Direct Mail Performance

Direct mail still delivers the highest return on investment!

direct mail response rate report


Direct mail coupled with other marketing platforms tops the list with 112% ROI!

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has released its long awaited 2021 Response Rate Report (membership required) that once again reinforces direct mail ROI as the highest of all channels they studied. Once again proving direct mail is the most effective marketing solution.

As has been reported over and over, all marketing channels (email, social media, paid search, digital display, sms, and direct mail) have seen independent success as standalone efforts, depending on how they are focused.

Leveraging a multi-format offering across multiple production platforms, direct mail ROI topped the list at 112% ―a stronger return than from any other channel!

That may explain why nearly half (46%) of study participants said they planned to increase their use of direct mail in the next twelve months.

The partnering of direct mail with other channels continues to prove to be the catalyst of increase response.

Looking to increase your direct mail marketing campaign response by 23-46%?  Learn more >

ROI of Marketing Campaigns by Medium

Study participants who sent letter-sized envelopes to prospect lists through direct mail reported the highest ROI of all media in 2020 (112%), followed closely by SMS (102%) and email to prospect lists (93%).


  • Direct mail ranks fifth for usage in marketing campaigns, averaging 38 percent across all industries. The industry segments reporting the strongest use of direct mail for marketing campaigns were Automotive (70 percent), Travel and Hospitality (53 percent), and Financial Services (52 percent).

  • For respondents who track direct mail response rates, over half use online tracking capabilities (59 percent), such as Personalized URLs (PURLs). The use of codes or coupons ranked a distant second (29 percent), followed by call center or telephone inquiries and matchback (25 percent).

  • The top reported purpose of direct mail by B2B and split B2B/B2C marketers was to generate leads. However, the primary purpose among B2C marketers was equally divided between making a direct sale, driving traffic to retail locations, and engaging prospects/customers.

  • B2B marketers were most likely to report the use of “house” (customer) mailing lists, whereas B2C and split B2B/B2C marketers were most likely to use a combination of “house” and “prospect” lists.

  • The most popular direct mail format sent to “house” lists was letter-sized envelopes. None of this study’s B2C participants used oversized envelopes. B2B and split B2B/B2C marketers were the most frequent users of dimensional mail.

  • The mail format that produced the best ROI to “house” lists was postcards (92 percent). The mail format that produced the best ROI to “prospects” lists was letter-sized envelopes (112 percent), the highest of all media types. Other notable mail formats to prospect lists include dimensional and oversized envelopes, both of which eclipsed the 90 percent ROI threshold.

  • For direct mail sent to “prospect” lists, 39 percent of respondents reported the primary purpose was to engage potential prospects.

  • The most popular direct mail format sent to “prospect” lists was letter-sized envelopes. Split B2B/B2C marketers were the most frequent users of letter-sized envelopes to “prospect” lists, followed closely by B2C marketers who send postcards.

  • Regarding future use, 46 percent of this study’s participants plan to increase their usage of direct mail in the next 12 months


Direct Mail coupled with other marketing platforms tops the response list with 112% ROI!

Based on the DMA’s “Direct Mail Response Rates 2003-2018”, House List response rose 125% from its 2015 levels and Prospect Lists (acquisition) rose 400% for the same period.

Average direct mail ROI ranges from of 85% to 112% depending on direct mail formats and list usage.

Preferred by more than half of marketers, the letter-sized envelope is the most used direct mail format for both house and prospect mailings. Postcards are a close second, with 49% of marketers using the compact format when mailing to house lists and 51% when mailing to prospects. House lists receive oversized envelopes 21% of the time and dimensional packages 19%. When mailing to prospects, dimensional packages (29% of direct mail mailings) are 3% more likely to be used over oversized envelopes (used with 27% frequency).

Speak with a Spectrum marketing expert to discover which mail formats, lists, and mailing programs will deliver the highest predicted ROI for your specific business and industry.  Contact Us >

Woof Meow Mailer in hands


Open Rates on Informed Delivery Emails in Comparison to Prospect/House Emails are NEARLY DOUBLE

Response Rate Report participants reported average email open rates of 32% when sent to prospect lists and 37% when sent to house lists.

While both of these figures are up compared to results reported in 2020, it is notable that they significantly lag the open rates for Informed Delivery emails that are consistently north of 60%.

The open rate for Informed Delivery email is impressive — 64% to 80%.

Informed Delivery from Spectrum Mail Plus

Spectrum can easily add Informed Delivery to your next direct mail campaign.  Learn more >

Most Used Mediums

The study revealed that email was the most used medium in all campaign types (B2B, B2C, and split B2B/B2C), averaging an 82 percent usage rate among respondents. Social media came in second at 74 percent. Beyond email and social media, the report included overall findings for paid search (51 percent), digital display advertising (42 percent), direct mail (38 percent), and SMS (18 percent).

  • Most respondents came from small companies with annual revenues of $25 million or less (56 percent), 24 percent from medium-sized companies (between $26 and $500 million in annual revenue), and 20 percent from large companies (over $500 million in annual revenue).
  • Sixty-five percent of respondents reported revenue growth at their organizations in the most recently completed fiscal year.

Future Marketing Channel Strategy

Nearly 80% of ANA respondents plan to continue or increase the use of direct mail.

At least half of those surveyed plan to increase their use of email, paid search, social media advertising, and SMS over the next year. Social media advertising usage is the least likely to decrease. In the future, DTC participants are most interested in learning more about QR codes, organic search, and live chat technologies for direct marketing use.

How Direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketers are using direct mail

Among DTC marketers, the intent of a direct mail campaign is equally divided amongst making a direct sale (17%), engaging prospects (17%), engaging customers (17%), and driving traffic to retail locations (17%).

Customer communication (12%), lead generation (8%), and brand awareness (4%) are also among top priorities for DTC mailers.

Most DTC direct mail campaigns include a combination of prospect and house lists. 

75% of DTC marketers prefer postcards when mailing to prospects.

 When mailing to house lists, letter-sized envelopes (61%) are used most frequently.

Industries using direct mail marketing

Automotive is the number one industry using direct mail (70%), followed by travel and hospitality (53%), financial services (51%), and retail (48%). Nearly half of marketers use the offline channel for B2B products and services (42%), financial services/insurance (41%), and health care (40). Consumer products and services (36%), technology and communications (31%), and publishing/media/entertainment (29%) complete the top ten mailers.


Online tracking, such as Personalized URLs (PURLs), is the preferred response rate tracking method by 59% of respondents. Codes or coupons (29%), call center or telephone (25%), match back (25%), and linked sales transactions (20%) follow. Derived or calculated (13%) and list coding (8%) are the least used response metrics.  Learn more about how to track your mail campaigns here >

All this makes print more powerful than ever for marketing.

Haptics, the neuroscience of touch, holds that being able to touch something makes us feel differently about it — we place greater value on it. Thirty-six percent of people report having brand recognition after seeing a piece of print; just 18% report brand recognition after seeing a digital ad.
brand recognition print vs digital
65% of consumers say mail lifts their spirits

There is also digital fatigue.

Digital advertising fatigue can also contribute to increase interest in direct mail marketing. According to a study by Sappi, 65% of consumers agree that mail lifts their spirits. Households receive on average just two pieces of mail per day, versus 157 email messages. Plus, with 7 in 10 white collar workers in the U.S. still working from home, mail is a welcome distraction. It’s part of the reason the USPS is consistently ranked as the most popular entity in government.

Mail is more important than before the pandemic and could offer the physicality missing at retail.

The pandemic has affected shopping behaviors, notably retail shopping which means the mail is a new source of information and inspiration.

Woman reading mail


Direct mail isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. It plays well with digital communication.

There’s a 28% increase in conversion rate for marketing when direct mail and digital ads are used together as a one-two punch. And consumers say they prefer to receive direct mail and digital over any other media, including social media.

Those facts suggest that if your retail marketing strategy has defaulted to digital only, you’re missing an opportunity.  Don’t miss out >

DIRECT mail plus retargeting

  • 96% unique visitors leave your website without purchase/signup

  • 26% will return to your site to take action after being retargeted with display ads

  • Use mail to get them to web and retargeting to get them to return. Explore the technologies available that tie together your physical direct mail and digital.

Design Tips

You have five seconds to get your mail opened or ditched. Let your design team bring you more impactful ideas that are right for your specific audience.

  • Make it highly visual; we process images 60,000x faster than text
  • Use either real handwriting or a handwriting app for a more human, genuine feel
  • Employ the envelope back as a billboard and the flap side as address side
  • Be creative with paper stocks, dimensions, inks and folds. If your potential customers value sustainability, choose eco-friendly paper stock
QR Code Interactive Mailer

The increased level of direct mail response in the last 3 years represents a remarkable reversal of the previous trend and underlines the fact that something truly amazing is happening in this traditional channel.

Don't miss an opportunity to enjoy a superior marketing ROI!


*All relevant data has been pulled from this year’s ANA Response Rate Report 2021. (Source: ANA Response Rate Report 2021)


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