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A warning to direct mail marketers….

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Yesterday I was checking my mail and saw something I’ve heard direct mailers talk about frequently:

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A standard mail crate full of direct mail?

What’s the big deal?

You can’t see how deep this crate goes but there are hundreds of pieces of direct mail here. And, just out of the shot there are four more identical crates in the mailbox area of my apartment complex sitting there.

The problem is that none of these pieces of mail will ever be delivered.


Because *some* postal workers think advertisements don’t need to be delivered. They think they’re actually doing a favor to the recipient by doing this kind of thing and not delivering the mail.

I’ve heard stories about how postal workers are NOTORIOUS for doing this type of thing because they hate “junk mail.” I’ve heard myths of  warehouses in big cities overflowing with direct mail that was and never will be delivered…

Basically what happened here is a company paid for postage…and glossy, full color stock paper…then none of the mail was delivered.

Now when they look at their stats for this weekly circular, on paper the performance is going to look awful. They’ll assume something didn’t “connect” and that they should try a different approach, when in reality the message wasn’t delivered in the first place so it had no chance of being successful.

This has been a major problem with the postal service for YEARS and it’s not going to change any time soon.

The good news?

There is *something* you can do about it as a marketer.

The A-Pile vs. B-Pile

Gary Halbert popularized the idea of “A-Pile” vs. “B-Pile” in the direct mail world. The gist is that people sort their mail over the garbage can and create two piles:

The A-Pile: this is the mail that will always be opened and never ever thrown out. Think bills, letters from relatives, checks, online purchases, etc.

The B-Pile: this is mail that is clearly an advertisement or marketing message – much like the coupons in the crate above. Things that are blatant advertisements or “junk mail.”

You want (have) to avoid the B-Pile.

Not only does B-Pile mail get opened and read by much FEWER people, if your marketing materials look like B-Pile mail the post office doesn’t think they need to deliver it because it’s “junk mail.”

This is the equivalent of an email provider sending your broadcast to spam because of the words or formatting you used.

So…How Do You Avoid the B-Pile?

First of all, before ever sending out a direct mail piece ask yourself objectively: does this look like “junk mail” or a letter/package I would get from an important person? (colleague, family member, etc.) If the former try to make at least a few of these improvements:

A-Pile Hack #1: Use a real postage stamp instead of a pre-paid or bulk rate label. Adding a real stamp to your letters will increase the A-Pile features of the message and ensure it gets delivered. Using a first class pre-paid stamp is a dead giveaway to the post office that you’re sending a high volume of mail…and who sends lots of letters except for marketers?

A-Pile Hack #2: Whenever possible, use standard sized envelopes and normal 8.5 x 11 paper. Think about letters you get from relatives and friends — they don’t use glossy, full color paper, fancy envelopes, or any of that non-sense you find in most “junk mail” pieces. Make it look as organic as possible. Don’t add your logo or any weird features to the outside of the envelope or else you’re headed for the B-Pile.

A-Pile Hack #3: Personalization. If you have the capability, hand write the to and from fields on the front of the envelope.

A-Pile Hack #4: Lumpy mail. Think about anytime you’ve EVER gotten an oddly shaped package in the mail. Did you open it? Sending “lumpy mail” that’s not easily distinguishable as a letter or advertisement is almost a guaranteed way to get your direct mail into the A-Pile and opened every time. The post office wouldn’t dare abandon your lumpy mail, either.

There is a wide variety of things you can do to land in the A-Pile but just keep in mind the more “commercialized” your mail looks the less likely it will be delivered, opened, and pulling in customers.

Don’t make this mistake and waste a ton of money on direct mail only for it to end up in some abandoned warehouse.

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