E-mail versus Direct MailWhich is Better?
PRO: E-mail is cheap. Which is why spammers love it. They don't care whether response rates are low because their costs are negligible. If you want to reach a large number of people and if you have access to a solid, opt-in list, go for it. A test sure won't cost you an arm and a leg.
PRO: E-mail is fast. In two senses. First, your production time is minimal. As soon as you get an idea to test, you can write a motivating e-mail, and hit the send button. Second, your prospect gets your e-mail instantly so responses can start pouring in within minutes. Speed, from start to finish, means you can be a super-agile marketer.
PRO: E-mail is a fabulous testing medium. As a result of the speed I mentioned above, you can get virtually instant answers to your marketing questions. Is a cross-sell offer going to be a winner? Send a group of prospects an e-mail and you'll have an answer. Have you written two great headlines but can't decide which one to go with? Do some e-mail testing and get your answer fast!
PRO: Downloadable fulfillment pieces are instantly accessible. For example, if you're offering prospects a White Paper filled with valuable information, they can click through to your landing page, fill in a little qualifying information and download your White Paper in under two minutes. The fact that they don't have to wait long to get their free fulfillment piece boosts response rates.
CON: The e-mail "environment" is poor. Thanks to the spam avalanche, sorting through e-mail messages is a real drag. That means your prospects are looking for messages from colleagues, family and friendsand everything else is out, and fast.
CON: E-mail messages have to be (relatively) short. When prospects are going through their e-mail, they want information quickly. So long copy is out. Complex offers are out. Supporting facts and arguments are out.
CON: E-mails limit your creativity. An all-text e-mail is obviously visually quite boring. The message is the whole ball game. Even in an HTML e-mail, you can throw in some color and photography, but the look is never great. Let's face it. With e-mail, your graphic designer is fighting with one hand tied behind her back.
CON: Great e-mail lists are hard to find. Yeah. List brokers promise you a high-quality "opt-in" list but you're often playing with fire. The simple fact is that the direct mail list business is a LOT more mature.
DIRECT MAIL PROS:
PRO: The direct mail environment is a good one. Sure, people call direct mail "junk mail." But they use the term with a lot less anger than they do when they speak of "spam." When you read through your e-mail, you're sitting at a desk staring at a monitor and you're busy. When you sort through your postal mail, you're probably much more relaxed and feel less put upon. This difference in receptivity is, in my judgment, incalculably important.
PRO: Direct mail gives you the space you need to tell the whole story. If you write a compelling letter, readers will stay with you. They will NOT stick with you in an e-mail.
PRO: In direct mail, you can use emotion. In your letter or flyer you can inspire, frighten, cajole, convince, make cogent arguments and motivate. Readers just don't want that in an e-mail. They want you to tell them the facts and get out. Which, for a writer like me, is very limiting, indeed.
PRO: In direct mail you can include different pieces you can hold in your hand. I'm talking about a colorful flyer, a testimonial sheet filled with raves, objective product reviews, you name it. You never know what's going to capture a reader's interest or attention. With an e-mail you get pixels on the screen and nothing more.
DIRECT MAIL CONS:
CON: Direct mail can be expensive. Postage is sky high and heading higher. Printing often costs a ton of money and there's list rental and lettershop costs to consider. Not to mention creative development. The bottom line? Direct mail can be very cost-effective but there's no question that your front-end costs are going to be higher. That's the only big "con" I think you have to worry about.
As you can see from the pros and cons listed above, e-mail and direct postal mail both have their advantages. Lately, direct mail has been in a bit of a decline, partly because of the economy and partly because e-mail marketing has made inroads.
My own feeling is that direct mail will be making a HUGE comeback as spammers continue to destroy a legitimate marketing channel. My advice? Keep on testing e-mail but don't neglect the proven, money-making power of a letter package or self-mailer!
Ivan Levison is a freelance direct response copywriter who works for such companies as Bank of America, Fireman's Fund, Intel and Microsoft. Levison writes direct mail sales letters, e-mails and ads. For a free subscription to his monthly e-mail newsletter for marketers, visit his Web site at www.levison.com. He can be reached at (415) 461-0672 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.