Direct Mail vs. Email Marketing

I am a direct mail guy from way back. Sometimes I believe that I am one of the few ad executives left that still understands and appreciates the art and science of this ancient medium. I have done my share of email marketing over the years as well and am often asked by clients to choose between the two for various campaigns and situations. Which one is most effective? Before we can decide which medium is more effective, we need to examine the differences. Instead of picking one over the other, we should use the strengths of each to our advantage.

Strength of Direct Mail

Direct mail is tangible and more deliberate. It is harder to ignore. Direct mail has a much better chance of getting opened and having the recipient retain at least some of your message. They may not read every word, but they may see your logo, and you may generate an impression. On the other hand, 95% of all emails are never opened.  They could get deleted or are blocked by SPAM filters without any consideration. And strangely enough, direct mail has become more interesting and believable. In fact, an Epsilon study has found that 25% of consumers found direct mail offers more trustworthy than email offers.

The quality and quantity of obtaining targeted lists is more abundant with direct mail vs. email —mainly due to opt-in policies and stricter rules for sending out an email. For this reason, all email lists are missing the majority of target prospects you are looking for. Typically, a direct mail list offers 80% more prospects.

Say what you want, but the U.S. Postal Service is still very reliable and typically delivers at a rate of 95%, whereas a great majority of prospecting email delivery is somewhere around 50%. And finally, direct mail responds better. A study by the DMA (Direct Marketing Association) shows direct mail is 10 to 30 times more effective than email.

Strength of Email

Email marketing is inexpensive, fast, and easy to implement. The best thing about email is its trackability. You can instantaneously analyze click-through rates, clicked links and submission rates to determine successes on a daily or an hourly basis. That is a keen benefit of email.

Email is less costly to implement. You can start an email campaign with very little expense. For smaller quantities with a reliable opt-in list, you can manage and send out emails yourself with programs such as MailChimp or Constant Contact. For larger quantities, you may need to use an external email service company to manage and deploy your campaigns. Either method, however, is still infinitely less expensive than traditional direct mail. Email eliminates the cost of printing and postage, which are the two largest cost components of direct mail.

The speed at which you can get an email campaign up and running is measured in days and weeks vs. several weeks with direct mail. And finally, the convenience of email to provide links to better explain your products and services is huge. Links allow consumers to understand what the entire offering is and spend time with it on their own terms. This convenience is a major reason we like emails so much.


Each of these communication options has its strengths and drawbacks for usage. You have to be the judge of which works best and test both types of communications. Using them both together might be a better option.  As my mother-in-law always says; “everyone has their strengths.”  That statement most definitely applies when it comes to direct mail and email marketing.