How to sell products with direct mail inserts

direct mail insert sampleThere’s a certain pecking order in the world of direct mail projects.

At the top are bulky magalogs and thick direct mail envelope packages with all the bells and whistles.

At the bottom are the lowly workhorses, such as postcards and inserts.

The direct mail insert shown here in the photo comes from a box of plants I ordered from Spring Hill Nursery.

Technically, it’s called a fulfillment insert, meaning it’s an advertisement inserted into the package you receive when you order something by mail.

It’s not the sort of thing anyone wins awards for. In fact, some copywriters and designers look down their nose at humble inserts like this. For them, it’s sort of like the hillbilly member of the family you never talk about and hope won’t show up at weddings or funerals to embarrass you.

That attitude is unfortunate, because direct mail inserts can generate tons of extra income for both advertisers and the companies that offer to include the inserts in their mail or packaging.

Direct mail inserts (specifically fulfillment inserts) give you three big advantages:

1) People are more likely to buy something just after they’ve bought something else.

2) The marketing message can be delivered less expensively than with a solo mailing.

3) You can target your message to proven buyers of highly specific types of products.

The elements of an effective direct mail insert

Let’s take a quick look at what goes into creating a direct mail insert. Click here to open a pdf of the full insert.

This particular insert aims to generate inquiries for a compost tumbler, which is a simple device gardeners use to create fertilizer, or “brown gold,” from grass clippings, leaves, kitchen garbage, and other waste.

If you’re not into gardening, you’ll just have to trust me that free fertilizer is a powerful selling point.

As you can see, the insert resembles a small self-mailer. It’s similar to take-ones you see in grocery stores. It’s printed on a small sheet, folded, and includes a perforated reply card.

The insert focuses on one product and one offer. In this case, the offer is free information about the product and how to buy it. Lead generation or inquiry offers like this tend to work better for inserts since less selling is involved than if you had to make people part with their money immediately.

The more something costs, the more copy you need to make the sale. So lead and inquiry generation work better with smaller formats such as inserts.

As for copy and design, the elements should be familiar.

A strong headline, lots of copy, photos showing the product in action, features and benefits, testimonials (in this case just one), and a guarantee. The primary call to action is to mail the reply card, though options include phone and website.

The insert also includes a “one-two-three” panel which shows how easy the product is to use and proves the promise of creating compost in just 14 days. Most backyard gardeners want things to be easy, so this adds a nice touch.

There’s nothing mysterious or difficult about direct mail inserts. As always, you just have to remember how prospects receive and interact with the piece. A fulfillment insert arrives with a product you ordered, often along with other inserts, packing slip, invoice, and additional items.

Your copy and design must be clear and straightforward to momentarily pull someone’s attention from the nifty product they’ve just received.

Let me know about your experience with direct mail inserts or your thoughts about how to make them work.

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9 Responses to “How to sell products with direct mail inserts”

  1. David Cary on May 28th, 2010 12:44 pm

    Hi Dean,

    I’m new to your blog and thanks for this post.

    Interested to know if you have an opinion about inserts in local community newspapers. Is there any data to support the response rate compared to 3rd class mail? I would like to promote a local service business by sending people to the web for free additional information.

    Thank you,

    David Cary

  2. Dean Rieck on May 28th, 2010 1:14 pm

    Good question and I wish I had a good answer. I’ve done very little with newspaper inserts and can’t say how they would compare to direct mail for ROI. Contact Ted Grigg over at Good chance he will have some information on this.

  3. Ted Grigg on June 1st, 2010 8:32 pm

    Nice analysis on the creative Dean. Spot on.

    Classic direct response copy lives in all media, including online marketing. Selling takes more persuasion. It always helps to remember that long copy is written for those who are interested and respond. Not the disinterested or mildly interested. They will not buy whether the copy is short or long.

    To David’s point, winning direct mail acquisition gets between .5% to 2%. Lead generation can still attain 2.5% to 3%.

    Freestanding inserts get about one tenth the response of direct mail or .1%.


  4. Dean Rieck on June 1st, 2010 8:43 pm

    Thanks for the input Ted. You’re Johnny on the spot with marketing know-how.

  5. Andy Anderson on June 3rd, 2010 12:46 am

    Ted, your readers can save a lot of money by letting print their newspaper inserts. They even have a partnership with Gannett newspapers across the US for distribution of the flyers.

  6. How To Effectively Use Direct Mail Inserts « The Mail Haus on June 14th, 2010 10:00 am

    [...] Rieck of Direct Creative Blog, in a recent article, states that there are three advantages to direct mail [...]

  7. Vernon Purcell on August 1st, 2010 5:59 pm

    Glade to see people getting their percentages for direct mail correct

  8. Vernon Purcell on August 1st, 2010 6:03 pm

    We have a Uk company that uses Geo Mapping and video monotoring for our leaqflet distribution,we are achiving rates of 0.3 -0.5
    with a close rate from 50-80%

  9. London UK on November 15th, 2010 9:14 am

    Please be very clear and remember that any kind of response rate will be very much dependant on the type of service or product that you are trying to promote.

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