Marketing’s Famous “Rule of 27”

RULE OF 27 – Why So Many Direct Mail & Email Campaigns Fail!

By John C. Stewart, Executive Director, NPRC

I first heard of this rule many, many years ago, and I have tried my very best to use it to help me promote various products and services I sell. It is a fairly straight rule to explain, but a huge challenge to implement with any consistency.

The Rule of 27 actually consists of two parts or theorems. In simplest of terms, Part #1 says that it takes a lot individual mailing pieces sent to a specific prospect to bring them around from having no knowledge or interest in your product or services to possibly, after many attempts, convincing them to possibly give you a try. Part #2 suggests that the odds are only one in three that a specific mailing piece will ever make it to the recipient’s desk and actually be seen.

RULE #1 – It take approximately 9 mailers or mailing pieces to bring about a change in the recipient… There are very similar rules or anecdotes as it relates to outside sales calls. Many readers have probably heard the stories that studies have shown it takes XX sales calls either by phone or in person before a prospect will even entertain a quote from you. These same studies often note that the typical outside sales rep typically gives up calling on the prospect at 2-3 calls less than is represented by XX.

Below is a sample progression of what typically transpires as one mailing piece after another is sent to a prospect.

Progression of Acceptance
1. He/she has little or no recognition of your business… considers you probably a flash in the pan.
2. Prospect considers you nothing more than just another start-up trying to make inroads.
3. After receiving 3 or more mailers, the prospect at least acknowledges that you don’t give up easy; nonetheless, he/she has no interest or need for your services.
4. By the 4th or 5th email (or call) you’ve possibly established some credibility and name recognition as a possible supplier
5. By the 5th email or call it appears you have established yourself as an established supplier, but nonetheless there is still no need for your service.
6. By this time, you have possibly started to pique their interest in your business or services, and they may begin to pay a bit more attention.
7. Chances are good that the recipient’s mindset has changed a bit, and is far more open-minded to your offers as well as accepting calls or inquiries from you.
8. Given the right circumstances, the recipient will now actively consider you as potential supplier, especially if during the interim he has had some questionable experiences with his/her current vendors.
9. By now, assuming the stars are properly aligned, the recipient’s willingness to try someone new as the result of possibly one or more bad experiences has become a reality.
If you’re looking for a quick fix, something that can bring about positive responses with little effort on your part then you need to try something else. The above progression and steps required to convert a prospect into a possible customer is often long and grueling.


Getting recipients to even open, let alone read a well-designed marketing piece is a constant challenge. Open rates of 18% or more are quite rare.

RULE #2 – Recalling only one out of three mailers… A corollary to rule #1 is that the average or typical direct mail recipient, when put to a recall test, can often only recall having received and/or opened one out of three mailers sent to him by a specific vendor.

The reasons recipients fail to recall ever seeing your mailing pieces are multiple and varied, but here are a few reasons given…

  • Recipient was in the office that day but was tied up in meetings and never seriously perused his mail.
  • Absent from the business the day it arrived… Owner is out of office on business or for pleasure on the day the mailing piece arrives, and general office practices are to either read or discard 3rd/bulk rate mail daily.
  • Recipient’s business day turns out to be overly chaotic with one crisis or another and he/she never gets an opportunity to examine mail.
  • Major news event occurs and totally distracts from the message you have sent. The recipient ends up concentrating solely on the major news event, to the detriment of the well-design mailing piece. Two of the most extreme events that caused billions of well-intentioned and well- designed mailing pieces to end up being thrown in the trash are when JFK was assassinated and when 9-11 occurred. However, it doesn’t take anything of that magnitude to distract prospects.
  • Poor timing as to when a mailing piece is scheduled to arrive often has a significant impact on if and when a mailing pieces is opened and/or read.
  • Poor headlines and/or subject lines (whether direct mail or email campaigns) can have a major impact on whether a mailer is ever opened let alone read!


So, if your goal is to place an effective advertising message in front of a prospect, and turn him into a customer, it may indeed require putting at least 27 mailing pieces (Combining Rules #1 and #2)…

KNOWING that it will easily take nine mailing pieces (or more) to establish your credibility (Rule #1) and knowing that the average recipient may only recall seeing one out of every three pieces you send him (Rule #2),  you may indeed have to send at least 27 marketing/mailing pieces for the numbers to work out! Formula: 9 x 3 = 27 That’s the Rule of 27!

First, you plan on mailing 27 pieces accepting the fact that you are in this for the long haul. You must be prepared for the deadly silence that often occurs after launching a direct mail campaign.

“You must be prepared for the deadly silence that often occurs after launching a direct mail campaign.

Second, even assuming you are successful in getting nine marketing pieces on your recipient’s desk, your marketing efforts and writing skills will certainly be put to the test while you get him to budge and possibly consider using your services.

Be prepared for some depressing facts as you first launch you your direct mail campaign. You will be extremely lucky if after trashing your first three mailing pieces, that your prospect will consider looking at you next four to six mailers for eight seconds or less.

Finally, if you are extremely lucky, and the stars are aligned in your favor, the prospect or recipient may finally come around, possibly find some interest in your products or services, and finally, finally, after you have sent him/her 27 ore more pieces over the course of 6 months to a year, they may finally pick up the phone and give you a call.

Here are some other useful links that discuss this rule as well…

AMEX –  The Most Important Rule in Marketing

Once A Day MarketingMarketing the Rule of 27

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