Do You Really Have to Choose Between Direct Mail & Emails?

The debate between direct mail and email marketing has been around since email was introduced. Both sides have provided their arguments and alleged that the other side is obsolete or ineffective. However, as you already know, both direct mails and emails are common from a consumer standpoint. So, the real question is not about which one is obsolete but which one is more preferable for your marketing objectives.

Biggest Problems with Email Marketing?

Email marketing seemed like the perfect alternative to direct mail. It was faster, traceable, and promised to be more effective. However, with decades of data now available on email marketing effectiveness, it would be safe to say that this medium has its own reservations:

  1. Spam Complaints

A recently published report stated that nearly 85% of all emails are spam. While spamming might reduce the cost per email for a brand, it dramatically diminishes the conversion rate and consumer experience. 

  1. Delivery Rates and Bounce Rates

Campaign Monitor conducted a study across 100 billion emails and found that the average open rate was 18%. This means that if you craft the perfect subject and send the email in limited numbers, it would still be opened by only one in five recipients. 

  1. Click-Through Rates

Also known as the email click rate, this metric shows how many people engaged with your emails. When someone clicks on the image, CTA, hyperlinked text, or any other element in the email’s body, it gets measured in the count for the CTR. The same study mentioned above stated that emails generated a CTR of just 2.6% – meaning less than three out of a hundred recipients will actually engage with your emails. 

Major Advantages of Email Marketing

It might seem that email marketing is not exactly a panacea. But, all major brands use it in some the other forms. And there is a very rational side to why email marketing, when done well, can yield results:

  1. Speed and Consistency at Scale

The lead time for sending out emails after the campaign is ready is virtually zero. On top of this, you can use a programmed template and maintain consistency in graphics, CTA, and copy across millions of emails.

  1. Traceability for Feedback

If you have configured the emails with advanced tools, it should not be difficult for you to get the exact engagement data on each mail. You will be able to estimate with a reasonable degree of confidence which elements have to be optimized and which elements must be sustained. For instance – platforms like MailChimp and Hubspot will help you explore every micro-interaction across the email’s body, alongside open rates and CTRs.

  1. Cost of Delivery

Even if one includes the cost of graphics, copywriting, A/B testing, and using a dedicated platform with a corporate email ID, the cost of delivery is still practically none. You are paying for indirect costs, but they become expensive on a per-unit basis only at a large scale. 

Direct Mail Marketing: Does It Still Work?

The simple answer is – a resounding ‘yes. Direct marketing works even today. But, before one dives into the advantages, one should be fully aware of the risks:

  1. Relatively Slow Process

Even if you are working with fast postal service, it will take you a few days to close the communication loop with your prospects after you have mailed them your marketing collateral. 

  1. Missing Feedback Loop

There are approximations like website searches, unique codes for each customer to track sales, etc., that can help you understand whether the direct mail campaign worked or not. But, the feedback loop is relatively slower and blurry. 

  1. Operational Challenges

Sending out direct mail is an operational challenge because of the physical nature of the process – envelopes, stamping, sorting, mailing, etc. You can have companies doing this for you, but if you have an internal team focusing on this, it will take some time to optimize the pre-mailing process. 

  1. Cost at Scale

If you plan to send millions of direct mails throughout the year, you are positioning your brand in an uphill battle against the cost per acquisition. Direct mail is not designed for a very large scale. 

What Makes Direct Mail Marketing Effective?

Several brands, agencies, and marketers still use direct mail. Here are some reasons why this makes absolute sense: 

  1. Differentiated Messaging and No Spam Issues

With direct mail, you are not subjected to the channel or the medium. Simultaneously, there is no filter actively distancing you from the lead. This way, you get access to the prospect’s attention directly, thereby increasing the conversion probabilities. This reflects in the fact that over 90% of direct mails are opened. 

  1. More Engaging Experience

Xerox reports that 79% of direct mails are read for over a minute. Now, compare that to the research that shows people spend a little over 11 seconds per email. And that includes work emails that require more attention. 

  1. Control on the Medium

Apple, Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo collectively control over 90% of the market share in the email services market. This shows that even if your email is very well designed, the inbox experience will never be in your control. On the other hand, direct mail gives you absolute control over the texture, quality, color, and design of the envelope, paper, and even the stamp. This way, you can take absolute control of the reading experience via direct mail. 

  1. More Reliable Intent Assessment

While email provides tracking, how does one account for mistaken clicks? There might be bots or clicks made by mistake that get into the calculation for engagement. With direct mail, if a prospect interacts with your brand using a channel mentioned exclusively in the direct mail content, you have absolute assurance that this is a signal of intent. On the campaign level, this can help you allocate resources more efficiently to high-intent leads. 

The Smart Marketer’s Toolkit: Integrated Marketing

So, what is the conclusion – direct mail or email? The answer, as usual, is it depends on your marketing objectives. You can choose the high engagement medium or the quick scale medium. Whatever you choose, the goal must be to create an optimized communication channel. Here are some innovative ideas on how to use an integrated channel with the best direct mail automation software and email marketing software at your disposal: 

  1. Direct Mail for Introduction and Email for Follow Up

Open rates and CTR can be lower at the beginning of the customer journey. If you have the customer’s address, it would be better to start with stronger engagement and hence have direct mail at the beginning of the customer lifecycle, followed by emails.

  1. Direct Mail in Your Escalation Matrix

You can solve issues like abandoned carts with direct mail since it has better engagement rates. Continue with the automated period emails reminding users about their abandoned carts. Once you have determined a high-value user is not converting, you can send a direct mail with offers to nudge the user. 

  1. Converting the Disengaged with Direct Mail

There will be some users that never engage with your email campaigns. Their inbox might be flooded, or your email is getting redirected to spam. Irrespective of the cause, if you want to convert a high-value lead, you can send a direct mail that gets noticed. 

The thumb rule is this: use direct mail for brand awareness and stronger engagement, email for passing on transactional information. 

In Conclusion

It is easy to get lost in the debate of ‘direct vs email’. However, no marketer should pledge allegiance to a medium. Your entire focus is on conversions and engagement. And when executed with the right set of tools, both direct and email marketing campaigns. Use this guide to formulate your strategy for crafting a direct mail or email campaign.