Direct mail or email?

Which is the better way to reach your customers and get them to buy from you? This is one of the most frequently asked questions we get asked and this article discusses pros and cons of both.

Using opt-in e-mail can be a great way to generate leads and sales, but so can regular snail mail. Here’s a quick guide to the pros and cons of both direct mail and email to help you choose the right way to contact prospects and build your business.

Email Pros

Email is cheap. Which is why spammers love it and they don’t care whether response rates are low because their costs are negligible. If you want to reach a large number of people and you have access to a solid, opt-in list, go for it. A test won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

Email is fast. First, your production time is minimal. As soon as you get an idea to test, you can write a motivating email, and hit the send button. Second, your prospect gets your email instantly so responses can start pouring in within minutes. Speed, from start to finish, means you can be a super-agile marketer.

Email is a fabulous testing medium. As a result of the speed, you can get virtually instant answers to your marketing questions, eg. Is a cross-sell offer going to be a winner? Send a group of prospects an email and you’ll have an answer. Have you written two great headlines but can’t decide which one to go with? Do some split testing via email and get your answer fast!

Downloadable fulfilment pieces are instantly accessible. For example, if you’re offering prospects a White Paper filled with valuable information, they can click through to your landing page, fill in a little qualifying information, and download your White Paper in under two minutes. The fact that they don’t have to wait long to get their free fulfilment piece boosts response rates.

Email Cons

The email ‘environment’ is poor. Thanks to the spam avalanche, sorting through email messages is a real pain. That means your prospects are looking for messages from clients, colleagues, family, and friends, and everything else is out, fast!

Email messages have to be (relatively) short. When prospects are going through their email, they want information quickly. So long copy is out. Complex offers are out. Supporting facts and arguments are out.

Emails limit your creativity. An all-text email is obviously visually quite boring. The message is the whole ball game. Even in an HTML email, you can throw in some colour and photography, but the look is never great. Let’s face it. With email, your graphic designer is fighting with one hand tied behind their back.

Great email lists are hard to find. List brokers promise you a high-quality ‘opt-in’ list but you’re often playing with fire. The simple fact is that the direct mail list business is a lot more mature and you can find ethical and helpful list brokers if you shop around.

Direct Mail Pros

The direct mail environment is a good one. Sure, people call direct mail ‘junk mail’. But they use the term with a lot less anger than they do when they speak of ‘spam’. When you read through your email, you’re sitting at a desk staring at a monitor and you’re busy. When you sort through your postal mail, you’re probably much more relaxed and feel less put upon. This difference in receptivity is, in my judgment, incalculably important.

Direct mail gives you the space you need to tell the whole story. If you write a compelling letter, readers will stay with you. They will NOT stick with you in an email.

In direct mail, you can use emotion. In your letter or flyer you can inspire, cajole, convince, make cogent arguments, and motivate. Readers just don’t want that in an email. They want you to tell them the facts and get out which is very limiting indeed.

In direct mail you can include different pieces you can hold in your hand. I’m talking about a colourful flyer, a testimonial sheet filled with raves, objective product reviews, you name it. You never know what’s going to capture a reader’s interest or attention. With an email you get pixels on the screen and nothing more.

Direct Mail Cons

Direct mail can be expensive. Postage is sky high and heading higher. Printing often costs a ton of money and there are list rental and labour costs to consider. Not to mention creative development!

The bottom line? Direct mail response rates can be very cost effective but there’s no question that your front-end costs are going to be higher. That’s the only big ‘con’ I think you have to worry about.

Final thoughts

As you can see from the pros and cons listed above, email and direct mail both have their advantages. In the last few years, direct mail has declined, partly because of the economy and partly because email marketing has made inroads. However, we do feel that direct mail is making a big comeback as spammers continue to destroy a legitimate marketing channel.

Our advice? Keep on testing email but don’t neglect the proven, money-making power of a direct mail letter!



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