Marketing Twofer: Email And Direct Mail Work Best Together, Study Finds

Postal mail outperforms email, according to a study by Go Inspire Group. 

No doubt. Direct mail has a longer shelf life, and is used more sparingly because of the cost. Studies show that millennials like it.

But this study proves that both channels are alive and well, and that they work best together. 

First, a caveat: the research was conducted in the UK, where consumer habits and postal performance may differ. But the findings are in accord with common wisdom in the U.S.  

To conduct this study, the “media-neutral” agency created a campaign for an unnamed retail client with a product range appealing to a broad audience. It randomly targeted 240,000 customers. 

Equal care was devoted to both channels in terms of creative effort, creative variants deployed and segmentation. The idea was to create a level playing field. 

One group received the direct mail piece, and another received the email and another part of the list got both. 



So what happened? 

The response rates were similar. But the financial performance varied widely:

  • The email-only group generated incremental revenue per customer of under £1. 
  • The direct mail group produced incremental revenue of around £5.
  • The group that received both performed best, realizing over £6. 

The study concludes that “astute marketers should not be regarding direct email and direct mail as a choice -- an either/or decision -- but should be exploring how the two mediums are combined to provide the greatest incremental, complementary effect.”

That said, the two channels have different strengths. First, there is the trust factor. Direct mail is no longer seen as junk mail, whereas unsolicited email is still widely viewed as spam.  

Direct mail has many other benefits. For instance, it is useful for branding and getting the message across, whether through a postcard, a four-color brochure, a catalog or a letter. What’s more, postal mail is now powered by on-demand printing, and can be used even for transactional messages.

And email? In addition to its bad rep, it is “perceived as inexpensive,” the report states. “It is also typically the case that much less creative effort is devoted to email campaigns than postal campaigns, possibly because the low cost of transmission also psychologically devalues the perceived need for creative input.”

But email is a true one-to-one medium. And it is interactive, and able to ink right to an ordering page and include digital elements such as video. 

So here are a few tips we have picked up from various sources:

  • The first email should hit a week after the postal mailing piece arrives. It should reference the mail piece. 
  • Email should be continued at regular intervals.
  • Send two emails for every printed direct mail piece. 

Years ago, only the most sophisticated marketers could pull off a campaign in two channels. But they now have the targeting and tracking tools to drive efforts not only in email and direct mail, but in social media as well.


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