Almost everyone has an address and almost everyone also has an email address. In 2019, there were an estimated 3.9 billion email users, and by 2023, as many as 4.3 billion are projected.
As a multi-channel data provider, I know firsthand that both email and direct mail can drive powerful results, especially for acquisition campaigns, which aim to bring new prospects into your fold. Comparing them side-by-side as stand-alone channels, there are two big questions to answer: How much does it cost? And does it actually work? Let’s take a look.
For acquisition campaigns, both email and direct mail require an investment in audience data. Since you’re targeting new contacts that haven’t previously engaged with your company, you need a way to reach them, whether that’s with third-party email contact data or a mailing list of physical addresses.
In addition to audience data, email marketing costs include design, content and the email marketing platform. The additional direct mail costs include design, content, physical mailing materials, printing and postage. Direct mail offers some low-cost mailers such as postcards, but larger or more elaborate mailers can be pricey. And the increasing cost of U.S. postage is adding to that figure. The postage rate increase from $0.55 to $0.58 is a significant cost jump when applied to all recipients of a direct mail campaign.
When it comes to results, there are a few things to consider. First, is the campaign reaching the intended audience? This answer hinges on the quality of the data you’re using. While mailing addresses typically don’t change very often, email addresses do. There are legitimate concerns with using low-quality email data — your emails could go straight to junk mail folders, or worse, you could end up on email blacklists.
That’s why it’s critical to use quality data that’s been regularly maintained and scrubbed for accuracy. And quality data providers will guarantee their accuracy: A good standard to look for with B2B data is a guarantee of 95% email validity for the first 30 days. But for B2C, accuracy is generally much lower and, from what I’ve seen, providers offer no guarantees.
Second, how do recipients respond to email and direct marketing? Some studies indicate up to 90% of direct mail is opened, while even the most rockstar email campaigns would be hard-pressed to achieve a 90% open rate. But there are a few reasons for this discrepancy. Many people open all of their mail to make sure it’s not a bill or another important document. Additionally, direct mail open and response rates are estimates, because there’s no way to track if it was opened unless the recipient responds to the call to action (CTA). Email, however, digitally tracks when a message is opened (including what day and time) and whether any of the links were clicked, allowing for deeper insights and more personalized follow-up messages.
And lastly, the bottom line for results: Which channel converts more customers and drives higher sales? Email is known for having the highest return on investment (ROI). A recent Campaign Monitor study indicated that email marketing generates $44 for every dollar spent.
Cost and results are two of the most important factors when comparing direct mail and email marketing, but there are other benefits to email that push it over the line.
• Timely: Email is fast, allowing marketing to send time-sensitive messages, adapt campaigns based on performance and reach an audience at a specific time of day.
• Targeted: Email audiences can be segmented by many online and offline factors including demographics, firmographics and behavior.
• Dynamic: The digital format of email — and advances in the channel — mean you can link directly or embed videos, polls, buying options and other engaging content so the recipient can effortlessly receive more information and move through the funnel.
• Personalized: Unlike direct mail, where many people may live or work at the same address, email is most often only linked to an individual. In fact, email is so personal it is often used as a personal identifier for customer accounts, usernames, order lookups, etc.
Don’t get me wrong: Direct mail has a place in the marketing mix. Most marketers today know better than to rely on a single channel or rule one out completely. Especially in our increasingly connected world, marketers ideally need an omnichannel approach that leverages sequences to guide potential customers in their decision-making process and respond based on how they interact with the content.
A decision to buy isn’t (usually) made the first time a prospect receives an ad, whether it’s through email, direct mail, display or social. In fact, it can take an estimated eight touchpoints to convert a B2B sale with a new prospect, according to RAIN Group. With email, these touches can be delivered in line with how the prospect is moving through the funnel, based on insights from the content they’ve engaged with and preferences they’ve indicated.
As a stand-alone channel, considering the rising cost of domestic postage and the advantages of digital tracking offered by email platforms, email marketing edges out direct mail in my book. Simply put, it delivers the results marketers are looking for to drive new business at a cost that provides more value for your money.
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