There are two types of people in the world: those that cling to tradition and those that prefer something new. While this holds true in various cultures all around the world, the same goes for marketing.

Nowadays where almost everything is done online, we can receive messages in many forms and from a variety of channels, a primary one being email.

Marketers have never had more options for reaching audiences.  In any situation where we are presented with options, we typically find ourselves asking, “Which one is the best?” In this case for marketing, where digital media becomes more and more enticing, the question boils down to “Is email or traditional mail better for marketing a business?”

Email and direct mail could not be more opposite, one is online, the other is paper. One can be immediately interacted with, and the other takes time.

However, when looked at through the eyes of a marketer with something to say about their company, a similarity arises: they both send a message. To see which one does it more effectively, we need to look at their pros and cons.

Pros of email marketing

Email is one of the cheapest media channels.  There is no buying airtime on a television or space in a magazine.  You have a marketing message, an email account, and a list of people and addresses to send that message to.  If you craft the right message and send it to the right people, you should see some positive results.

Thanks to email being online, tracking the results of your efforts are easy.  You can track data on whether or not the email was delivered, how often it was opened by the recipient, what was clicked on, and more.

It only takes a second for an email to go from your screen to the inbox of a recipient, and once they open it, they can interact with it immediately.  And you can deliver a message to thousands, or even millions of people at once.

Cons of email marketing

Spam, also known as junk mail, accounts for 14.5 billion emails sent every day.  Having an inbox full of emails you don’t want to read results in one thought: where do I unsubscribe? You may be in love with the email you have created: the copy, images, and calls to action might all be great in your eyes.  Everyone may not agree.

To avoid unsubscribes, you may want to include a survey on the unsubscribe page to ask former subscribers what turned them off from your emails.  Was it the layout?  Frequency of emails?  Too much text?  Use this data to produce better emails.

Building a list takes time

You can’t send an email without an email address, building a list of people that opt-in to your emails takes time.  Forms on your website can help you capture leads and convert those visitors into email subscribers.

Direct mail (snail-mail) marketing uses mail services to deliver printed promotional materials to your target audience. These materials can be catalogues, brochures, newsletters, and coupons.

Pros of direct mail

Not everyone has an email address.  Older audiences and people that are disconnected from the business world might not have a personal email address.  Also, there is only one inbox for direct mail to be sent, meaning direct mail avoids being sent to spam.

For companies that have a good understanding of their target, direct mail has the ability to bring about some solid returns.  They can be highly targeted, meaning businesses can send direct mail to specific buying groups based on different market segmentations: geographic, demographic, psychographic, and behavioural.

Cons of direct mail marketing

There are lots of moving parts to a direct mail campaign.  Designing, writing copy, printing, and finally mailing the materials, costs that add up very easily.  Some businesses can generate great conversions with direct mail, but they are most likely an established business that has done many direct mail campaigns before.

Response rates for direct mail tend to be very low, on average about 5%.  While there is no spam folder for your direct mail to fall into, there is the recipient’s bin.  If someone isn’t expecting mail it is more likely that the mail will end up in the bin.

Which is best?

All in all, email marketing and direct mail both have their pros and cons.  For cost alone email marketing is the best, factor in measurability, open rate, and a few other factors it simply doesn’t make sense to use direct mail.  However, what if the two were combined into one campaign which complimented each other, start with your email database, then interact with who opens your email via direct mail……food for thought.