When Mail Goes Wrong: Navigating Direct Marketing Challenges

Like any direct marketing channel, navigating the data, cost and frequency for optimal performance can feel like a challenging puzzle. With the right approach you can address these direct marketing challenges head-on, before they become costly mistakes.

Welcome to our two-part series, where we offer an exclusive sneak peek into the must-see charts from our upcoming 2024 Direct Mail Industry Benchmark Report (download the 2023 report here). This report is a trusted source of insights into industry trends and consumer behavior. Drawing from extensive marketer and consumer surveys, it analyzes how B2B and B2C brands use direct mail marketing strategies to engage consumers.

In today’s edition, we shift our focus to instances when direct mail goes wrong and explore common challenges that direct marketers face. Be sure to check out part one: “When Mail Goes Right: Direct Marketing Design for Strong Performance.”

Prefer to listen? Check out our podcast The Direct Effect: When Mail Goes Wrong: Navigating Direct Marketing Challenges

Access to High-Quality Data: A Challenge or an Advantage?

According to the report, audience targeting and data access limitations are leading direct marketing challenges for 40% of respondents. Interestingly, quality audience targeting data is also considered one of the mail channel’s top advantages. So, what sets apart those who are struggling from those who are succeeding? The answer: many brands are still relying on basic demographic selections or CRM/first-party data.

Large, unsegmented campaigns often underperform. Prioritizing data quality over quantity is crucial. Tactics like the “pay and spray” method, for example, can backfire and lead to recipient dissatisfaction. Instead, a focused, data-driven approach will result in better engagement and more favorable outcomes.

Enter data modeling. Marketers can employ models to assess hundreds to thousands of customer-related characteristics and decide which ones are the most important for forecasting consumer behavior and your brand’s growth goals. Since success in modeling is influenced by a variety of significant elements, partnering with a trusted direct marketing partner ensures access to high-quality data and data scientists for seamless list building and management.

Program Execution: Balancing Cost and Outcome

Cost is a significant concern for direct marketers, leading approximately 40% to resort to direct mail automation platforms. While these platforms promise cost savings and efficiency, they lead to notable direct marketing challenges. Automation often results in impersonal and generic mailings that fail to engage recipients. Printing and copywriting errors are also more challenging to prevent.

The most sustainable mail programs come from the professional expertise of a full-service direct response agency. The initial investment may be higher, but the long-term returns will likely be superior to those achieved through automated systems alone. These partners provide meticulous quality control to maximize impact while minimizing errors.

There are many ways to increase your performance in the mail channel without breaking the bank, like starting with a lower-cost postcard, a shared mail campaign, targeting well, and integrating digital tools effectively. Working smartly within your budget ensures optimal targeting and performance results while minimizing unnecessary costs.

If partnering with a full-service agency is not feasible, remember that effective automation programs rely on accurate and well-integrated data, quality mail piece production, and quick turnaround to reach customers during critical decision-making periods.

Finding The Right Frequency: How Much is Too Much?

It is no surprise that overwhelming consumers with too many mail pieces can lead to irritation and disengagement. Yet, 49% of consumers still believe they receive too much mail. Now more than ever, direct marketers should work towards ensuring direct mail pieces are welcomed rather than seen as intrusive.

By diversifying your data sources, you can ensure a broader reach and reduce the chances of sending too many mail pieces to the same person. Also, high-quality mail files should be prioritized to focus on consumers who are actively ready to act. Developing a robust strategy and testing cadence will help you determine the best timing and frequency for your brand’s mailings.

Start with a manageable frequency, such as two to three pieces per year, and use this as a baseline. From there, analyze past performance metrics, such as response and conversion rates, to inform adjustments. You could also consider aligning your mailings with significant events or seasons relevant to your brand. The goal is to maintain a strong presence without overwhelming your audience.


These direct marketing challenges underscore the importance of implementing proactive approaches and strategic solutions to guarantee each program is a success. If performance remains stagnant despite efforts to improve, it may be necessary to consider switching to a new direct mail partner.

The 2024 Direct Mail Marketing Benchmark Report highlights how brands are adjusting their tactics and marketing messages to deliver exactly what consumers want. Sign up for our mailing list to be the first to receive this year’s report and stay updated on the dynamic direct mail industry.

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