Is your direct mail marketing up to the test? Here’s how to optimize your next campaign.

4 minute read

Direct mail is one of the most testable marketing channels available, but not every marketer can confidently put their direct mail campaigns to the test. To help, we’ve gathered some best practices for testing direct mail, and insights from direct mail specialist Marc Cooper, President & Partner of Junction59. Marc is an agency expert who shared his wisdom in our recent webinar, DM optimization: Testing to see results. In this blog post, we explore what and how to test and share Marc’s top tips that you can use right now to improve your next direct mail campaign.

Why we test

Testing different designs, messaging and targeting strategies helps identify what resonates best with audiences. Once understood, marketers can then make data-driven decisions to improve the performance and effectiveness of their campaigns. That means higher response rates, increased engagement, and, ultimately, a better return on investment for marketing dollars.

For a better understanding of why brands test, examine how SiriusXM and Canada Post turned up the volume on a customer acquisition campaign that exceeded the company’s conversion goal by 27%:

Ready to test for direct mail success? Contact a Canada Post expert for help.

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Getting your data ready

Set yourself up for success by applying these best practices in advance of testing:

Perfect split

Have your data provider split your data 80/20 to enable champion vs. challenger tests. 80% is your proven results group (based on prior successes) and 20% is your test group. Keeping test runs small allows you to make the most of your budget as you explore what works best.

Sample size

Establish a sample size large enough for statistical significance. We recommend a minimum of 250 responses to achieve campaign insights.

Control group

Set up a control group which will not receive any communications or offers. By measuring the difference between your control and test cells, you will be able to gauge the success of your campaign.

Track and attribute

Coupon and promo codes

Use exclusive codes for each direct mail campaign for full attribution.

Marketing URL (MURL)

Ensure traffic is directly attributed by driving to a marketing URL and landing page with promotional-specific content.

Personal URL (PURL)

Create a unique landing page for each recipient of your direct mail campaign.

Social media

Include sharing icons or hashtags in direct marketing and encourage customers to share the offers with others in their network.

Email and phone number

Provide dedicated toll-free numbers, email addresses or other points of contact.

Augmented reality (AR)

Encourage recipients to scan certain areas of a printed ad, catalogue or mailer to access additional content like videos, 3D images or digital games.

Quick response (QR) codes

Encourage recipients to scan these quick, affordable codes with a mobile device to drive to video or a landing page.

Establish a testing strategy

Avoid the temptation to try to test everything, everywhere, all at once. Testing multiple variables simultaneously can make it difficult to determine which variable had the greatest impact on the performance of your direct mail campaign.

For best results, test one variable at a time in your direct mail campaigns. It will help you assess the individual impact of each variable on your campaign’s success. This approach makes it easy to measure the effect of each variable.

By making incremental improvements to your campaigns, you can optimize your mail pieces over time. This approach will help you achieve better results in the long run.

What to test

This is the fun part where you pull the strings a bit to see what resonates (and what doesn’t). You can test almost any element, but some possibilities include:


Ensure that your direct mail piece immediately grabs the attention of your target audience and entices them to open and engage with your message.

Marc’s tip

A/B test 2 different headlines in your next campaign – perhaps one with a straightforward approach against one with a light, comedic tone.

Visual elements

Determine the design, layout and imagery that resonates best with your audience and drives the desired response.

Marc’s tip

Compare an image-focused vs. text-focused layout. If your audiences respond better to images, then next test image types, for instance, product shots vs. lifestyle photography.


Testing calls to action is critical to identify the most effective language and placement that motivates your audience to take the desired action.

Marc’s tip

Test the placement of your CTA at the top vs. bottom of the piece.


Identify the most compelling incentives that resonate with your target audience and drive the desired response, including free trials/samples; buy one, get one (BOGO); free shipping; gifts with purchase; and/or limited-time offers.

Marc’s tip

Experiment by pitting 2 seemingly opposite offers (e.g., BOGO vs. free shipping) against each other to start to identify top performers.

Messaging and copy length

Communicate the right message effectively – one that resonates with your target audience and drives the desired response, while keeping it concise and engaging.

Marc’s tip

Compare short, peppy copy with a longer, letter-style format.


Go beyond just using the recipient’s name in the mail piece, including altering imagery and examples that resonate with the recipient.

Marc’s tip

Start simple – personalize your next mail piece with the recipient’s name and see if direct address is what your audience is craving.

Delivery time

Find your target audience when they are most likely to be receptive and take action, maximizing the effectiveness of your campaign.

Marc’s tip

Test mailing early in the week vs. closer to the weekend.

Social proof and testimonials

Use the psychological phenomenon where people are more likely to believe what other people say about you than what you tell them.

Marc’s tip

Include a customer testimonial in the form of a short quote on your next mail piece.


Take advantage of the physical nature of mail. Change how your message feels in the hands of your audience and see if it engenders a different response. From size and shape, to paper types and packaging – the options are almost limitless.

Marc’s tip

Put a postcard up against a letter in an envelope to create 2 completely different experiences.

Find out how SiriusXM made some noise – and attracted new customers – with direct mail.

With Canada Post’s help, they used testing to turn up the volume on a customer acquisition campaign that exceeded the company’s conversion goal by 27%.

Read the case study