If you heard rumors about direct mail dying a few years ago, today’s facts might surprise you. Direct mail to existing customers pulls a response rate 30 times better than in-house email lists, according a 2012 Direct Marketing Association report. Consumer preference for direct mail over email may hold true for most industries, but direct mail is still an effective marketing strategy, averaging $51.40 per lead, Chron reports. This underscores the need to follow best practices in order to see a return on investment.

Target Marketing

Successful direct mail pivots on selecting good mailing lists. Choosing specific marketing criteria usually yields better results than mass marketing. For instance, real estate agents can rent lists defined by location, length of residence or income level.

When renting lists, it’s important to understand different list types. House lists of your own customers yield highest response rates. Direct response lists have responded to offers similar to yours and get the next highest response. Compiled lists are collected from sources such as directories, based on demographic criteria, and get the lowest response. Use reputable list brokers, and know what you’re renting.

Keeping Costs Down

U.S. businesses waste $600 billion a year sending out undeliverable mail with bad addresses, according to research by The Data Warehousing Institute. You can avoid this unnecessary expense by using the Postal Service’s Coding and Accuracy Support System to correct your mailing list before you send envelopes out. Another way to save time and money is by investing in a postage machine to help you automate the letter folding, insertion and metering process.

Smart Selling

Another way to reduce costs and improve results is to match your mailing to your market. For instance, a letter-sized email to new prospects pulls an average response rate of 1.28 percent, whereas an in-house lists generates 3.40 percent, reflecting the fact current customers are further along in your sales cycle.

In light of this, you might consider sending a less expensive mailing such as a postcard to new prospects, saving more expensive direct mail packages for your most likely buyers. You might also use a provider that offers tracking for high-priority prospects that could deliver a high return on investment.

Test Mailing

Using an alternate wording for the caption and button on one opt-in form caused a 31.54 percent increase in subscriptions, a case study by Unbounce Marketing Solutions earlier this year found. This illustrates the value of split testing, a vital component of success for both physical and digital direct mail. One of the biggest mistakes direct mail campaigns make is mailing in volume, before testing to see whether a piece is cost-effective.

Use A/B split testing principles to adjust your piece and improve your response rate. You can test any aspect of your mailing, including envelopes, headlines, graphics, offers, and response mechanisms. Make sure to send out enough sample mailings to generate statistically significant feedback.