Marketing executives regularly come to us looking for advice on direct mail versus email marketing. Which is better? From our experience offering both services we know it depends on a number of factors: audience, message, time in market, list quality among others. Below is a review of arguments in favor of email-only as well as direct mail-only campaigns. In general, we find that leveraging both email and direct mail in conjunction leads to the most robust and effective marketing results, as both tactics have their own respective strengths and weaknesses.
Current trends are moving towards email-only campaigns. The Harvard Business Review recently posted an article called “Why Email Marketing is King” in which they compared the ROI for direct mail marketing campaigns, email marketing campaigns, and campaigns that used both. Results are shown in the table below.
From these results, HBR calculated an ROI of $30 for Direct Mail & Email, $27 for direct mail only, and $2,600 for email only. From these numbers, it would seem to be an easy conclusion that email-only campaigns are ideal. Depending on your industry, audience demographics and message content this may be true.
There is another side to the debate, however. Proponents of combined direct mail & email campaigns, such as businessbanter.com point to studies showing that direct mail is more effective at reaching a given audience. Direct mail has delivery rates upwards of 95%, while email delivery is below 50%. DMDatabases.com also points to 20 advantages direct mail has over email. These include higher response rates, higher consumer preference to receive direct mail over email, higher perceived trustworthiness of direct mail versus spam emails, less competition in the direct mail arena, longer shelf life of direct mail (which can sit on counters and fridges for months), and higher rates of action from direct mail (https://www.usps.com/business/pdf/Acquisition_WP1.pdf)
Because both channels offer unique means of engaging prospects, marketers should always build their case by first being clear on business objectives like ROI, response rate, click through rates, or brand awareness. When multiple objectives exist, they are often best achieved through email and direct mail campaigns together.