How to Surprise Your Clients with Unusual Direct-Mail Love

Summary: In this training episode, Dianna Huff shares 7 unusually effective ways to get the attention of clients and prospects.

Have you noticed how your mailbox is empty these days? Mine sure is - as you can see in the photo to the right.

I yearn for the days when I received interesting mail: well-written direct mail letters with calls-to-action, handwritten cards and letters from friends and family, and articles people tore out of magazines and sent to me to read because they were interesting.

I keep looking at my empty mailbox and thinking, "Damn, you know, it's a great time to send direct mail as there's so little competition." Besides, think of that delicious feeling you get when you see a hand addressed envelope or other types of interesting mail in your box.

I'm sorry, but email just doesn't compare.

Instead of giving you tips on how to do direct mail, I thought I'd offer up a challenge: this month, send your clients some love in the form of direct mail. Some easy things you can try include:

Handwritten Thank You Notes

In this day of rudeness and general lack of civility, your handwritten note, thanking your client for his/her business, will make you stand apart. You can order personalized note cards and envelopes from Vistaprint for short money. Bonus - tuck in a gift card from Starbucks or Peets.

Below is a picture of the stack of cards I've received over the years. (Yes, I keep my notes - I enjoy re-reading them as people have sent me very nice compliments.)

I admit, I hadn't heard of rack cards until I received a pretty classy one that contained a great call-to-action that led to a landing page. I was impressed - so much so, I hung it on my fridge for inspiration. I plan on sending out my own in the next month or so. You can order pre-designed rack cards from Vistaprint, too.

Discount Coupons

One year my Web designer, Jim Somers at Sonora DesignWorks, sent out $100 coupons to his best clients. You could use the coupon toward any job he did for you. I thought this a fabulous idea - and better than any Christmas card or email offer.

Birthday Cards

I try to learn people's birthdays and when I do, I send cards. Yep, I make the time to go to the stationary store and pick out a card especially for the person (and sometimes I'll include special cookies!).

This is another one of those things that will set you apart. Even though we're all adults now, we still love being remembered on our birthday. Plus, you can put the card on your desk; those e-cards have a shelf life of about 90 seconds.

Interesting Articles

If you don't read dead-tree media, this tip may not work for you. If you do, tear out articles you think clients, vendors and colleagues might find interesting. Write a short accompanying note along the lines of, "Thought you might find this article of interest. Hope all is well!"

People love knowing someone is thinking of them. I know I do. Plus, they might call or email you back, which leads to conversation . . . which leads to new business.

Direct Mail Letters With Fabulous Offers

Aren't you just a teeny tiny bit overwhelmed with email? I sure am! Since our mailboxes are empty, your direct mail letter, with an offer for a white paper, e-book, demo, info kit, samples, or customized fee schedule, will stand out.

Bulky Mail

Who doesn't love a present? One client I worked with sent me those plastic glasses with fuzzy eyebrows and a mustache. I still have them. Another client sent samples of his product to his list.

If you have a white paper, special report or e-book, you could have full color copies made and then send your best clients a copy with a nice note. I bet they read your enclosure as soon as it arrives - versus ignoring the email you sent with a link.

So here's my challenge to you: send out three pieces of direct mail love over the next 30 days. When you do, leave a comment on this post and tell me what you did. If you like, you can send me some love, too, as I adore getting mail. 😉

Here's my address:

Dianna Huff
DH Communications, Inc.
23 Atkinson Depot Road, Ste. 101
Plaistow, NH 03865

Do you miss receiving mail from people you know and love? Do you still send cards and letters? Tell me your story by leaving your comment below.

(Thank you to my pal, Lois Geller (@loisgeller) for inspiring this article with her Joy of Direct Marketing blog post, "Direct Marketing: Why Not?" and to my good friend Michael Trager for his Facebook comment that also inspired this article.)


Dianna Huff, President of Huff Industrial Marketing, Inc., is also the author of Cash Flow for Freelancers, a guide for freelancers and their variable income. You can hear Dianna's interview at Ed Gandia's High Business Writing Podcast.

  • Slightly off-topic, but still a case in point: Ed Gandia's case study [podcast] with freelance copywriter David LaMartina, who snail mailed just under 500 fairly simple one-page sales letters. The mailout generated 2 big new clients (1 direct client, 1 agency client) plus some smaller one. Not bad for a $300 investment.

    This quote from the podcast was really telling: "...not only did they (the receivers) receive my letter from the person I sent it to, but they also talked with each other how NOVEL they thought it was that I sent a letter".

    Even more hilarious... The above was especially true for agency prospects. Other freelancers bombard them with emails, so a paper letter really stood out to them. Ha! The come-back of paper!

    However, a case of real, tactile direct-mail love was Esther Pearl Watson's 'Unlovable' paper zine (see below image!), which she mailed out to art directors she wanted to work with. Many kept the zine for years! Still do. And it generated new clients! Idea: Maybe a freelance copywriter/illustrator could make a similar zine promo as a joint venture?!

  • future graphics

    Enjoyed this read Diana. As someone who designs for both print and web, receiving interesting, tactile materials can stand out from the crowd these days - especially with inboxes being so full! In fact that last two offers I responded to as a consumer actually came from print pieces I had received in the mail.

    • edgandia

      Further proof that direct mail is NOT dead. 😉

  • Diana, thanks for these. A really timely reminder to quit relying on the same channels that everyone is using and try something else! I plan to take up your challenge.

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Steven. Great to hear this sparked some ideas!

  • Diana, I think these are great ideas, and I'm going to pick up your challenge. I am also going to pass this article on to colleagues and see if any of them pick it up too.

    Happy New Year. May 2013 be your busiest and most prosperous yet!


  • Merrymermaid1

    When I think of getting letters in the mail, I think of my Mom and my college years.  All throughout the years I attended college my mother send me four and five page long hand written letters.  I remember reading them aloud to my room mates and we would laugh hysterically at the stories my mom would tell in great detail.  I miss those letters and realize the very personal way in which those particular letters touched me. Thank you for your post!

    • Perhaps that’s why I’m so averse to the idea. For me those letters only reminded me of things to worry about, problems to solve, and instructions to follow. I don’t miss them at all. I never imagined these letters, to some people, would be things they would read to their roommates…

  • Elaine

    A gentleman I met at a business function sent me a hand written card a few days after we met. The message was very simple: I enjoyed meeting you, I hope we can meet again. I was so surprised and impressed by the fact that he took time to write this card and then send it that that man is now my financial planner. Old school techniques work!

  • Celine Horan

    Diana, thanks for your lovely message and for reminding us that direct mail is still very effective.  But not only that, but that it can be a fun part of our marketing campaigns too.  A couple of months ago, I sent out a gold emboshed thank you card to my students.  By hand, I wrote how much I was looking forward to seeing them again after the summer break and enclosed my invoice. When our class resumed this autumn, they all commented on how much they loved receiving my handwritten thank you card with their invoice.  I have no doubt they will keep it too. :-))

  • What a fabulous idea - snail mail! It will definitely make you stand out since few use it anymore!

  • I love this, Diana! I was hoping to send out a nice coupon card around the holidays. Now that you mentioned rack cards, that may be exactly what I end up doing!

  • I don’t know if these really are good ideas or not. These are certainly good ideas if we are talking about business addresses; but if these things are mailed to home addresses they may not be always welcome (I for one consider them unwelcome unless they are absolutely necessary, and if I get bulky mail at home a few times in a year I will outright blacklist the company… the exact opposite of the intended results…)

    • To clarify, these ideas are to be used when marketing to other businesses only -- not to consumers. The only exception may be if you're using some of these ideas to stay in touch with current and past clients who may be consumers. For instance, if you're a professional organizer who works with busy moms and you want to stay in touch with your clients throughout the year).

  • Jennifer Nice

    Diana, thanks for that insightful post that reminds us how timeless real mail is. It does seem more thoughtful and dare I say, special, in this age of web marketing. Even though I'm just starting out my freelance web writing business, I did send a handwritten card to a prospect just 3 days ago. Your blog post encourages me that I did the right thing.

  • Absolutely.

    This is a fantastic time to be sending out old-fashioned sales letters, too.
    I miss those long, hard sell letters in courier type with bold bits and indented bits and underlines and stuff.

    Well blogged.

    • Doug -- Me too! I love those things -- and writing them, too.

  • Sandy

    Nice reminder. Years ago we had 3" x 8" FYI note pads made up and we'd tear off and attach an FYI note to articles of interest to our clients (with agency branding). Clients always appreciated the value-added info that was relevant to their businesses. You can still forward e-articles (I do it quite frequently with Wall St. Journal stories). Sending personal thank you notes to clients is definitely a great idea -- and with Thanksgiving coming up, it seems like a great opportunity to do so! Thanks Dianna!

    • Thanks, Sandy! I love sending articles, too. Sometimes I have my own formatted to look like magazine articles and send those, too. 🙂

  • Chris

    Great points on Direct Mail - competition, stand out...etc. DM is just another (albeit recently ignored) mktg tool, and its all how the tool is applied in the hands of a master craftsman. Thank you for sharing these direct mail ideas!

  • Great post - I've just printed Thank You postcards with a discount for my existing clients and an Introductory Postcard with a list of my services, for new ones. Both from Vistaprint, which incidentally rocks! It's been fun mailing them out and I can't wait to see what response they bring. I've also ordered my Christmas Cards, which is something I send out to clients each year. A small gesture, but big returns.

    • Usha -- I agree about VistaPrint. You can find some great stuff there.

  • Alex Howson

    Great post! I totally agree about the personal touch. I've been sending cards and little gifts to clients for several years now and they all tell me how much they appreciate it. It's a small gesture that can strengthen your connection and deepen its authenticity just a little bit more.

    • Alex -- Yes, I've been doing this for years now, too. I just sent out four notes yesterday. 🙂

  • Dianna Huff

    Alison -- Thanks for the nice words.

    Ed -- Thanks for featuring me on your site.

    • Thank YOU, Dianna, for an excellent piece. Love these ideas. Some of which I actually consider my secret weapons (not so secret anymore, I guess!).

  • Brilliant! Thank you for the great tips Dianna and of course thank you Ed for bringing us all this great talent to keep us inspired!

    • Glad you enjoyed, Alison -- thanks for your comment!