Five Must-know Facts About E-mail and Direct Mail
Direct mail and e-mail have much in common. As part of the direct response media arsenal, they try to do many of the same things with their efforts. They seek to attract attention, stimulate desire, build credibility, generate involvement and, ultimately, ask for action, says Lee Marc Stein, a Philadelphia–based direct marketing consultant, copywriter and author of “Street Smart Direct Marketing.”
How they get there, however, is another matter altogether. “While they require the same understanding of direct marketing principles, there are differences in creative tactics—and e-mail requires even more emphasis on the offer than direct mail,” explains Stein.
Maybe you’re about to launch a new combo campaign of direct mail and e-mail, or you want to tweak the effort and need some pointers. Maybe you’re uncertain about which channel to invest time and money into, especially with competing new media existing as alternative options. Here are five cutting-edge facts, provided by three of the top copywriters in the direct marketing industry, about the relationship of e-mail and direct mail that will help.
1. Separate Channels Often Go Down Separate Streams, But Not Always
“It is unpredictable,” says Bob Bly, a Dumont, N.J.–based copywriter and author of “The Copywriter’s Handbook, Third Edition: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells.” “Often, I am tempted to say direct mail does not do well at driving sales online, and that if you want to get somebody to click onto your Web site URL, usually the better way to do it is generate the click online—via e-mail, banner ads, co-registration, viral marketing—and not offline (direct mail, print ads, postcards).”
At the same time, Bly admits to having written many successful promotions for online trading and investing services that were print magalogs, driving the prospect to a Web site to order. “When in doubt, though, online marketing is best for getting people to click on a URL, [and] direct mail is best for getting a reply card or order form returned, or a call to an 800 number,” he asserts.
2. E-mail Campaigns: Least Effective, But Most Cost-Efficient
If a prospect raises her hand (permitting further communication) and is moving toward a sale, then e-mail is more effective than direct mail, claims Stein, who mentions that e-mail also works well with customers in a continuing purchase situation (books, music, clothing, etc.).
If that hand is not up, however, then e-mail usually is sent to the ignominious spam dungeon. “In general, e-mail marketing is the least effective means of marketing but the most efficient,” states Bly.
He gives the following illustration. When you send out an e-mail, only a small percentage click the link to go to your Web page, and only a small percentage of those who read the landing page copy order the product. So an e-mail for a $100 product sent to a list of 50,000 e-zine subscribers might produce only 50 orders—a 0.1 percent order rate.
Meanwhile, a direct mail package might pull 10 times more orders, or 1 percent. However, the direct mail package costs $700/M to mail, while the e-mail to your opt-in list costs virtually nothing to mail. “This makes online marketing less risky and more profitable,” suggests Bly.
3. Direct Mail: The Old Horse Holds Steady, But E-mail …
The question, in the fast-moving, high-tech universe, is how long e-mail will hold its value. Neil Feinstein, director of creative strategy at True North Inc.—a New York–based advertising agency specializing in direct mail and Web design—sees its value as already greatly diminished. “Each channel has its strengths and weaknesses. And I think that while the strength of direct mail is holding steady, e-mail is waning,” he says.
“Spam and phishing, of course, are the main culprits [behind e-mail’s declining fortune]. So consumers have found ways to communicate directly without having to force their message through multiple servers and filters,” reveals Feinstein, who names social sites and instant messaging as two significant players that compete with e-mail for playing time.
At True North, Feinstein says they only use e-mail for marketing purposes when they have the customer’s e-mail address and permission. “If we don’t, we send direct mail. In a recent program we did for a credit union, both the e-mail and direct mail drove customers to the same landing page,” he illustrates.
Meanwhile, because consumers see direct mail as being safe, Feinstein declares that direct mail remains the great way to get into a home where you’re not yet invited.
4. Still, Two Channels Is Usually Better Than One!
“Today, more companies are using both channels,” affirms Stein, who mentions a major business software marketer that uses both direct mail and e-mail in its upgrade campaigns. Also, he says both Philadelphia magazine and Boston magazine use free e-newsletter subscriber lists to generate magazine subscriptions very effectively, with direct mail still working as the mainstay.
Bly recounts a similar experience when the tag-team approach works well. “In one-step direct response, the direct mail promotion is used to make the initial sale. We then use some method to get that buyer to give us his e-mail address with permission to mail to it—for instance, by offering to e-mail him a link to a free bonus report that’s a downloadable PDF,” he recounts. Once the company gets his e-mail, it now can manage his account and cross-sell and upsell him mostly or totally online, eliminating the cost of paper direct mail.
5. Different Channels Equal Different Offer, Information and Copy
If you are planning on employing both channels in your next campaign, or want to overhaul or tweak your current one, you should be aware that e-mail and direct mail require different treatments if you want to reach the audience properly.
“Offers become a more important part of the success equation in e-mail. Like DRTV, it’s a more rapid channel. You don’t have time for lengthy ‘reason why’ copy to convince someone to respond,” states Stein.
He also says that current news works better in e-mail because it normally takes a minimum of two weeks to get direct mail out and delivered. “The world could change in that time! And e-mail takes just hours and its immediacy lends itself to news,” explains Stein.
Meanwhile, direct mail is the best choice for reaching audiences that do not spend a good deal of time at the PC, while e-mail often is best for reaching PC-oriented prospects, especially heavy users of the Internet, says Bly. In other words, hopefully you’ll know some of this information about your prospects before you approach them through either channel.
Copy-wise, Bly says the direct mail letter is long, and the reply form just briefly sums up the proposition. “[But] if we think of the e-mail as the letter and the landing page the e-mail is hyperlinked to as the ‘order form,’ then the division is different. It can be 90/10 … 50/50 … 10/90 … or any combination. I prefer 10/90,” reveals Bly, who uses short teaser e-mails to drive clicks to the long-copy sales letter posted on the landing page. He says this way you do the hard work of writing a strong sales letter once and post it on a URL. Then you can experiment with many different short e-mails to see which generates the greatest clickthrough rate.
Overall, e-mail obviously has to get to the point more quickly. “E-mail copy is normally one-third as long as you would write in a direct mail package. Story-type copy, such as ‘They laughed when I sat down at the piano,’ will not work in e-mail,” claims Stein, who recommends that e-mail subject lines not be any more than seven or eight words.