How to Avoid Being Seen as Junk Mail

To say that junk mail is a big problem in the United States is something of an understatement. According to the experts at, the average person receives 16 pieces of junk mail EACH WEEK, and only 1.5 personal letters during the same period of time. Not only do they estimate that the average citizen will waste about 70 hours a year dealing with junk mail, but it also comes with a very literal price tag. About $320 million dollars of local taxes are used to dispose of junk mail every calendar year and just transporting it all ends up costing roughly $550 million.

All of this is to say that if you’re a business owner using direct mail to reach out to your audience, you’re facing an uphill battle for a variety of reasons. By this point, people have accepted junk mail as a way of life. They know how to identify it instantly – or at least they think they do. They know what to do with it immediately – throw it away. You could have the best, most well-intentioned piece of direct mail ever and it STILL might end up at the bottom of a waste basket if you’re not careful.

So how do you avoid being seen as junk mail, you ask? The answer to that question requires you to keep a few key things in mind.

Know Your Direct Mail Audience

According to a study conducted by the New York University School of Law, roughly 44% of all “junk mail” is thrown away immediately without even being opened. A large part of this has to do less with a piece of direct mail being seen as “low quality” and more about relevancy. Many marketers don’t take the effort to make sure that they’re sending the right materials to the right customer and their larger campaigns end up paying dearly for it.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that you’ve spent a great deal of time, money and energy crafting the perfect piece of direct mail collateral. It is objectively perfect – it does everything you need it to do and it says everything you need it to say. The key to success involves making sure you’re only sending that material to someone who finds it relevant in the first place.

Say the mailing list of a car dealership is made up of both people who have recently purchased vehicles and people who only expressed interest. If you’re about to send out a mailer detailing a hot new promotion on new car purchases that you’re running, you likely don’t want to send it to the portion of the list who you KNOW just bought a new car. Those people aren’t likely to find it very relevant, unless you know more information about them – like if they specifically told you they were going to be making a purchase again in the near future for their spouse or child. You would focus on the people who you can GUARANTEE don’t have a new car, thus increasing relevancy and your chances of success along with it.

Again: so much of success in direct mail is using existing data sources to get the right message in front of the right person. If you can accomplish that, a large part of the hard work is already done for you.

Direct Mail Location Targeting in Action

Another one of the best ways to avoid being seen as junk mail involves using location information to your advantage. If you run an auto body shop in Cleveland, Ohio and are sending out a mailer notifying customers of an upcoming oil change special, make sure you’re only sending it out to customers in the Cleveland area. Don’t bother sending it to the customer from Utah who happened to stop by one time while on a road trip – he couldn’t take advantage of the offer even if he wanted to.

Thanks to the Internet, your database of addresses will likely include people from all over the country. Always take the extra effort to help make sure your direct mail materials are LOCALLY relevant to the people you’re sending them to, especially if your business exists in a particular geographic area.

Become a Master of Direct Mail Timing

Another one of the best ways to make sure that your materials don’t end up in someone’s junk mail pile is to become a master of timing. Simply put, if you send the right message to the right person at the wrong time, it essentially becomes the “wrong message” by default.

In an interview with Chief Marketer from 2014, Craig Simpson, author of “The Direct Mail Solution,” gave two examples of this very idea in action. He said that if you’re trying to reach out to farmers, you shouldn’t do so during the harvest season. Many of them literally cannot receive mail during this time. You need to focus your efforts during the off season when they will be most effective. Likewise, CPAs have very busy schedules that are often timed around specific periods of the year. If you’re trying to get CPAs to attend a particular seminar using direct mail materials, you can’t send those items during the holiday season as they likely won’t be read.

Again, rely heavily on your existing database to help check the message itself with the people that you’re sending it to. If you’re an electronics dealer who is about to put a particular brand of stereo on sale, don’t send a flyer to someone who you already know just bought that same model. Not only is the timing awful, but the message is also irrelevant – turning it into junk mail instantly.

When it comes to timing, however, you also have to think about the message itself. Say you’re in the process of promoting an upcoming event that is six months away. If you send a single mailer too early, you run the risk of people forgetting about it. If you send a single message too close to the event, you run the risk of people who can’t attend because they’ve already made plans throwing your materials away.

By focusing on timing, you can send several messages at strategic intervals with different goals. One can be to raise awareness, another can be to confirm your message and build anticipation, another can be more of a direct “contact us to order tickets” type of piece and more.

Never forget that direct mail timing is about a lot more than just the day of the week someone receives your mailer. What your message is, who you’re sending it to and where you’re sending it all play important roles that cannot be ignored.

Get Rid of Your Junk Mail Problem Today

Make no mistake: junk mail is a major problem for everyone involved. The only exception to that is perhaps the United States Postal Service, as over half of the total volume of mail since 2011 has been junk mail (not counting things like media mail and express delivery items). Your customers hate getting junk mail and you hate the fact that your marketing return on investment is sinking lower and lower because people are instinctively throwing your mailers away.

Just remember – direct mail is still one of the most effective marketing techniques there is. Junk mail hasn’t killed direct mail as a concept, but it CAN kill the effectiveness of your outreach efforts if you’re not careful.

The key to avoid this problem is first to understand it, which allows you to circumvent these challenges altogether. By working hard to make sure that your message is always relevant, that you’re using location to your advantage and that you’re timing things just right, you’ll be able to guarantee the success you deserve. It won’t even occur to a customer that your direct mail item might be junk mail because they’ll be too busy tear open the envelope to find out what is inside.