If you live stateside, you know very well it’s illegal for anyone but post office workers to put mail in people’s mailboxes.
But have you ever wondered why that is?
We know, we know… rhetorical question. Of course you’ve wondered. In fact, you googled it and that’s how you stumbled upon Maker’s Aid in the first place! So let’s waste no more time in introductions and help you find out.
Are Mailboxes Federal Property?
In the United States, mailboxes become federal property from the moment they are mounted and declared by their owners as collection and delivery points for the United States Postal Service (USPS).
So, yes, your mailbox, the mailbox of your neighbor, and the mailbox of your neighbor’s neighbor are all federal property. There’s a simple reason behind this, and it’s to protect mailbox owners from mail theft, tampering, and vandalism.
Because mailboxes are considered to be the property of the federal government from the moment they are installed, the government can take action against those who steal mail and wantonly damage mailboxes.
That would have been much more difficult if they were treated as private property. And there you go… Now you know!
This reminds me of the other reason you’re probably here.
What This Means for Your Direct Mail Marketing
What does this have to do with direct mail marketing, a.k.a. the art and craft of promoting your business (or your customers’ businesses) by putting flyers in other people’s mailboxes?
Just like you can’t take mail out of someone else’s mailbox, you can’t put mail in their inbox unless you’re a USPS letter carrier and you happen to be at work.
Or, as Carolyn Evans-Dean puts it on Quora in response to somebody who asked that same question about the state of New York, “To put something other than mail that has gone through the postal service into a mailbox is illegal.”
To put it simply, if you want to reach potential customers in your area by mail, meaning in their mailbox, you have to pay the USPS to deliver your promotional letters to them.
These regulations, however, don’t apply to porches, newspaper delivery tubes, building hallways, and mail slots on doors. So if you want to reach local customers with print adverts, these are some of the alternatives to posting that you have.
Check out the local laws in your community before you start stuffing promotional letters all over the place, though. There may be additional restrictions you need to know about, and being oblivious to them won’t protect you from the hefty fines that breaking them may bring.
How to Make Direct Mail Marketing Work for You
To make direct mail marketing work for you, always start with the goal and the offer.
Figuring out the goal is the easy part. Ask yourself the question: When someone actually takes the time to read your letter or look at your flyer, what are you really asking them to do?
Are you representing a new dollar store that just opened on the edge of town? A non-profit organization that wants to encourage people to use less water? A major consumer brand launching a new product and prompting consumers to order free samples?
The offer is the most difficult part of any direct marketing campaign. Your prospects, regardless of their demographics, will always ask the same question when they read your message: “What’s in it for me?”
You better have a good answer!
At one point, Nestlé ran a direct marketing campaign to promote its product, Kit Kat Chunky. They sent letters apologizing to recipients for not being able to deliver samples because they were too “chunky” for their mailbox.
All they had to do was mail it back to get free chocolate bars delivered to their door.
The Economist sent out balloons with brains printed on them. When you blow up the balloon, your brain grows—a fun metaphor for how reading the magazine makes you smarter.
The Long and Short of It
You can’t put adverts, letters, and flyers in U.S. mailboxes because they are federal government property. If you want to reach prospects via direct mail marketing, you will have to go through the United States Postal Service.
Hallways, porches, and mail slots on doors don’t fall under the same regulations, though. So there’s more than one way to promote your business and its products or services to potential customers.
Just be sure that you do it right. Give your target audience value and make your offer worth their while. If you want them to take action, there has to be something in it for them.