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Automating Direct Mail With Templates, Assets, & Rules

Written By Amber Breeden

June 16, 2022

There are three key elements to any automated direct mail program that collectively answer the questions of who, what, when, and how it all works. We call these elements templates, assets, and rules. You need all three to successfully automate direct mail, and each comes with unique considerations. But first, let’s define what we mean by templates, assets, and rules in this context.


Templates are the framework for your print deliverables (think postcards, self-mailers, letters, etc.). All templates start with a design, but it’s sometimes helpful to think of them as a wireframe, indicating what kind of content (and personalization) goes where. Templates can have a combination of static and variable content, or they can be fully variable, with your data determining all of the content on the piece. 

Template for automated direct mail

With automated direct mail, we program the templates with specific assets to customize each piece and rules to govern how the direct mail program works. 


Assets are what allow you to personalize and customize your print templates. They include your customer data, image library, and variable content. There are two ways you can use assets to customize your direct mail: personalization and relevance. 

With personalization, the data itself is the message. Any customization comes directly from the data in the form of merge fields. Many types of transactional direct mail, like invoices and renewal notices, use personalization. By contrast, relevance is where the data informs the message. A particular data point drives variable content that doesn’t live within the data itself. In the illustration below, the customer’s purchase history data determined what product was shown as well as the copy and the offer.

Customized automated direct mail postcards


Rules determine the parameters around how and when you send direct mail. We use rules to automate the process and allow programs to run in the background of your ongoing marketing/business activities. Rules are specific to your particular needs and ultimately control everything from which template we use and how your assets populate that template to when and how your direct mail drops. There are four common types of rules.

Batching by Time or Quantity
We can set up rules to pull data on specific days or when the print queue hits a predetermined quantity. Using this type of rule, especially one based on quantity, can be a great option for managing your budget. You can lower the unit cost for printing and take advantage of postage discounts by meeting minimum quantities.

Data-driven rules are really the engine behind creating highly relevant and personalized automated direct mail. Based on your data, these rules determine which template to use, what content goes on that template, and what variable content goes with what data point.

Time-based rules are helpful for managing ongoing communications, like sending out birthday cards or invoices. They can also control the cadence of your customer journey communications (e.g., sending out a postcard five days after sending an email). 

Behavioral rules kick in when a customer does something that triggers a piece of direct mail. These might include sending a reminder postcard to a customer who has abandoned their shopping cart or following up with a product brochure after a demo. 

Together, templates, assets, and rules form the basis of an automated direct mail program, informing everything from strategy to shipping. In future posts, we’ll go into more detail on each of these elements and provide helpful tips for planning. If you’d like to learn more about setting up automated direct mail in the meantime, give us a shout.