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Direct mail vs. email: The ultimate marketing smackdown

Posted by Randy Mitchell on January 15, 2015

The crowd is loud and the arena is dark.

In their corners, the two combatants pace nervously. This will be the fight of their lives.

A microphone descends from the rafters and the announcer steps to center ring. He surveys the crowd slowly and his deep voice cuts the air.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the main event. This is the battle every marketer has been waiting for. Now, let’s meet the fighters.”

“In this corner, a true marketing heavyweight. It beat the control...broke through a crowded mailbox…and is still standing tall after all these years. Let’s hear it for Direct Mail.”

“And in the far corner, the challenger. It blasts to millions…battles past the spam filters…and fights for every click-through. Put your hands together for Email.”

“Let’s get ready to marrrrrrrket.”

Direct mail vs. email: Now that’s a true marketing smackdown. Both sides have legions of fans from all industries. But when your entire campaign is in the balance, you have to back a winner or you get knocked right out of contention.

So let’s crown a champion. The bell sounds and it’s on.


Round 1: Get it opened

The first few seconds are key to the success of the communication. In this fight for market share, both direct mail and email face the same challenge. If they don’t get opened, it’s all over.

Direct mail hits first with the outer envelope. In order to score points with the target and get them to open the piece, the envelope must have a truly relevant appeal that resonates immediately. That means the design and messaging need to be both meaningful and motivating. They must speak to the prospect on their terms and compel them to literally open up to the communication. If everything works, then direct mail is still in the fight.

Email also has to make an immediate impact. If it doesn’t, it gets deleted and this fight is over. For email, the battle starts with the “friendly from.” The sender must be legitimate or the email is knocked out. Next comes the all-important subject line. It needs to be brief, relevant and compelling enough to increase email open rates. And don’t forget the preheader. This is the text that follows the subject line when an email is previewed. The preheader is one of the first things the target sees when viewing an email, so it should work as hard as the subject line. If the email gets past round one, then the fight gets even harder.


Round 2: Deliver the message

Direct mail starts this round with a major edge. A typical package usually contains multiple components, including the letter and a brochure or buckslip. That means direct mail is a heavyweight when it comes to information. But even with this advantage, it’s still an uphill battle. Direct mail has to be personalized, focused, relevant and informative. It needs to come at this challenge from the target’s point of view and give them all of the information they need to take an action.

Email needs to be nimble in round two. It doesn’t have all of the components of direct mail, so it has to be very smart. Email can still tell a compelling story and get the target engaged. It can also be highly personalized, like direct mail. But the goal here is to drive the target to a landing page to get more complete information or order. Here’s another challenge: With the ever-growing use of tablets and smartphones, mobile-responsive email formats are essential. Mobile is a battleground that email can’t afford to lose.

If both contenders have delivered the message, it’s on to the knockout round.


Round 3: Drive response

Direct mail can’t ease up now. If the package doesn’t tell the target precisely what to do, then all of the hard work in rounds one and two is wasted. One of the top direct mail best practices is to include clear calls to action. These essential elements spell out exactly what the package wants the target to do and all the ways they can respond. If there are multiple components in the direct mail package, each of them should have at least one call to action. But don’t let your guard down because direct mail has one final jab. It can hit home with a P.S. line in the letter that restates what the target needs to do. The P.S. is one of the most read parts of the letter, and it’s another opportunity to drive response.

Email is still in this fight to drive response and generate click-throughs. Like the direct mail package, email needs to make it extremely clear what the target needs to do. This action may seem like a simple click or tap, but to the target it represents a commitment. That’s why the email has to finish strong. Is there a button driving a simple but direct action? Can the target click through to learn more? And when they do click through, do they go directly to the information or form that the email promised? If the answers are “yes,” email has battled all the way to the final bell.


The judges have a decision

What an epic fight.

When the smoke clears, direct mail is more informative while email is more immediate. Direct mail has a hard-hitting call to action while email counters with a lightening quick click-through. Direct mail has decades of proven best practices while email goes anywhere the target is.

But what do the judges say?

According to a DMA study, direct mail generates response rates that are up to 30 times higher than email. However, the DMA also noted that 91% of consumers check their email at least once a day.

So who truly wins this marketing smackdown? Marketers who use both direct mail and email.

These two fighters work much better together. Developing a multichannel campaign with direct mail and email gives you more contacts with your target and more opportunities to capture their attention.

Sign up now for your FREE email marketing assessment. Your campaign can educate your target with direct mail, remind them to act with emails and use a combination of both to increase the urgency to respond. In the process, you can use both direct mail and email for their unique strengths. And here's the best part:
If your target responds to either, you win the battle.

Is your email ready for the fight? J&C can provide you with a free email marketing assessment to find out. This free session includes an audit of your current efforts and proven techniques you can apply to optimize your email programs.

Topics: Direct Marketing

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