A few weeks ago, a direct marketer asked me about the value of direct mail versus email. We often address “ROI” issues like these in Marketing AdVents, the monthly newsletter of the Direct Marketing Association of Washington (DC), of which I am editor. The answer is, of course, “Let’s find out.”
You’ll hear direct mail advocates argue that nothing works as well as a targeted letter containing the perfect response device, mailed to the right recipient. In the April issue of AdVents, Kevin Mills, director of membership for the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, put it this way: “With more than 15 years of experience developing marketing strategies to increase membership and member benefits, I have the most confidence in direct mail … Direct mail provides legitimacy to our organization and its cause, and provides the vehicle for email and social media campaigns to be successful.”
Quite a few association marketers and fundraisers feel this way and some point to statistics like those found in the 2012 DMA Response Rate Report. This report collected data from 481 survey respondents in July 2012, concluding that, “Direct mail response rates outperform email. Direct mail has the lowest cost per lead or order of media distributed to lists.”
CMI quoted the same data in its August 2012 post about the effectiveness of direct mail in marketing to health care providers. And the GRI Marketing Group picked up the 2012 Channel Preference Study conducted by Epsilon, which noted that “direct mail is the preferred channel for consumers to receive brand communications – because they can read the information at their convenience.”
More recently, in February this year, Chief!Marketer noted that “direct mail is still a bargain for marketers … with results that boil down to lists and data, offers/messaging, creative and copy, and timing.”
Other marketers make a different, but also strong, case.
Studies like this from Hubspot in January 2013 suggest email can outperform direct mail, hands down. Quoting Harvard Business Review’s article “Why Email Marketing Is King,” Hubspot points to email marketing’s low cost, measurability, and the “choose-your-own-adventure” response a recipient can take.
To keep up with back-and-forth conversations like these, follow the 20,617-member Direct Mail Group on LinkedIn and any of numerous email marketing groups, including Email Marketing Gurus, Email Marketing Roundtable, and the grand-daddy 470,000-member eMarketing Association Network.
So what’s the bottom line?
No contest. In this multi-channel world, no single channel choice is ever first or final. As savvy direct marketers would say, “Who knows? Who cares?” It’s easy to find out what works best for us: Let’s TEST!