40/40/20 Rule

With these direct mail tips, you will have a successful campaign in no time.

Direct Mail Tips for Understanding the 40/40/20 Rule

by Harry Williams - Last Updated on June 30, 2021

Direct Mail Impacts - Infographic

Within seconds of seeing a direct mail piece, the customer's five senses are stimulated by sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Your direct mail campaign should stimulate an emotional response in order to increase your chances of a higher ROI. That's where the 40/40/20 Rule comes into play.

The 40/40/20 Rule was presented in the mid-1900s by Ed Mayer, an international direct mail and marketing expert, to outline what should be included in a direct mail piece for it to be successful. There are three sections that focus on the essential components for any direct mail marketing piece by level of importance: audience (40%), offer (40%), and other elements (20%). Below are a few direct mail tips that accompany each section.


Your audience is such a large component because it's an absolute must to appeal to the audience's lifestyle in order to capture their attention. Tailoring the entire message to your audience will bring greater results from your direct mail campaign. Before beginning any kind of design, first define your target audience and then make sure your mailing list matches the audience’s description.


If you’ve captured the essence of your audience's lifestyle by identifying their needs and wants, deciding what special offer to include is easier. The offer in direct mail advertising plays a part in how a consumer decides whether or not to keep reading about your business. A well-defined, intriguing offer should be constructed for your target audience in the form of a discount, rebate, bonus, or freebie with a time limit that moves customers to act, and which ultimately encourages a sale.

Other Elements

Other direct mail advertising elements include the actual design, format, and printing of the piece. Choose whether a postcard or brochure would be best for presenting your message, then decide on colors, font, images, and write your copy. Every design choice that you make should follow from the audience and the offer.

Earlier we mentioned there are five ways direct mail can impact the customer's senses. These all come into play here. “Sight” is impacted by an engaging piece of artwork with the right call-to-action that creates a purpose for the piece. “Touch” comes into play when choosing the appropriate paper stock, coating, and cut options that match the artwork to the intended feel. The sense of “sound” is affected by creative copy that resonates in the mind like a music verse or description of a sound effect. “Smell” is stimulated when an aroma is brought to mind by using descriptive copy and design that can strengthen a message. Finally, “taste” is used (literally or figuratively) when you encourage customers to try your products or services by using coupons or samples, or compare yourself to a competitor to let them know why you're better!

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