Direct Mail Advertising: Reach, Frequency or Both?

If you’ve been in business or marketing very long, then you’re probably already aware of the fact that frequency and reach are both vital to your advertising strategy. What you may not realize is the fact that the two aren’t always compatible, and that the question of frequency vs. reach is one that can have a big impact on your direct mail ad campaigns.

Understanding Reach and Frequency

While these two factors are important for any advertising campaign, direct mail in particular can be heavily influenced by frequency and reach. Direct mail ads succeed on a balance of targeted frequency and broad reach, and too much of one or the other in your campaign can undermine your overall goals. Let’s review what these are in the context of direct mail.


  • Definition: In broad terms, frequency describes the average number of times that a person within a targeted audience had the opportunity to see your advertisement within the campaign time period. To be more specific, effective frequency is the minimum number of times that a customer should be exposed to your advertisement in order to influence their purchasing behavior. Generally, most people accept that product communication needs to occur at least 3 times to inspire action:
    • First exposure: Introduces the campaign and the fact that the brand has something to offer the customer
    • Second exposure: Makes the campaign a recognizable idea in the customer’s mind.
    • Third exposure: Engenders familiarity and acceptance.
  • Example: To promote a new brand or product in an already saturated market, advertisers tap into frequency (i.e., increasing the number of times someone is exposed to a direct mail ad) in order to generate the brand recognition and message recall necessary to elevate their brand above others.


  • Definition: Usually expressed as a percentage, the term “reach” is used to express the number of unique customers in a target area who are exposed to a direct mail ad over the course of the campaign. Whether or not this customer has been exposed to an ad more than once is not considered.
  • Example: To access new customers or to enter new markets, advertisers tap into reach (i.e., spread their ad spend across a much wider audience) in order to ensure their message is received by the largest number of potential customers possible.

Understanding How to Use Them for Direct Mail

What’s unfortunate is that, unless you have an ample budget for any one direct mail campaign, you may need to use either frequency or reach, which is to say, you may have to sacrifice the emphasis on one to make the other more successful depending on your goal. That doesn’t mean frequency and reach shouldn’t still be used together. Your direct mail planning still needs to incorporate a level of each to bring about the consumer behavior you want.


  • Advantages: The use of frequency will help you differentiate your brand from the competition and create more meaningful connections with customers through repeated touchpoints and messages. Frequency also increases brand recognition and awareness–both of which strengthen your business reputation, increases potential revenue streams and enhances brand value.
  • Disadvantages: Use frequency too frequently at your peril. When an ad becomes predictable, boring and too repetitious, you run the risk of tipping the scales from brand awareness to brand overkill, effectively creating a negative impression on the customer.
  • Prioritize frequency when you want to improve brand perception and increase engagement. For example: Botanic Choice provides customers with the options to shop by mail, internet or phone, but because of their direct mail advertising with frequency , it remains primarily a mail order business. That traditional level of connection requires frequent mailings to generate the touchpoints that other brands might achieve in other ways.


  • Advantages: Quite simply, reach affords you the ability to improve the number of customers and potential customers you can reach with a single mailing.
  • Disadvantages: The flip side is that customers are only exposed to the message once during a campaign. Reach alone does little to provide nurturing and touchpoints to guide the customer toward your brand.
  • Prioritize reach when you want to create touchpoints with new customers: In one great example, Papa John’s Pizza tapped into some really creative advertising for a direct mail campaign. It took advantage of the eye-catching postcard, but changed the shape to grab attention and added a touch of personalization to make it more engaging.frequency reach advertising example papa johns

With access to the right database, this reach tactic can influence not only current customers, but people in the area that aren’t customers yet.

Remember, the question of frequency vs. reach is an important one that will help you define your small business marketing goals. How often you send out your advertising mailers and how many people you send them to needs to be balanced so that your direct mail ads are as effective as possible.

How to Use Frequency and Reach in Your Direct Mail

  • Begin by auditing your current direct mail advertising strategy. Note the frequency and reach you’re currently receiving. These numbers should be your baseline benchmarks.
  • Using the information in this post, run a test by increasing your frequency. Measure the results against your current metrics and your bottom line.
  • Repeat this tactic with reach.
  • Review what worked and what didn’t to better establish a more powerful strategy. Be sure to stay up to date on what’s working before each campaign.
  • Remember, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, so you need to find the best balance for your brand through testing and alignment with your media planning goals.

Contact your Valpak advertising representative to continue improving your direct mail advertising through balanced frequency and reach.