There may still be some cases when sending a single version of a mailer to everyone on the mailing list makes sense. But for most marketing campaigns, this blasting approach is an antiquated practice that's no longer effective or necessary.

Document composition software, digital printers, and an abundance of data about the individual recipients that comprise a mailing list make it easy to personalize, target, and segment direct mail promotions.

A Good Case for Personalization

Research shows personalized direct mail is highly beneficial. A study from some years ago claimed personalization alone can reduce customer acquisition costs by up to 50% and lift revenues by five to 15%. You’ve probably seen additional survey results touting the benefits of personalization.

Regardless of whether you believe the numbers, it seems reasonable that if you can add personalized content to a direct mail marketing piece without a large increase in cost, it’s probably a good idea to do so. I certainly notice when my mail seems to be personalized beyond just the address block. I imagine other people react similarly.

Curiously, I don’t see lots of marketers taking advantage of the opportunities personalization offers. Much of the mail we receive at my house seems to have been cranked out from the same process that was generating marketing mail in the 1990s. We get the mail because we live in a targeted ZIP Code or because we bought something from the company at some point. Much of the advertising mail doesn’t seem to have anything to do with our age, income, or past purchases. I don’t know why.

Heightened Customer Expectations

We’ve all gotten used to companies like Amazon and Netflix, who use information they gather about us to suggest relevant products. It’s not even creepy anymore to know these companies are analyzing our viewing, buying, and browsing habits, and using that data to follow us around the internet. And it's effective. I have considered purchases recommended to me by these companies because the items seemed to be a good fit.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a movie because your streaming service listed it as “you might also like…”, then you know what I mean. I pay a lot more attention to these recommendations than the lists of the most popular movies that display every time I log in. Entertainment aimed at me is a lot more compelling than learning that lots of people are watching yet another superhero flick.

We can do something similar with direct mail by using customer-specific data to drive the messages, offers, and images seen by each mail recipient.

The Most Bang for Your Buck

The cost of nearly every component of a direct mail project has increased, including postage, paper, and labor. Anyone willing to spend money on direct mail should do everything they can to improve the performance of each mail piece. That means printing the customer’s name and choosing appropriate images and offers to match data in corporate files and public databases. A little extra time spent adding variable text and images to a mail piece will be worth it if the top line revenues increase by five to 15 percent.

Treating every customer alike is a mistake. They are all different. If mail your company creates does not distinguish between a customer who’s been buying from you for ten years and an individual that signed up last month, how likely is it that both will react positively to identical offers? A little personalization in the way of loyalty recognition can make a difference. It can’t hurt (assuming your data is accurate).

Opportunities to Add Value

Print/mail service providers can add value and billable services to the direct mail campaigns they run for their clients. Talk to them about enhancing the bare bones name and address lists you usually get from them. Find out what other data is available from them to enable your personalization efforts. Ask them to define the ideal prospects for the campaign so you can augment the mailing list with third-party data which can control the messaging, images, or offers extended to the targeted individuals.

Generic one-size-fits-all mail is wasteful. Consumers expect companies to use data to craft messages that fit their individual circumstances. This includes offers, loyalty recognition, tone, and graphics. Instead of doing the next mass mailing, take a step back and investigate your opportunities to add personalization and segmentation. The results of your direct mail campaigns should improve.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants creates content for the document industry and helps document operations build and implement strategies for future growth and competitiveness. Learn more about his services at and Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.