What Are You Doing to Compete with Email?

By | February 8, 2011

There has been a lot of chatter about email vs. direct mail lately, and for good reason. Email is cheap. Email provides instant gratification. Email campaigns can be deployed at the push of a button.

It is no wonder that marketers love email. In fact, according to StrongMail’s 2011 Marketing Trends Report, 65% of businesses are planning to increase their spend on email marketing this year compared to 18% that are planning to increase their spend on direct mail.

So here’s the question. Next time one of your clients tells you they are cutting back on print in favor of email, what are you going to say? (Or do you simply watch  their print volumes disappear without asking any questions?) Do you have a response prepared?

If not, here are a few thoughts you might want to have at the ready:

  • Email has a high value for communicating with existing customers, but for prospecting, nothing beats direct mail.
  • Email lists are notoriously unreliable. They cannot be checked beforehand, so their quality only becomes known after you’ve pushed “send.”
  • Email lists go out of date quickly. People change addresses at the drop of a hat.
  • People have multiple email addresses (even dummy addresses to avoid marketers like you), but they typically only have one home.
  • Many people use their work email as their primary address; consequently, your communication faces the relentless, often over-zealous corporate spam filter.
  • Consumers’ home addresses don’t have a spam filter.
  • Email generates immediate response, but print has a longer shelf life. Recipients often respond to direct mail weeks or even months after it arrives in their home.
  • Print has a gravitas that email does not. This makes it preferred for financial, medical, and other communications of a more serious and confidential nature.
  • You have to touch direct mail in order to “delete” it.

Email has many benefits. So does direct mail. One is not necessarily better than another. Marketers simply need to understand their value and use them in symbiosis, not in competition. But they may not think of that on their own. When you find out they’ve shrunk their print budget in favor of email, will you stand there dumbfounded? Or will you have a response ready?

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10 thoughts on “What Are You Doing to Compete with Email?

  1. Patrick Whelan

    Great article. My only two cents is that I’m highly suspect about the numbers, studies, etc coming from the industry email providers (StrongMail, Constant Contact, Blue Sky, etc). This is the same group of players that loves to tout 99% deliverability but conveniently ignores the issue of corporate firewalls becoming more effective at blocking much of the emails that are sent through their programs.

    Email is better than doing nothing but in most cases, it doesn’t come close to producing the results that direct mail does.

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    Agreed. There was an interesting study done by Global Industry Analysts that predicts strong growth in direct mail in part because of the growing adoption and value of targeting and personalization, as well as its ability to reach target audiences not well served by email, such as those with lower incomes. (See info on the report at http://tinyurl.com/29g2krq.) The more printers are conversant with these types of studies, the more they can intelligently discuss the pros and cons of both media with their clients.

  3. Tom McMahon

    They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but you can’t grab my attention in an e mail unless you have a very compelling headline. In most cases, I never open the e mail to see the picture. On the other hand, with direct mail, send me a photo on a postcard of a Sandy beach, (it’s cold today) and I will look at what you have to say. E mail blasts are copy driven, the copy causes people to go further. Direct mail can use the full spectrum of graphics, photography and design to grab attention.

  4. Ricardo Munoz

    Some interesting points here but I’d like to raise another relevant point.

    There is a generational shift in practices of customers away from email. I’ve noticed that more and more personal messages are reaching me via social media rather than through my primary email address, even from those who were normally accustomed to sending me emails. Millenials do not see email as a technology of first choice.

    The continued reliance on email as a marketing medium reflects an investment in processes and practices that companies are loath to change, and will probably remain during this current fermentation stage of new media. It’s also partly explained their reliance on an older paradigm of a two-stage message-action rather than on continuous interaction, which is what new media tend to promote.

    That direct mail continues to position itself against email reflects how direct mail providers still consider themselves a part of that older paradigm. Broadcast advertisers have already embraced an emerging paradigm by moving content back and forth between television screen and web/social media. They’ve embraced the “like” button.

    Perhaps it’s time for printed direct mail to do the same. 2D barcodes that link a direct mail piece to a facebook profile are one way. Any others?

  5. Norm Sanford

    You could also respond by offering services based on email, either by itself or in combination with direct mailing. Whether printed or emailed, we are still dealing with variable data. I know Jet Letter PSL can be used to print and/or email variable data PDFs. Very probably other standard VDP products are capable of this as well.

  6. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    @Ricardo. Interesting point. I just finished reading Media magazine’s agencies of the year and creative media awards and there was no mention of email that I can think of. It was all SEO, social media, and mobile. I don’t think I remember a mention of email anywhere. But then, Millennials are not the only consumers out there spending. They are simply one demographic among many.

  7. Kaushal Gunaratne

    I read this article because my father who is a printer forwarded the Digital Nirvana e-newsletter to me. After reading this article I subscribed to the e-newsletter. This type of response is not possible with direct marketing or printed newsletter. There’s no way my father would have mailed a printed newsletter from Sri Lanka to Australia, where I live, so that I can read this article.

    In saying that I totally agree with Heidi Tolliver-Nigro. People need to look at their target audience, demographics and specially the quality of the email list before they cut down printing and jump on email marketing band wagon. If your strategy is to simply buy an email list and do a mass email-out, not only you will not get a good response but you will hurt your brand as well.

    We work in print space as well as email and social media space. We always work with our clients to build a strategy to combine all marketing avenues rather than using them individually. Email can be a very powerful tool if you build your contact list ground up “trusted” recipient list that has opted-in to receive your emails. Direct marketing can be a powerful tool can be used to generate this database and your social media network.

  8. Holly Hagen

    Lots of good comments and perspectives on direct mail marketing vs email effectiveness. I use both tools in my marketing efforts. Email is quick, cheap and instantly tells me if a client is no longer with the organization or on personal leave. Clients will occasionally reply to one of my email blasts but rarely make the effort to pick up the phone to call me after receiving a postcard. I agree with Tom that a beautifully designed email blast has no value if the receiver never opens the email and downloads the images. Junk email is growing problem in everybody’s inbox so careful not to over saturate your audience and turn them off.

    Direct mail may cost more but doesn’t have to battle with the organization’s server and will end up on the individual’s desk. What is the benefit of quick and cheap if it doesn’t reach your audience? Many people are tactile and appreciate the printed piece as we are becoming overloaded with electronic devices.

    As far as the younger generation, my teenage daughter only uses FB to communicate with friends and never checks her emails. Something to consider as we market to the newest members of the workforce.

  9. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro

    This issue of the younger generation not using email is really interesting and important — and under-reported, I think. My sister falls into this category, too. For years, the easiest way to communicate with her was by email, but over the last year or so, I’d been frustrated by lack of response. Then I learned from my parents that she doesn’t check email anymore. If I want to communicate with her, I need to call her or text her.

  10. David Roberts

    I’ve not read all the replies, but my short argument would be that Direct Mail should serve to enhance e-mail, and vice-versus. If you’re not doing both in harmony, then you’re really not getting the best bang for your buck. Both are key components in the marketing services tool-kit.

    The execution of cross-media campaigns (in conjunction with with personalized URLs, social media and SMS) are where the industry really needs to focus. Send relevant offers via direct mail to highly targeted lists in order to cultivate your e-mail lists… then you’ll find that e-mail lists are more focused and the recipients more receptive… which equals to better response rate.

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