Direct Mail vs E-Mail: Which Works Better?

How do you market - with email or snail mail?

What’s better? To send out direct mail with printing, postage & hard copies? Or to hit the button and zip out an email?

In my opinion, there are pros & cons to each:

electronic mail:
It’s quicker - an instant delivery.
It’s less expensive - no printing or postage costs
More flexibility
Much less personal
Easy to ignore or delete
Bulk emails can be illegal if used incorrectly
Less tangible, believable
Lower percent of response

hard copy mail:

A hard copy has the ability to stick around for a day or two or longer.
More tangible/credible
Higher response rate
Time consuming to execute

Which one to use? It depends on your industry, your target market and your message.

My opinion is a hard copy first and after the relationship is established, let them pick how they’d like you to communicate. That way the email is less likely to be deleted because they requested it. And I always include an OPT OUT with each email.

In general, the percent of response shouldn’t be how you evaluate it, but the cost per response may make more sense. However, if you’re trying to build brand image, awareness and reputation, snail mail makes more sense.

I know, I know! Image, awareness and reputation don’t immediately turn into sales. But a quick sale can become just a spike in the business that you’ll need to prime over and over again to maintain. So, maybe the question should be branding versus marketing?

What has been your experience?

Author: Chris Brown

Business owner operating a marketing consulting firm. Online Publisher. Keynote Speaker.

4 thoughts on “Direct Mail vs E-Mail: Which Works Better?”

  1. Chris, I like how you laid out the pros and cons of each option. As many of us have, I’ve done both. Currently, I’m in an industry with lots of research and development people. They are Internet fanatics. So, we have drilled down to the main web sites they use, surveyed them and now use email, very selectively, when we have a key message for them. Results have been good!

  2. Direct mail vs. e-mail? It truly depends on the offer, the audience and, most importantly, the individual customers’ preferences.

    Oh, if we could only know for each and every person on our customer or prospect database how they prefer to hear from us, and (even more importantly) through which channel they’ll respond to us.

    That’s why testing is so darn important. As is building in a way to catch customer communications preferences.

    Both easier to talk about, then to actually do :)

  3. Chris,

    Thanks for reminding us that direct mail isn’t actually dead yet!

    Yes, there are pros and cons to each and each has its place and function. The key is to TEST and optimize each and then figure out how to make them happily coexists together (and profitably) in one’s marketing mix. The fundamentals, though. never change. Target the right people with the right message, make the copy compelling and then inspire people to take action of some kind.

    Oh, and for those reading, keep in mind that both sciences are constantly changing so ignore any “conventional wisdom” or rules-of-thumb you might have picked up along the way. It/they probably doesn’t apply anymore.


  4. I’m kind of biased because I work for a direct mail production company…but I think combining the two is pretty powerful.

    I think direct mail is perfect for really targeting your offer and making sure your audience at least is aware of your offer…

    …and then follow that up with email, and I’d imagine it would be a pretty effective one-two punch.

    We don’t do email so I can’t speak from experience, but from what I read, this is usually the case.


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