What Exactly is a Direct Mail Campaign?

by | BiggerPockets.com

A direct mail campaign is an ongoing process; not a one or two time event where you mail to prospects. So what are the pieces that make up a direct mail campaign?

There are four major parts to a creating a direct mail campaign.

  • The mail piece
  • The message
  • The list
  • The mailing

What Type of Direct Mail Piece Will you be Using?

The first thing is to determine what type of mail piece you will be using; a postcard or a letter. This comes before the message because if you are using a postcard, you are going to need a much more concise message.

I have always used white letters for probates, with hand addressed envelopes. I want to be very respectful of their grief and the challenges they face.

A coupIe of years ago I switched from using letters for absentee owners to postcards. I have found postcards to be just as effective for absentee owners as letters, and they are much easier and cheaper to use. In fact you can use postcards for most niches.

One distinct advantage of postcards is there is no envelope to open. The person has to see your message.

Your Direct Mail Message

Once you have determined which type of mail piece you are using, you have to create your message. To do this, you have know exactly who your target market is. Your message has to be tailored to the particular niche you are marketing to. For instance, your message to probates will be very different than it will be to foreclosures or tired landlords. Each one will be unique. One size really doesn’t fit all when it comes to your message.

Once you have created your message, it’s time to compile your list.

Know Your Target Audience

You can use one of the list sources like listsource.com for some lists like absentee owners and pre-foreclosures. For others like probates, you won’t be able to use these sources so you will have to figure out where to get those lists.

But wherever you get your list, you want to be very clear on who your target audience is. Take some time and think about this. What price range houses are you targeting? What areas will they be in? How much equity should they have? You need to know the answers to these questions otherwise you will be wasting a lot of money on a list that doesn’t suit your needs.

Getting Down To Work

So now you have your mail piece, your message and your list. It’s time to get down to work.

In the early years I did everything myself, and that’s the way most investors do it in the beginning. My advice to you is to outsource this piece of the puzzle as quickly as possible. There are a number of companies that you can use to help with this process. You can also print letters from your database and hire someone to fold and stuff the letters, and to hand address the envelopes for you. You can find a student or stay at home mom to do this for about $10 per 100 letters.

If you focus on building a good list of potentially motivated sellers, and set up systems for automating your direct mail you will find yourself with a steady stream of leads coming in your door.

Other Direct Mail Resources

Here are some other posts I did here on BiggerPockets that will help you fill in the gaps for creating successful direct mail campaigns for your business.

How to Successfully use Direct Mail in your Business
Having Good Lists Is Essential For Success with Direct Mail
Creating Successful Direct Mail Campaigns for Real Estate Investing

Do you use direct mail? Let’s talk in the comments below!
Photo: katerha

About Author

Sharon Vornholt

Sharon has been investing in real estate since 1998. She owned and operated a successful home inspection company for 17 years. In January of 2008 she took the leap of closing her business to become a full time real estate investor.


  1. In 2003, I got a letter from a buyer for my 4 plex’s in vegas. In just one minute, I sold 2 to him, and closed in 6 wks, inspite of of 1031X. Both were happy, no commission, and genuine buyer too.

  2. John Hoening on

    Would like to start using direct mail, I’m doing expired listings from the MLS, with yellow letters It generates a lot of phone calls, but know body’s motivated to sell, they all want more then there property is worth, I guess thats why they didn’t sell in the first place, or have to cash out cause they can’t afford to sell on terms. Would like to find a letter that works for tired landlords and out of state absentee owners. I use bandit signs also, Just waiting for the weather to warm up so to get the signs in the ground, and get some really motivated sellers calling, hurry up spring…

    • John –

      I have found yellow letters to be a waste of money. They are too generic to get motivated sellers to call. You get calls, but not from the right people. It all starts with your list though. If you don’t have the right filters for your list, then you won’t get a good list. I have written posts here and on my blog about direct mail and letters that get results.


      • Chris Bounds on

        For what it’s worth my plan is to alternate between yellow letters and postcards for at least 4 mailings:

        Yellow letter 1
        Postcard 1
        Yellow letter 2
        Postcard 2

        I haven’t determined which is better yet, but I figure this way I can get the best of both.

  3. Chris Bounds on

    Great article Sharon – bookmarked!

    I did a ton of BP research on this before starting DM 6 months ago. I’m still working on the efficiencies since I do it all myself (with a full time job). After the first flip or two from it I’ll most likely use those funds to outsource this task.

    I haven’t had any deals from DM yet, but hopefully the marketing lag time starts to work in my favor over the next 6 months. Many inquiries though.

  4. karen rittenhouse

    One big thing with direct mail is to keep it going. With all the info (especially marketing info) hitting everyone these days, it takes a number of “hits” before a client even notices yours.

    And, we space our marketing out evenly to keep the phone calls steady. For example, if your target market is 4000 homes and you want to hit them each once a month, have 1000 mail pieces go out each week, not 4000 pieces once a month.

    Thanks, Sharon, for another great article on direct mail.

  5. I’m just about to start my first direct mail campaign to tired landlords and out-of-state landlords. Could you suggest one thing I should definitely include in my content (beyond the obvious contact info, etc) and one thing you’d suggest I absolutely avoid?

    Kenny Wyland

    • Kenny- Y

      our letter has to alleviate their pain and provide benefits to them. You might put down situations that they could be facing; divorce, foreclosure, behind on payments, inherited an unwanted house, job loss, etc.

      Then you have to tell them what you can do for them; “I can buy your house as is, for cash, and close in ___ days or less”. I will do these things — pay closing costs, clean out the house or whatever you can do for them.

      Avoid talking about yourself. When they are in pain it’s all about what you can do for them.


  6. Clarify, if you are in 1031Exchange, they do not like surprise!!!
    Also, mention any investment experience, that will help, and your score to qualify too.
    Good luck. I sole mine in a one minuite phone call, after receiving the letter!!!

  7. I am just getting started in all of this fun, and bought a list of about 86 names back right before Christmas. I sent out letters to the 86 (the day after buying the list) and got about 10 nixies. Does that seem like a good percentage?

    • return to senders…. not deliverables… whatever you wish to call them. I went with one of the names i see on here a lot as a… list source…. ahem… 10-15% fail rate seemed high to me.

      • OK. Yes that seems high. I think 5%-6% is about what I have seen. I do know that sometimes when you first get a list, that first mailing has more than that though. I would call them and ask for a credit.

        You are going to need a much bigger list to really succeed with direct mail. Good luck.


  8. One thing that I’m trying on newer campaigns is to add multiple points of contact. Not only do I include the phone number but also a email address and my web address. that way if they are curious who I am they can read all about me on the site and see that I’m for real.

  9. Great advice and tips here, Sharon!

    I completely agree with you — the message needs to cater to the specific audience. As a property owner, it’s pretty annoying to receive those generic “I Buy Houses” letters and/or postcards. I’m speaking from experience as very time I receive one I just cringe, eek!!

    I think personalizing the message and marketing to a specific group is one of the keys to success with direct mail. Those who try and send generic pieces usually end up having to mass market with limited success.

    It’s interesting to hear your techniques with direct mail as to what’s worked for you. Always look forward to your posts, thanks for sharing! 🙂

  10. Robert Watkins on

    Hello Sharon,
    Would you please explain how you keep track of the clients information and how you log when you’ve mailed and received a response from the mailing, etc.

    Greatly appreciated in advance.
    Thank you

  11. Hi Sharon,

    Thank you for this article. I like how you stress the importance of consistency in a direct mailing campaign. I was wondering for the probate niche, how do you effectively stay in touch on a monthly basis with these folks? How do you change up your 2nd, 3rd, 4th letter/communication with them, as far as the actual content or message in your letters?

    Thank you,
    Brian Radziewicz

  12. Hi Sharon,

    I was wondering how you periodically update your database of mailings? I’m sure a good percentage of properties turn over or change ownership in the course of a year. Seems like a tedious job to compare each address in the database.

    How often do you have to do this? Are there any tools?


    • Adam –
      It is very tedious. In fact, that is why I enter folks by month for probates (smaller subset). it’s much easier to manage to do one group at a time. I did a post on BP about setting up your database. This was based solely on the fact that you would need to update it in the future. I am actually planning to outsource this task (hopefully) sometime this year.

      What you should do is send about 5 letters (over 5 months) then update your contacts and start again. So the answer is about twice a year at least. It’s tough to get done without some help for sure.

      I hope this helps.

      • I work as a data base consultant on the Salesforce.com platform.

        Quick thought, maybe it would be best to upload every sold property within your date range from a public database, and pull all the APN’s in that period for your county that have changed ownership. Then I would upload your database onto the same spreadsheet to compare, and use a formula to identify duplicates. Then I would take those APN’S that are duplicates and remove them from the active list.

        You could compare a million properties at a time, if needed.

        This is assuming that you can pull APN’s from a source, and that all properties that have changed ownership would no longer be of interest to you, and that your current data base has export and reporting features.

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