Have you reached a marketing “fork in the road,” as the U.S. Data Corporation Direct Marketing Blog calls it? There are pros and cons to direct mail and email marketing, and a business must analyze its audience, marketing budget, and preferences when deciding which path to take.

Is Direct Mail More Effective?

Although it is definitely more expensive than email, studies have shown that people are much more receptive to direct mail than email marketing. This may be because consumers like to check their physical mailboxes and have something tangible in their hands, especially when making buying decisions. There is also less competition with direct mail, as many marketers use other methods, including email, social media, and cold-calling, and consumers receive much less direct mail than they used to.

According to Direct Marketing News, a December 2011 survey conducted by the marketing firm Epsilon found that 50% of the respondents preferred direct mail to email in almost every category surveyed. The reason might be that 65% of those surveyed felt that they are getting too much email, and the sheer volume of email messages received is decreasing the medium’s effect. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed by Epsilon admitted that they get a large number of emails that they never take the time to open. The study also found that 25% of all U.S. consumers believe that direct mail is more trustworthy than email.

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Email Still King, According to Harvard Business Review

Email marketing has its champions too. The Harvard Business Review reported in August 2012 that while direct mail costs more than $600 per 1,000 pieces, there are relatively fewer direct costs associated with email marketing. Although a direct mail piece is a self-contained bit of marketing, an email message allows the recipient to do his or her own research, thanks to electronic links. By clicking on these links, consumers can view a business’ products and services, read customer reviews, access white papers, and even put products in online shopping carts and hit “purchase.” All from one little marketing email.

There is also evidence that email marketing garners greater return on investment (ROI) than direct mail.

Now for the Cons

The main drawback to direct mail marketing is the expense associated with it. The response rate from a mailing depends on a variety of things, and an average response rate can be hard to predict. Factors that determine the success of a direct mail campaign include the product or service being marketed; the skill of the copywriter who developed the copy; the offer and the way it is presented to the consumer; company, brand and product recognition; the time of year the campaign is being run; and the country’s general economic conditions.

Email also has some negatives, including the laborious process required to sort through sometimes hundreds of messages each day. They must be relatively short to be read, limiting a marketer’s ability to creatively tell a story. If you write a compelling sales letter, readers will usually stay engaged, whereas people often sign up to receive emails only because it is part of a promotion, for example, to receive a discount on a product. Email is inexpensive, which is a pro but also a con, because its low cost also makes it a favorite of spammers.

What About Using Both?

Using both direct mail and email marketing has its advantages. According to Direct Marketing News, response rates can increase dramatically when direct mail and email are used in combination with each other in a multichannel campaign. Things to consider when running a two-ply campaign include making your email and direct mail branding consistent, knowing how to time your mailing with followup emails for maximum effect, and assembling your list to include both postal and email addresses. Direct mail and email have to work together, and they should be evaluated that way also.

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