Do repeat mailings work?

Does it make sense to send a second or third mailing to the same target audience?

Intuitively, repeat mailings make sense.  It’s just logical to expect that if you mail to the same person a second or third time, you will increase your exposure to that prospect and you will improve your chances for a response.

But is this the most effective way to conduct your direct mail program?

Maybe, but not necessarily.

Experience shows that second mailings typically produce a fraction of the response from the original mailing.  And a third mailing produces an even smaller fraction.

For example, if your first mailing generated a 2% response rate, your second mailing might produce a 1% followed by a third mailing response rate of 0.5%.

(Some marketers have been know to describe these results as a cumulative 3.5% (2+1+.5= 3.5) – which I think is extremely misleading.   It doesn’t take into account that you mailed three times.  A more accurate analysis would reflect an average of the three response rates (3.5 divided by 3 = 1.17%). )

Clearly what happens here is that you grab all the hot leads with the first mailing.  The follow-up mailings merely pick up those you missed the first time or those who were not ready at the time.

So yes, a follow-up mailing will produce more responses, but at a diminishing response rate.

A different strategy would be to continually mail to fresh names with each mailing and therefore (again hypothetically) generate a response rate of 2%, 2%, 2% and so on.

Of course, this strategy requires a relatively large target audience.  As an example, if you had a target audience of 50,000 contacts (assuming the same profile from the same source), you could produce five mailings of 10,000 each – and probably maintain a consistent response rate across the board.

When repeat mailings make sense

Repeat mailings can be a good strategy under the right conditions, however.

If you are using the mail to keep your name in front of a small, pre-qualified target audience, you could create a series of letters, postcards or other mailers that go out on a scheduled basis as part of a brand-building campaign.

In this scenario, your mailings would be part of a multi-touch strategy that may also include telephone, email and maybe even a personal visit.

Typically, these repeat mailings would have a common theme but may include different messages, creative or offers.  Mailings would be scheduled about every two weeks.

But a word of caution:  make sure everyone understands that this is more of a brand-building exercise with less emphasis on the response rate.

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."

2 comments to Do repeat mailings work?

  • Ron

    Hi Bob,

    While I agree with most of what you stated above, what you did not mention, was whether or not you changed (or modified) the content of the 2nd and 3rd mailings. If you are mailing the exact same content for drops 2 & 3, it would certainly have a negative effect on the subsequent response rates. However, if your 2nd and 3rd drops incorporated a NEW response trigger (or call to action), this might result in a similar, or even increased response rate, in comparison to the initial mail drop.

    All the best,

  • I’m wondering where you are getting your statistical data that indicates repeat mailings generate a diminishing response rate. This is not always true. There a lot of factors that play into response rates on subsequent mailings. The primary factors are: the number of times the target is hit annually, the gap time between mailings (one week or three months), the value of the product or service being sold (hearing aids or an oil change), the amount of time it takes the buyer to make a decision (more important with expensive products), frequency in which the consumer purchases the product or service, and the list that is being targeted (customer versus prospect). For example, a response rate for an oil change mailer will not diminish at all if mailed every three months…in fact in this situation frequency has proven to increase response rates.

    Our data has shown that response rates rates for most mailings increases with frequency (this is based on call and sale tracking of over 150 million pieces in 10 different verticals). In most cases a diminishing return does not take place until the recipients are mailed more than six times per year. The only time that I have seen response rates taper as you are suggesting is when a customer list is mailed that has not been mailed in a long time. Then the initial hit can be a tidal wave of response.

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