Mail Vs EMail Marketing - Which Is More Effective

Does ‘Snail Mail’ still work?
Direct marketing - where you convey your ‘sales offer’ directly to the potential customer with a letter and maybe other enclosures such as a card or leaflet - used to be the preserve of communications by post.

Then came email, and with it the chance to communicate with your prospective customer directly through their inbox and at much less cost, both financially and in terms of time, than by post.
Is email the better option and has the old fashioned letter gone the way of the dodo or is it still a viable marketing method?

Pros and cons

The short answer is probably ‘it depends’, and there are undoubted pros and cons to each. Those engaged in the direct mail industry say that, not only is there still a healthy demand for direct marketing through the post, but the advance of online technologies has actually enhanced direct mail use.

Direct mail is being used more and more to promote websites, encourage people to buy online and even collect information from prospects such as - ironically - email addresses.

Pros of email

Inexpensive - there are no real costs in creating a marketing email and hitting ‘send’ once to an email list unless you hire others such as a direct marketing agency to do it for you.

You may have to factor in the time it takes to compile an email list unless you’re renting one, but the same would apply with the postal option.
Fast - for similar reasons above, it’s quick to do and within seconds many people will receive your message, and within hours you could have people visiting your site, messaging back and maybe buying.
Trackable - compared to post, analysing your email campaigns is very simple in terms of assessing open rates, clicked links and conversions. You can’t track post anywhere near as accurately.
Convenient - it’s easy to direct people to your offer with links to your website, offers and more.

Cons of email

‘Quality’ attention - your recipient may be reading your message while in the middle of other things. At a busy desk or on the go on their mobile or tablet, their attention may be split amongst other things - social media alerts, other emails vying for their attention, phones ringing and more.
Delivery - your email may not even reach its intended target. With people receiving so much email, spam filters are sending more and more unsolicited email to the spam folder or even deleting them on the spot.
Short attention span - if your prospect sees your message, they’ll likely judge it on the headline before deciding whether to open it - a process that may take them a few seconds at most.
Restricted creativity - compared to paper communications, there are severe limits to what can be achieved creatively in an email. You can’t overdo it with graphics, and attachments will be greeted with suspicion and possibly not opened due to virus threats.
List quality - if you’re renting a list, email mailing lists are notoriously variable in quality. The old saying “a mailing is only as good as the list” is as true for email as for post.

Pros of direct mail

More receptive recipients - well-designed direct mail using good quality printed envelopes can be effective, or at least get read. The recipient may be less busy when handling their post compared to when dealing with emails.
Less competition - your competitors may all be using email, so your direct mail approach may stand out more.
Longer lasting - an email might only last a moment or two before being forgotten about while a letter may be retained longer.
Higher open rates - much email is never opened whereas post is at least looked at even if every word isn’t digested.
List quality - it’s far more likely your list will be of higher quality than an email list in terms of ‘live’ addresses and being able to precisely target your prospect. This is mainly due to direct mail list broking being a more mature industry.

Cons of direct mail

Cost - it’s much more expensive than email when you consider postage, stationery, possible design and printing and - for large mailings - possible costs of bulk mailing services. It costs between £80 and £200 per thousand letters, depending on how targeted your campaign is.
Slower - the time it takes for your mail to reach its recipients and for them to open and take action.
Poor targeting wastes money - a poor list and ineffective targeting wastes money. With email, a poorly targeted campaign won’t cost much except some time putting it together.

So what is best?

Generally, marketers tend to say email is more effective for selling to established customers or a ‘warm’ mailing list. Trust and perhaps a relationship has been built, so an email will be more likely read from a known source. If the prospect takes action, then the process of directing them to the offer and closing the sale can be quick.
For prospecting new business, however, the consensus view is that direct mail is preferable. Due to the proliferation of spam and people’s ever-reducing attention spans regarding email, it can be difficult to get their attention unless you happen to hit them with an offer that is exactly what they need at that time.
For many, a combination of the two is often the best course to take. Smaller concerns may lean towards email in the interests of time and money, but unless a good list is used it won’t be effective.

Assessing the whole cost

Overall, the costs of promoting have to be balanced against the revenue gained from the sale. For high ticket items, maybe direct mail is more appropriate. It may be more expensive and time consuming, but if the product or service is especially high value then these costs could be more than offset by profits from sales.

Author bio:
Paul Thompson is the Director for Quick Envelopes which produces quality printed envelopes and charity envelopes for businesses across the UK.

Image credit/license: Image author owned
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