The 4 Components of a Winning Direct Mail Campaign


Direct mail is part science, part art—there is no single best solution. Innovative technologies allow us to customize mail in new ways, and the USPS continually changes rates (usually raising them) and rules. However, a couple of things stay constant: Any direct mail campaign will include the four key components of list, offer, creative, and delivery. And at every stage, consistently A/B testing what you send and who you send it to will improve recipient response and lower your costs.

Let’s take a closer look at the four main components of direct mail:

  1. The list: You need to mail the right audience, who are interested in your product.
  2. The offer: You need to provide the right offer to motivate them to action.
  3. The creative: You need to have engaging creative that gets seen, not tossed.
  4. The delivery: You need to get that creative into mailboxes.

1. The List


There are two types of lists, house lists and rental lists. House lists are ones that you own, which generally include existing customers and potential leads (e.g., people who signed up for a white paper online). Rental lists are compiled addresses from third-party vendors. They are typically one-time buys or subscriptions, and allow you to select certain audience segments. The average cost for a rental list ranges from $50–250 per thousand records, depending on the quantity purchased and criteria selected.

A well-targeted list is important. If you’re selling infant products to retired folks, no matter how good the offer is, none of them will buy (unless of course they’re shopping for their grandchildren). A clean list with deliverable addresses is also key. If the list is old, then you will send undeliverable mail—never seen by a potential customer—which is a waste of your time and money.

If you happen to run a real estate company, check out our post on direct mail list building for real estate.

2. The Offer


An offer is the incentive that the recipient will receive, and what they have to do to receive it. It’s the call to action that motivates the prospect. A great offer is valuable, tangible, unique, and clearly related to the company offering it. It should also be straightforward and easy to understand. Avoid lots of fine print. No one likes to read that.

For example, your direct mail might include an offer for:

  • Free trial
  • Free gift
  • Free shipping
  • Dollar discount
  • Percentage-off discount
  • Buy one, get one free
  • White papers
  • Case studies

Be sure to test your offers to learn what best motivates your audience. And remember, the offer isn’t merely enticement for the consumer—it’s also a great way to include a custom code or URL in your creative to help track your campaign’s results.

3. The Creative


Test multiple designs and layouts, as there is no one approach that works for every campaign. A fancy letter may perform well for a high-end business product, while a simple postcard in a “handwritten” font may work best for a casual neighborhood service. Regardless of the creative, be sure that your call to action is clear and direct.

On the format side, there are endless options to choose from. However, sticking with the standard ones will typically save you time and money in production and mailing. The two most common formats are letters and postcards. Contact your mailing vendor or print house for their standard sizes.

4. The Delivery


Most companies spend more than they need to on postage, but there are multiple ways to lower your costs: For example, cleaning your list and adding USPS address bar codes will get you lower rates, as will sending more pieces to smaller areas (“saturation mail”). You can also earn discounts by shipping your mail closer to its final destination (e.g., dropping mail designated for San Francisco at a nearby Oakland postal center). Finding the optimal mailing strategy can save you 20–50% on postage costs.

However, because all of this can be difficult to coordinate, many companies use a mail consultant or service for a seamless mailing solution. After all, the biggest way to lower the cost of a direct mail campaign is to save your and your employees’ time. Lob, for example, takes care of printing, mailing, and postage for a single straightforward price—so you can send print mail on demand, as easily as you’d send an email. Lob even tracks mail at every step, so you know when your campaign lands in mailboxes.


Thank you to Adelyn Zhou, Head of Growth and Marketing for TOPBOTS  for contributing to the 500 blog Original article found HERE. Get 20% off tickets with code: ADELYNZHOU. Adelyn Zhou will be a speaker at this year’s Weapons of Mass Distribution 2016 conference on Nov. 4 in San Francisco. Buy your ticket HERE

500 Startups Office Hours @ Startup Istanbul

500 Startups will be full force with 4 partners at Startup Istanbul between 6th-10th of October. The tech conference will gather 500 startups and 4,000 attendees; along with prominent investors from all over the world. 50 selected startups will pitch to a jury of investors; and 15 of them will get to be on stage during the final day.


500 will be present at the event, with team members coming from different geographies. Arjun Dev Arora (Venture Partner) and Rina Onur (GP of 500 Istanbul) will speak on stage, while Sharif El-Badawi (Venture Partner) and Enis Hulli (AP of 500 Istanbul) will be active as mentors. Exclusive for the event, 500 Startups will be holding open office hours for startups from all stages. Please visit to schedule a meeting!


500 shows great faith in the region as 500 Istanbul fund invested in 7 companies in the past two months: Skyfunnel, Carbon Health, MovieLaLa, Mall IQ, Plum, PVGNA, Massive Bio. No matter what is happening politically, the region as a whole is unsuspectingly large, giving way to potential regional powerhouses and access to a young talent base. 500 Startups has been particularly lucky in this arena with investments like Koding, Mobile Action and Udemy; all headquartered in the Valley but has significant development teams in Turkey. This allows for a new generation of Turkish developers and future entrepreneurs, learning by doing in the Valley, who can later help build innovative companies themselves.


Please visit to schedule a meeting during Startup Istanbul.

10 Ways to Make Your Video Go Viral

Guest Blogger -Karen X Cheng, Founder/CEO Karen X LLC.

I almost didn’t write this post.

Because I wanted to keep the magic behind my viral video to myself. Because of my ego. Because I would have loved to brag that I just sat back and it took off on its own. But that’s not what happened.

I did a ton of marketing, and it started long before the video was released. Going viral was not an accident — it was work.

I tried a lot of things. This is what worked for me.

1. Don’t be “too good” for marketing

I almost didn’t put together a marketing plan. Because what if I did all this marketing, and then the video still flopped? That would’ve been embarrassing. Then I realized how stupid that was.

It’s better to try your damnedest and fail than to hold back and always wonder what if.

If you put all this effort into your video, why would you rely on luck for the last leg? Swallow your pride. Give your work a fighting chance. Put together a marketing plan. This article will show you how.

2. Understand how things go viral on the internet

You see videos on YouTube with millions of views and you wonder — where did they all come from?

Here’s how my video, Girl Learns to Dance in a Year went viral:

Views per day on Girl Learns to Dance in a Year

Day One: 80k views

Day Two: 800k views

  • Bloggers who had seen it on Reddit the day before started publishing articles about it. First Kottke. Then blogs like Mashable, Jezebel, andHuffington Post.
  • Blogs drove a ton of traffic. Each blog is a giant marketing engine with millions of readers and twitter followers. It’s in their interest to get the article as many views as possible, because each view is an ad they can serve up. Understand how the money flows. It’s all about clicks and advertising dollars.

Day Three: 1.8 million views

  • It made the YouTube frontpage. I’m not sure how it got there, but I suspect the blogs were sending it so much traffic that YouTube’s algorithms picked up on it.

Try many things. You only need one of them to pay off in order for your video to go viral. For me, that thing was Reddit. Your thing might be different. Your goal is to get major blogs to write you up, because their marketing power is ridiculous.

3. Release on Monday or Tuesday

People watch YouTube videos when they’re at work. They read the news at work. Release your video on Monday or Tuesday to give it the whole week to gain momentum. Weekends are speed bumps.

I chose Tuesday because people are busy catching up with email on Monday. I got lucky with the timing because there wasn’t any major breaking news that day. Releasing on a slow news day will help you.

Mind your holidays, too. Don’t release when people are not at the office.

4. Figure out who has a stake in your video

If your video takes off, who are all the people and companies who might want a piece of the action? These people can help market you.

My YouTube description was full of links to possible sponsors — to theLululemon and American Apparel clothes I was wearing. To the Lift app I used to track my dancing. To the BART train station I danced at. To themusic I danced to. They’re all things I genuinely believe in, so I was happy to send traffic their way.

I contacted all these companies and asked them to share the video. Some of them shared, some of them didn’t. Try them all.

5. None of this matters if your video isn’t good

You can get your friends to share. But only the strength of the content can get their friends to share. If you are serious about making good content, readMade to Stick.

Why will people share your video? People share things when they feel emotion. What emotion will your viewers feel?

Some emotions spread better than others. Emotions that spread: awe, excitement, amusement, anger, anxiety. Emotions that don’t: contentment, sadness.

6. Tell a story

I’m a decent dancer for a year of practice but I’m nothing compared to the pros. There are thousands of dancers way more talented whose videos didn’t go viral.

Girl Learns to Dance in a Year went viral because it wasn’t just another dance video with cool moves and cool camera angles. It wasn’t about how good the dancing was. It was about how awkward I was when I started, and how I got better with practice.

And it’s not just a story about dancing. It’s about having a dream and not knowing how to get there — but starting anyway.

People want stories. That’s what all TV, movies, and books are. Tell a story.

7. Make your video shorter

The first thing people do when they play a video is check to see how long it is. It helps them decide whether to watch it. 10 minutes: forget it. 2 minutes:I’ll give it a shot. 30 seconds: Heck, might as well.

Make your video as short as possible while still keeping the heart of the story. The editor and I literally spent hours shaving off seconds to get the video down to 1 minute 51 seconds.

Short videos spread better.

8. Write a viral title

Here’s a quick test. How would you finish this sentence:

“Hey did you see the video of __________”

Fill in the blank. That’s your title.

Here’s a bad title: My Journey of Dance, a Year of Movement

Better: I Learned to Dance in a Year

Even better: Girl Learns to Dance in a Year

Best: Girl Learns to Dance in a Year (TIME LAPSE)

9. Know what you’re willing to compromise

What are you willing to do for views? Are you willing to compromise on your beliefs? If so, which ones?

I made a compromise. I believe that grown women should not be referred to as girls. Then I named the video Girl Learns to Dance in a Year. It rolls off the tongue better than Woman Learns to Dance in a Year. I had decided I could live with that compromise.

I almost named the video Asian Girl Learns to Dance in a Year. I’m really glad I didn’t do that.

You have to decide what you can live with and what you can’t. Figure this out before you release because once you hit publish, you can’t take it back.

10. What to do once you go viral

People will criticize your work. This is good because it gets them talking. There are lots of comments about how I’m a terrible dancer, or how I got worse on Day 365. People left racist and sexist comments. They even debated the definition of time lapse. Try not to let all this get to you. Controversy is good.

Viral videos have a short shelf life. You have 15 minutes of fame, and your job is to open as many doors as possible in those 15 minutes. Create as many opportunities as you can. Ironically, the week I released the video, I barely danced at all. I didn’t go out and celebrate. I went home and responded to as many emails and tweets as I could.

Make sure the media can get a hold of you, and it’s not hard to find your email address. Media interview requests will start coming in. Accept them. National TV may contact you. Feed the media beast.

Know where you want to direct your traffic. I linked to my blog, website, andTwitter from the video. They were all ready to go. One thing I messed up was I didn’t have an email signup form ready on the Dance In A Yearwebsite. I’ve fixed that now, lesson learned. Be prepared.

Why I did it

I wanted people to see the video because it represents what I believe in.

When you watch a professional perform, you’re seeing them at their moment of glory. It’s intimidating because you don’t see how you could ever get to where they are. You don’t see the moment they started, when they were a beginner just like you. I wanted people to see the beginning.

The best response to the video has been all the people who reached out to me, newly inspired to learn. Learn dance. Learn guitar, Korean, beatboxing, drawing, parkour. That brings me a lot more fulfillment than the video view count numbers.

After hearing from so many people, I’m now working on a site for people to make their own learning time-lapse projects: 100. I’m really excited to see other people level themselves up in all sorts of skills.

None of this might have happened if I had decided to sit back and just hope it went viral.

Thank you to Karen X. Cheng for contributing to the 500 blog. Get 20% off tickets with code:KARENX. Karen X. Cheng will be a speaker at this year’s Weapons of Mass Distribution 2016 conference on Nov. 4 in San Francisco. The Who’s Who of the growth marketing world are coming together to help you IGNITE your startup growth. Buy your ticket HERE

For more viral video tips, follow Karen X. Cheng on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks to Cedric Dahl, Alex Debelov, Nikolay Valtchanov, Lynn Tao, and Orion Hombrebueno for marketing help and advice for the video.

This article was originally published on Fast Company.

The Smart Investors’ Toolkit: 12 Resources to Invest Better

The third session of our flagship venture capital investor program, Venture Capital Unlocked: Secrets of Silicon Valley Investing run in conjunction with Stanford’s Center for Professional Development wrapped up almost a month ago.


With investors hailing from 6 continents and 40% of the class composed of female investors, it’s our most diverse class yet. Whether novices or seasoned professionals, our class learned the importance of keeping it simple and staying informed when doing venture deals. 

Participants sharing knowledge at an after-class recpetion.

Tools to Help Investors Keep Up with the Market  

Regardless of your profession or geography, education is critical. Investors, entrepreneurs, and business leaders know the importance of staying informed and keeping up with the latest business developments. Our VC Unlocked participants were no different. Over the course of the two weeks, they shared resources to help each other expand their investing knowledge. Here are some recommended sources our Stanford professors, program participants, and of course, our 500 staff thought would be useful:

Tools to Help You Close the Deal  

Any effective angel investor or venture capitalist knows that closing the deal quickly and efficiently is ideal. Our investors learned that it’s always good to keep it simple when it comes to paperwork. In addition to staying in current, our investors learned that they should use standard legal documents to cut down on both the time and cost of doing venture deals. Here’s some of the resources they’re now using:

500’s Keep It Simple Security (KISS) Documents 
YCombinator’s Safe Docuements
National Venture Capital Association’s Model Legal Documents