Direct Mail is Dead

direct-mail-is-deadDirect mail is dead…or at least it is at my school!

Are you still using direct mail at your school?

Does direct mail work for your school?

Are you tracking the success or failure of your direct mail efforts?

Our Story

A little over 2 years ago we got serious about tracking all of our marketing efforts and focused on direct mail. We were working under the assumption that direct mail can be potentially effective if you have the time and money to saturate your target market with constant and personalized messages. Although we were literally spending thousands of dollars on our direct mail campaigns we really weren’t sure if they were yielding the results that we needed. The issue for us is that we operate with a limited marketing budget and we began to feel that we didn’t have the money or time to make direct mail work for us. As a result, we began to question our investment in direct mail.

Where’s the Data?

Our questioning alone wasn’t enough to begin writing direct mail’s obituary though. We needed data to make an informed decision about the future of direct mail for my school. We decided to track the effectiveness of one of our direct mail campaigns by using a Vanity URL to send the prospective family to a landing page and specifically asked them to pre-register to attend an open house.

We used the following Vanity URL:

If you follow the above link you can also see the landing page that we used to have families pre-register.


For this particular direct mail piece we sent somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 – 4,000 pieces and only had 2 people pre-register. We also asked the families who attended these particular open houses how they heard about the open house making sure not to mention any particular marketing efforts. Not one family mentioned the direct mail piece!

This direct mail campaign cost us thousands of dollars and only yielded 2 inquiries. We also tracked the 2 inquiries through our admission process and they didn’t even apply. After looking at this data we determined we had enough to information to kill direct mail at my school.

Take Aways

Am I suggesting that you kill direct mail at your school and follow in our footsteps? Absolutely not!

What I am encouraging you to do is to question ALL of your marketing campaigns – including direct mail. Each of our schools is unique and we all operate in different markets and face different external pressures on enrollment. What works at one school might not work at another and visa versa. You owe to yourself, and your school, to begin tracking and evaluating all of your marketing campaigns and make decisions after you have gathered the data to do so.

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions about using direct mail at your school. Does it work for you? Do you still use it? Please let me know by sharing in the comments section below.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Turnaround Marketing

    Brendan, your post makes some excellent points, not the least of which is the importance of tracking responses. I don’t believe direct mail is dead for everyone, and do believe it’s worth trying for some. But the only way you’ll know what’s effective is to track closely. Thanks for the post. –Liza

    • Brendan Schneider

      Hi Liza,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment and for reinforcing the point that direct mail might not be dead for everyone but they must track their efforts!

  • delainanicole

    For years my former district has also used direct mail. One of the direct mail pieces that has been revised and sent out for at least 6 years every January is a DVD about the kindergarten program. In the first few years, the only evaluation that was done was by asking enrolling parents on a survey whether they heard about the program because of the DVD. Eventually we combined that with a landing page/sign up form. This past year, at least 11 students were enrolled because of it. I think there were probably ~4000 DVDs mailed.

    One way to think about it is whether the cost of your time and the expense of the advertising piece is made up by how much money will be gained by each enrollment. And what could you be spending more time/money on instead? (Google Adwords, print ads, social media, knocking on doors, etc.)

    I’m not sure direct mail is dead, but the numbers tell me it’s definitely not as much of a direct sell as it perhaps used to be.

    • Brendan Schneider

      Hi Delaina,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment and I think you make a great point about where else a school could be spending their money to achieve a greater impact!

  • Simon Hepburn

    Am interested that you used a website to track the effectiveness of DM – might it be that the people who read mail would prefer to mail / telephone back? When I was doing my MBA we had charity reps talk about the importance of a call to action in the mailshot that could be actioned quickly. What would the success of an email campaign that asked people to send a letter be? (Being a bit of a devil’s advocate here…)

    • Brendan Schneider

      Hi Simon,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment and for your thoughts.
      Great question about our method of tracking and you bring up a good point but we felt that asking a family to preregister would allow us to track our efforts. We also asked the families who visited if they had seen any of our marketing efforts to get them to the open house. We felt that last piece would allow us to account for families who didn’t want to preregister but had received the direct mail piece.

      Ultimately, tracking offline efforts is difficult at best I’ve typically seen people use proxies for offline marketing efforts like inquiry or application numbers.

      Even accounting for a deviation in the results, in the end, we felt that we were spending too much money for our results.

      Thanks again for the question and for your comment.

  • geofflivingston

    I actually seem to like the periodic direct mail piece now that is “dead”. I still think design and copywriting means a lot.

    • Brendan Schneider

      Hi Geoff,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment and I’ll take your thought one step further – design and copywriting mean a lot in all marketing efforts and I think schools are still a little behind in believing that fact.

  • peterdbaron

    Great breakdown, Brendan. Out of curiosity, what yield percentage would make it worthwhile? 1-2%?

    • schneiderb

      @peterdbaron Hi. Great question that really depends on the school, their budget, and their expectations. Personally, I would focus on pure numbers and not necessarily a percentage to determine the value of direct mail.