March 2011 - Great Debate

tips apples oranges
The Great Debate: Direct Mail vs. Email

Comparing the Pros and Cons and How to use Both
to Get the Biggest ROI.


Debating whether to replace print (whether 1:1 or static) with email? It’s a discussion that doesn’t seem to go away. It’s happening in boardrooms, around water coolers, and during lunch meetings every day.


To many, email is an inexpensive alternative to print that also offers instant gratification. But is it really a replacement? Both media have strengths and weaknesses and shine in different types of campaigns. If you’re considering replacing print with email, whether in whole or in part, here are some pros and cons of each medium to keep in mind.


  1. The percentage of opt-in email that gets opened has reached 22%, according to email service provider Epsilon.
  2. Yet even as more people are opening opt-in email, more emails are getting filtered out, too. Anecdotally, marketers are complaining that more and more of their legitimate emails never arrive—no bounces, no indication that they did not reach their intended destination. This is making email a more unpredictable form of communication.
  3. Direct mail costs more, but precisely because it costs more, it implies legitimacy. Anyone can afford spam.
  4. Scams, spam, and phishing (creating fake emails that look like legitimate ones) are creating more uncertainty about marketing communications and accessing information using email.
  5. Email can be tracked, but so can direct mail. With email, you can check whether contacts have been read. Likewise, with intelligent mail barcoding (IMB), you can see exactly when postal mail arrived.
  6. Email is inexpensive and immediate, but voluminous. In today’s emptier post boxes, direct mail is more likely to be seen.
  7. Email offers interactivity through links, animation, and other tools. With personalized URLs, QR codes, sound modules, and even novelties like USB inserts, direct mail offers interactivity and excitement, too.
  8. People often have multiple email addresses. How do you know you’re using the right one? But most people only have one home address.


Pulling It Together

Email is inexpensive and offers immediacy. If you are communicating with customers using an opt-in list, email can be an effective way to stay in touch, especially about time-sensitive events. Looking to let customers know about a last-minute sale? Email offers options not possible with print


Client Login But print has greater legitimacy. For offers like financial, insurance, and medical, print offers a gravitas that email cannot. Print also offers a longer shelf life. Especially with 1:1 personalization and QR codes, marketers report that people continue to respond to campaigns weeks, even months, after the drop date.


These reasons and more are why many marketers no longer see email and direct mail as an either/or proposition. Rather, they see them working together in a coordinated effort. That’s why, at White Oak, we recommend that marketers use print and email as part of a larger, multi-channel strategy. For example, customers might want to start with direct mail and follow up with non-responders by email. Or they might want to prime the pump with email, then follow up with direct mail.


Confused about whether to use email or direct mail for your next campaign? Or how to combine them into a multi-channel effort to pack a more powerful punch? Talk to us about your options.