Six Tips To Increase Your Direct Mail Open Rates

Posted on by Beth Negus Viveiros

Your direct mail package could include the most clever appeal ever written or offer the world’s best premium, but if your target never opens it, it is all for naught. For mailers, the challenge crossing the intangible threshold that prompts an addressee to open a piece of direct mail rather than discard it unopened or allow it to languish in some never-to-be revisited pile.

By using a often-forgotten tricks of the trade, mailers can drive higher response rates even before a recipient has opened an envelope.

1. Maximize the perceived value of the direct mail you send. Perceived value can be enhanced by increasing a package’s bulkiness/thickness, size and weight. If it includes an item with true value (e.g., a coin, a magnet, a flag, a pen), ensure the item is visible to the addressee through a special window.

2. Approximate the look and feel of traditional mail as much as possible. A direct mail piece sent in a traditional envelope that resembles a personal communication has the highest open rate. Use stamps with cancellation marks (if mailing standard mail) and employ handwriting-style fonts to heighten resemblance to non-business mail.

3. Leverage brand awareness. If the sender has an existing or ongoing relationship with addressees, don’t disguise the package’s origin, capitalize on it! Leveraging brand awareness, especially with past customers, will increase recognition and open rates.

4. Exploit all messaging options a piece offers. The front side of the envelope contains (in order of recipients’ interests) the addressee’s name and address; the teaser, if one is used; the corner card, which identifies the sender; and the postage. The back side, which a high percentage of addressees will look at, is free from any of the other “competing” distractions needed on the front of the envelope, and it is often left blank. If you have a good message, the back of the envelope is as good a place as any to place it.

5. Make the dealer’s cut. Most consumers handle their mail much like a dealer handles playing cards—sorting them into a “junk” stack and a “must read” pile. To convince the recipient that your mail belongs in the must-read stack, include another window (or use a pistol shaped one). Both allow recipients to see additional copy or graphics that can heighten their interest or curiosity level.

6. Ensure relevance to the maximum extent possible. Ultimately, nothing is more effective than relevance in boosting open rates. Draw prospects into the package with a strong teaser that doesn’t fully reveal the offer or message contained within. That said, never try to fool a consumer. Your teaser must be relevant to the final offer.


The package below employs five of the six tips guaranteed to increase the open rate of your direct mail. A special window reveals the personalized student ID card within, bumping up perceived value to real value. The package leverages brand awareness, since the college being marketed enjoys a good reputation in the surrounding communities and the ID card bears its name. Plus, by using the start date, the campus location and a high degree of personalization, the piece increases its relevance factor. This package reigns as an unbeatable control.

The envelope’s reverse side (see below) makes full use of the package’s real estate. Note that while the teaser material on the front paints the big picture, it’s the messaging on the back that reveals the final offer.

At one time or another, everyone has received a membership offer where the teaser copy on the face of a standard window carrier proclaims “Membership Card Enclosed.” That’s fine, but test after test confirms that such an offer, combined with a special window providing the recipient a glimpse of the card inside, increases open rates.

The example below illustrates the effectiveness of an envelope that incorporates a more traditional, one-to-one technique. While no attempt is made to mislead the mail recipient, the package does engage the curiosity factor.

Using a handwritten font to address the mail and a live stamp for postage makes the package appear to be something other than regular business mail. Employing a closed-face, invitation-style envelope and a teaser extending an invitation make this package hard to discard. Inside, the invitation to meet one-on-one with an admissions counselor delivers on the promise made on the carrier.

Finally, below is a package design example that we thought would do well, but didn’t perform. A clever design was allowed to trump all the lessons learned over the years. This good-looking package didn’t deliver because it didn’t incorporate the tips delineated above. Design is important, but following these six tips is essential if you want to increase the open rate of your direct mail.

Kirk Swain and Bob Salta are principals and partners at


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