Direct Messaging: Tricks of the Snail-Mail Marketing Trade

Direct mail success requires savvy strategies, from crafting strong offers to knowing when/where to send them and analyzing redemption rates.

  • From identifying where to send your postal pieces to evaluating their success, experts offer tips for devising a direct-mail marketing strategy.
  • A successful piece combines style with substance—eye-catching graphics alongside tempting offers and pertinent pizzeria info, all packaged to reflect the brand and its values.

Related: Billy Manzo’s 6 rules for social media success

By Tracy Morin

With email inboxes chock-full of promotional materials and physical mailboxes emptier than they once were, now is a great time to use old-school direct mail for attracting new customers—especially in conjunction with other marketing approaches, including digital efforts. However, direct mail, like any marketing tactic, requires savvy strategies, from identifying where to send your postal pieces to analyzing redemption rates. Read on for experts’ advice on crafting standout snail-mail marketing from start to finish.

Hitting the Targets

Audience targeting is crucial for a successful direct mail campaign, according to Megan Flynn, CEO of Megan Flynn Marketing in Washington, D.C. “You can have the world’s best direct mailer, but if you don’t send it to people who are likely to patronize your business, it won’t matter,” she says. “Take the time to identify who your recipients should be. If you have a new business or live in a transient area, it could be something simple—like targeting residents within a short walking distance from your location. But if you’re an upscale restaurant, it could be targeting households with a certain income or luxury apartment complexes.”

At Smokin’ Oak Wood-Fired Pizza, based in St. Petersburg, Florida, with five locations, a software program helps determine where current customers live and identify pockets of opportunity. “Maybe in certain ZIP codes, we don’t have guests in that area coming to the restaurant,” says Matt Mongoven, CEO and co-founder of Smokin’ Oak. “We don’t just mail to those closest to the store since they may be coming in already. Instead, we identify potential guests and provide them with compelling offers so they begin to try us—then we hope they come back in.”

Additionally, timing can be as important as audience when sending direct mail. Smokin’ Oak tends to mail when the restaurant is entering a slower period, such as between the holidays and springtime.

But at Pizza Ranch, headquartered in Orange City, Iowa, the strategy is to be in-market regularly—dropping into homes over the course of three to four weeks, which allows for the mail pieces to slowly saturate the market so the restaurants can give first-time guests a top-notch experience. “Our mail pieces drop six times per year, with four to six weeks between each drop,” says Jon Moss, Pizza Ranch senior vice president and chief brand officer. “We try to drop between the middle to the end of the month, in hopes of covering at least one, if not two, pay periods in the households.” To determine where the mail pieces land, Pizza Ranch targets areas that match the demographics of its current guests.

Photo courtesy Pizza Ranch

Standing Out

A successful direct mail piece combines style with substance—that is, eye-catching graphics alongside tempting offers and pertinent pizzeria info, all packaged in a way that reflects the brand and its values. “Capturing the essence of who we are as a brand, our direct mail features images of craveable food, friendly staff and guests enjoying their dining experience,” Moss says. “When we create a good direct mail piece, guests want to head straight to Pizza Ranch.”

Moss wants the recipient of each direct mail piece to immediately recognize the brand. This is accomplished by a consistent and intentional use of color, logos, fonts, graphic style and treatments—including great photography of Pizza Ranch’s food, staff and restaurants. “Giving appropriate visual weight to any element on the direct mail is essential, too—which requires balancing our messaging with the weight that each element deserves,” Moss adds. “That can be challenging when there are many features or benefits you want to hit, but the fewer the messages presented, the easier it is to increase impact.”

Related: Tap into your hidden superpowers to compete with the big pizza chains

Flynn agrees that any pizzeria’s direct mail must feature strong photos, which should “create a feast for the eyes,” she says. “If a restaurant does not have truly great photos of its menu items, we strongly recommend investing in a photo shoot.” But, Flynn adds, though having eye-catching photography and a strong design will help you stand out, it may not be enough to ensure your mailer doesn’t land in the trash. So also try tactics like using a larger size or an unusual premium fold to help ensure your mailer gets noticed and read by recipients.

For example, Pizza Ranch uses a jumbo-size mail piece (5.5” by 10.5”) that stands out when guests pull their mail out of the box. “Its oversize nature does not allow the piece to get lost in the other mail as a guest flips through,” Moss explains. “It draws attention quickly to our product and creates the urgency to act.”

Important Info

Photo courtesy Megan Flynn Marketing

In addition to great imagery and design, direct mail should offer up any pertinent info and entice customers to visit. Including a coupon or offer makes the piece more compelling and allows you to track return on investment, according to Flynn. “All of the information that a guest would need to visit our location or to place an order is included—address, phone number and web address are most important,” Moss adds. “The web address directs guests to their closest location to obtain additional information, including local specials, restaurant hours, and buffet hours and pricing.” 

You can even use QR codes on direct mail, pushing guests to a specific landing page for more info.

At Smokin’ Oak, great graphics and food images attract attention, but tempting offers get new customers in the door. “Our postcard is two-sided: the first side to grab attention as you’re sorting mail, and the other side with coupons and brand imagery, with a little map to show where to find us,” Mongoven says. “We give an expiration window of six to eight weeks, and we believe a 10% to 12% redemption rate is very good for direct mail.”

In terms of optimal offers, Mongoven draws upon his background in credit card financial services. Data showed that if a customer uses a new credit card three or more times, it most likely becomes their preferred card. “We have a similar strategy, so our direct mail postcard provides three offers: a free pizza with the purchase of a regularly priced drink, a buy-one-get-one offer, and a buy-two-get-one offer,” Mongoven explains. “They can use only one at a time, so if they come in and we can provide a great in-store experience—with great food, service and environment—they’ll continue to come back without the coupons.” In other words, direct mail is designed to drive in-store traffic, offering the personal service not available online or through third-party delivery.

From the brand’s experience with mailings at different locations, Mongoven found that these are the three strongest offers to drive business. But the team also looks at post-mailing data, such as where any new customers live and overall response rate, as well as response rate by carrier route and by coupon. “That way, we know what offers worked and which we should tweak,” Mongoven says. “We’ve even done creative testing to determine what pictures of pizza worked best!”

If you’re not sure where to start, consider working with a company that specializes in this kind of marketing. “Find a good partner to help execute your direct mail campaign,” Moss advises. “Direct mail companies will help to perform the targeting work, determining where your pieces will drop and what your schedule will be.”  

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor and the editor of