Direct Mail vs. Email Marketing. One or the Other? Or Both?

Today, direct marketing can be challenging—but challenging in a good way. Never before have there been more options available for reaching your target audience, influencing their purchase decisions and creating valuable relationships. Marketing plans can now include direct mail, email marketing, social media and mobile options and each can play a unique role. If marketing budgets were unlimited the choice would simply be “all of the above.” Since that’s rarely the case, let’s look at some the pros and cons of direct mail versus email marketing, a decision facing many marketers today.

Overhead Costs

Direct mail has a long history of effectiveness in delivering sales and brand awareness. And that hasn’t changed with the advent of online marketing. Consumers still like direct mail and still respond to it. The proponents of email marketing site the associated costs of direct mail as a drawback. Unlike email there is printing and postal costs that need to be factored in those can be significant. But they also provide the value of delivering more creative tangible pieces directly into the hands of consumers. Designers of direct mail are experts at creating pieces that prospects can not only see but touch, manipulate and interact with in three dimensions.
With email marketing, design can also be very creative and impactful. But, it will always be one dimensional and restricted to the html code of the delivery platform. That’s why most email platforms offer templates for customers to use and why all too often emails tend to look similar. Importantly, you want your email blasts to integrate with your website and branding so you need to consider available fonts, colors and programming costs as well as the actual CPM of delivery, a not so slight factor.


The old adage that “the mail must go through” is still true. Yes, there may be lag time with direct mail compared to the near instant delivery of email, but you can be assured that it will be delivered. It doesn’t require an “opt-in” and won’t get caught in a spam filter. Unlike email, opening a direct mail piece won’t threaten a computer virus.
As with all direct marketing, much of a campaign’s effectiveness starts with the accuracy of the data file. With so much contact information being digitized today, mail lists, if fresh, can be quite accurate and delivery nearly complete.
With email, accuracy and freshness is even more of a concern. The gold standard today is the “double opt-in” and many email marketing firms won’t accept lists that have not been verified. A bad list can get you “blacklisted” and labeled a problem vendor. Keep in mind that people change email address much more frequently than they change postal addresses so email usually requires much greater hygiene that other mail options.


In comparing the effectiveness of email vs. direct mail, the answer is not that simple. Both have advantages and value and most professional marketers would want all of their marketing initiates to integrate, support their brand and have a good ROI. For smaller firms email marketing along with social platforms offer a lower barrier to entry whereas larger firms will want to incorporate email marketing as a supplemental part of the overall marketing mix. There is one overriding factor for both. Starting with a marketing database that is clean, fresh and specifically curated to reach your target audience will impact positively every other aspect of your campaigns.


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