct mail. As the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People folks say, it’s important to begin with an end in mind – and the more specific, discrete, and measurable the better.

Let’s take an appeal mailing as an example. Obviously, donations are the desired outcome, but how much and how many?

You need a specific number, but getting one requires backing out an amount from your organization’s financial goals and the historical patterns of donation, repeat donations, and lifetime donor value.

No matter how great your mailing is, it’s probably not going to bust out of those historical parameters. Accepting that, and knowing the desired financial outcome, you can set well-defined goals for your mailing, and structure your mailing to maximize your chances of reaching them.

As an example, if your campaign goals are built around an average number of people donating $50 each, suggest a $75 donation in your mailing. If you do that, people will be unlikely to donate less than $50, and many will donate $75.

To up the number of people donating, make it frictionless. Make sure people have multiple means of donating that can be tied back to the mailing – a QR code and a landing page and a toll-free number and a dedicated envelope.

If you take this approach, you’ll have four discrete measurement points providing you a very good idea of the effectiveness of your mailing – and a mailing set up to get more people to donate more money.

Now let’s talk outcomes

With that out of the way, let’s drill down into some of Ascend2’s findings. The research found that the top three things that marketers are expecting direct mail to do are:

  • Improve their company image
  • Drive leads
  • Improve brand awareness

The first thing you may notice about these desired outcomes is how soft they are, especially compared to something like a “donate now!” CTA in a fundraising appeal. However, there are good ways to measure these outcomes despite their softness.

Brand awareness and company image

Let’s combine brand awareness and company image, because they’re two dimensions of the same idea – people liking your company or brand.

The most obvious way of measuring brand “lift” from a mailing is to do two brand-favorability studies, one before the mailing and one after.

Realistically, few organizations have the resources to do this kind of back-to-back research, and the ones that have the resources aren’t going to do it for fear of burning out their respondent pool.

Instead of back-to-back studies, more expedient ways of measuring brand lift include:

  • Post-mailing survey: Ask respondents who likely received your mailing whether they recalled it, and whether it impacted their opinion of the organization
  • Web traffic: Not just quantity but quality, as measured by pages visited, more time on site, more actions taken, and more conversions
  • Social: More time spent on high-quality interactions like video views
  • Reviews: More reviews and better ratings
  • Sales: The ultimate measurement

Many of these measurements won’t register instantaneous change. It may take a year or longer for the impact of a mailing to be felt in increased sales, and things like star ratings and the sales pipeline take a while to populate.

For that reason, it’s imperative that you keep higher-ups from rushing to judgment on the value of a mailing.

Any calculation of the brand-lift outcome ultimately comes back to sales (or donations, if you’re a non-profit). How much is a customer worth short-term (per sale or donation) or long-term (over their lifespan)?

Assuming you know that, you can move on to quantify and correlate the following multiple post-mailing measurables with sales:

  • Reviews
  • Social media
  • Web traffic

What’s the ratio of five-star reviews to sales? If every five-star review is “worth” 10 sales, and sales are worth x dollars, and sales changed by y amount post-mailing, you have a number.

It’s rough, and someone is sure to question its validity, but does anyone have a better measurement?

Social media

You can take a similar approach with social-media metrics. How much is a “like” worth? It’s some small percentage of an average sale that varies by industry, product line, distribution method, social activity, and much more.

Often the best you can do is make an educated “guesstimate” of that number, but if your methodology is logical and you apply it consistently before and after a mailing, the numbers you derive are going to be internally consistent and ultimately useful.

Web traffic

Web traffic is another metric that’s easy to measure but hard to quantify in the context of brand lift generated by direct mail.

It stands to reason that the more someone bops around your website the more likely they are to be a customer, so if your website isn’t set up to move people through a funnel, page views, repeat visits and time spent on site become your de facto funnel stages.

For all these measurements, movement is the key. If five-star reviews and time spent on site go up by roughly the same amount after a mailing, what does that tell us?

At worst, it suggests there’s a correlation between the mailing and some key brand-lift measurements.

We all know that correlation doesn’t equal causation – that is, just because two sets of numbers track it doesn’t mean one caused the other. That’s a worthwhile caveat in medical research but less valuable in marketing.

If you track two sets of marketing numbers over time and they move the same ways over the period, there’s more than enough to declare a positive outcome.

Or, as Franklin Pangborn said in the comedy classic Easy Living, “Wherever there’s smoke  … there’s somebody smoking.”


Leads should be one of the prime outcomes of any mailing, but you’d be surprised at the number of mailings that aren’t adequately set up to measure leads.

A mailing should be set up in conjunction with the sales team. They need to know the mailing’s coming, first and foremost, but they should also have the ability to leave off certain prospects as well as add others to the list.

Then once the mailing’s out and responses (whatever they look like) are coming in, the sales team needs to have access to them to make follow-up contact, answer questions, and move prospects into and through the sales funnel.

From a marketing standpoint, your sales team should also be validating some of the aspects of the mail piece – the offer, the call to action, what it said about the brand, and so forth.

Just about any mailing with a response component is going to get you leads and customers of a sort, but these days that’s not enough. You have to have the infrastructure set up to efficiently manage these leads/customers, characterize, and maximize their potential.

This should mean building data-capture points in your mailing that will feed into your customer relationship-management system.

Properly structured, a mailing will trigger events in your CRM and will also update important metrics like:

  • Leads within the sales funnel
  • Repeat purchases
  • The number of contacts necessary to move a prospect in the funnel
  • Conversion percentages

All of this speaks to the necessity of setting up a mailing with calls to action, QR codes, form-fills, and/or landing pages to make it easy for you to extract and qualify leads and related data from your mailing.

It’s nice to see direct mail getting some love, because the survey respondents were spot-on:  Direct mail can be an excellent brand-builder and lead-generator … if you set it up properly.

For that reason, it’s good to have a friend in the business – someone like JHL Digital Direct. We have more than four decades’ experience in direct mail. We can help you prep your mailing for success.

Contact us and let’s talk.


By Jim Felhofer – 2/13/24

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.