Direct mail campaigns are treated as something beyond the pale. They’re a sort of relic carried over from the last century with companies carrying them about because it’s just something that ways always done – so they continue doing it. The problem with direct mail is that it’s very difficult to measure a return on. While some direct mail vendors offer analytics, this route is usually only taken with high budget campaigns. For the rest of us, there’s a slightly more work-intensive strategy.

Given that you’re working with a vetted mailing list, your first step is to determine the goal of your direct mail campaign. If it’s something like getting people to donate, purchase tickets, make a purchase, or be directed to a landing page, then it’s relatively simply to determine a result because you’ve got something calculable to measure it by. Usually here you can offer a digital code that expires. It could be for something like a small percentage off, additional perks for entering a code, or simply being required to enter a code before moving forward. You can also lead people to a specific landing page used only for that campaign, which is a relatively secure with of getting raw data.

Once the returns start coming in, be it through phone calls, return items, traffic, etc., you want to start tracking two things. The first is the source (mail, traffic, calls, emails inquiries, etc.) and how far that avenue leads down the conversion path. The second is the overall percentage of success. The Houston Chronicle’s Small Business Section, in an article by Hannah Wickford on “How to Measure Your Direct Mail Campaign,” recommends the following example:

“If you sent out a mailing using a promotion code to help track the results, divide the number of sales made using the code by the total number of mailers to determine the rate. If you sent out 2,000 mailers that generated 42 sales that used the promotion code, your response rate would be 2.1 percent.”

Keep your expectations humble because direct mail is one of the most cost-high initiatives with really minimal comparable results on the whole. However, people keep with this strategy because of your wild card – the one return item, either a donation or a sale, which really topples the chart.

When assessing results, you also want to factor in any external reasons that could have affected findings. This includes anything from high profile news items, extreme weather changes, or even a change in your competitor’s strategy. The idea here is that you want to be able to track what’s working, change what isn’t, but also allow yourself wiggle room for elements that are out of your control.

Direct mail campaigns aren’t for every business though. Whether or not you decide to go ahead with a direct mail campaign really depends on what you’re trying to get across. These sorts of marketing initiatives are best reserved for select industries, including luxury/femme goods (in which you can create materials with a luxe feel to them), development departments (because the people with money they’re willing to part with tend to prefer these relics because they were raised in a print-age rather than a digital age), and educational institutions, to name a few.

If direct mail campaigns aren’t your cup of tea, know there are plenty of other good alternatives and supplements, including email marketing campaigns. Most companies will pair a quarterly direct mail campaign with weekly email marketing blasts. Emails are typically preferred because there’s a minimal associated cost, especially when compared to direct mail that involves costly printing and posting fees. Emails newsletters are also easier to measure, with platforms offering built in analytics, A/B testing, and easy digital integration into your social and website presence.