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April 26, 2022

Direct Mail vs. Email Marketing: The Battle of the Boxes

by 
Stephanie Donelson

Let’s get ready to rumble! It’s the showdown of the boxes: the inbox vs. the physical mailbox. 

Direct mail marketing and email marketing are key tactics for modern marketers to be successful. But many marketers are pitting these tactics against each other and choosing one or the other. Even though research shows that direct mail has a 13x higher response rate than email on its own but is even more powerful when combined with email, showing response rates of 27%. Whether it’s budget constraints, a lack of resources or time, or simply a matter of thinking one is no longer a valuable channel of communication, quite a few marketers focus on one form of mail marketing. 

So, who are you placing your bet on? 

What happens when direct mail and email marketing go head to head in the ring? Let’s find out!

A fight in marketing strategies: Direct mail marketing vs. email marketing

Round 1: List building

Marketers have spent countless hours adding pop-ups to webpages, gating content, or adding CTAs to social media channels and posts to encourage sign-ups for email marketing lists. That’s only half the battle. Then you have nurture campaigns, promotional emails, newsletters, and so on. Putting it bluntly: email is saturated. Google went so far as to create a separate section for email marketing campaigns to help consumers de-clutter their mail.

Consumers, typically, only have one physical mailbox. That’s not to say direct mail doesn’t have its challenges. In the past, the timeline to create a piece of direct mail was a lot longer than putting an email campaign together and then you still had to have it printed and mailed.

Fortunately, today’s technology streamlines this process and makes it just as easy to send direct mail as an email.

Graphic showing the Lob way of sending direct mail
Streamline direct mail with Lob

Your list might be smaller and contain only those that have made a previous purchase, but don’t we all say it’s easier to keep a customer than acquire a new one?

There are several creative ways to grow your direct mail marketing list that borrow from email marketing and social media marketing best practices.

  • Offer an incentive: Ask for a prospective customer’s mailing address to receive a free sample or exclusive promo code that can’t be found on the website
  • Follow-up: If someone attends a webinar or contacts your sales department you can send them a follow-up postcard or letter
  • Lookalikes: Have a certain city or zip code that’s home to a lot of your customers? Reach their neighbors by targeting specific zip codes with an acquisition direct mail piece
  • Re-engagement: How many email addresses are sitting in a re-engagement nurture stream? We bet there’s a similar list in your CRM of customers that haven’t purchased in a while and could use a physical reminder in their mailbox to revisit your brand’s website 

Round 1 winner: We have a tie.

Email lists may be easier to build but that doesn’t mean they’re of quality. In marketing we know it’s better to have smaller lists of qualified prospects or customers than massive lists where half the contacts aren’t interested or engaged. When it comes to list building in email and direct mail marketing, the focus needs to be on quality and not size. An easy way to manage quality on the direct mail side is using address verification to reduce waste and increase ROI. 

Round 2: Personalization

Remember how exciting it was to be able to add a person’s name to an email subject line or in the body with just a snippet of code? It was a game-changer and made email feel personal again. Until consumers got so used to it that they barely recognize their own name in subject lines anymore. 

Email marketing compensated by optimizing the preview with additional copy to drive interest in opening the email. We’ve had to Marie Kondo our emails and spark joy with a few lines of text to keep open rates high.

Sparking joy can be easier with direct mail as all the content is right there for consumption and it’s a tangible product in your customer or prospect’s hands. 

You can practically personalize anything in direct mail that you can in email, such as:

  • Customer information, like first and last name
  • Images of past purchases
  • Triggered events, like registering for a webinar
  • Promo codes

It all comes down to your data and the information you’re collecting from your customers. With today’s marketing technology, if you have a field for it, you can most likely map it to a personalization token in an email or in a piece of direct mail.

Round 2 winner: We have a tie because personalization is important no matter what channel you’re using. In fact, McKinsey & Company found that 71% of consumers expect personalized experiences with brands.

Round 3: Engagement 

It’s the final round and we’re all tied up. Engagement is one of the core metrics of any marketing campaign. We spend so much of our time analyzing results and looking at open rates, click-through rates, time on site, bounce rates, unsubscribes, engagement rates on social media, and so on. We need to know what messages and formats resonate with our target audiences.

When it comes to measuring engagement, email did have a leg up but with changes in privacy policies, it’s getting harder to track what happens to an email after it hits the inbox - similar to direct mail marketing. But, both channels allow for measuring engagement through conversions and marketing attribution.

Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner. Both marketing tactics are equally effective but drive even more ROI when used together. Don’t just take our word for it, but listen to fellow marketers who have found that when digital and direct mail is combined results show:

  • 40% conversion rates
  • 68% increased website visits
  • 63% increased response rates
  • 60% increased ROI
  • 53% increased leads

As marketers, we know we’re only doing our job well when all of our marketing channels are working together. That’s why the person who manages social media, the person who manages PPC, the person who manages email marketing, and the person creating landing pages are all working on the same team. We have to have our campaigns and messages work together or we all fail. 

It’s time to stop wondering if the inbox or mailbox is going to come out as a winner as they each have their place in the omnichannel marketing mix

Curious about how to add direct mail to your marketing campaigns? Join us on April 27 for a webinar covering best practices in omnichannel marketing. Register for the How to Win with Direct Mail series now.

This blog provides general information and discussion about direct mail marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.

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