Direct Mail vs. Email Marketing: Choosing the Best Channel for Your Business in 2024

direct mail vs email cover image with a letter box

Direct mail takes a classic approach by mailing out brochures, flyers, or catalogs through physical post office channels to grab attention. It may seem outdated in our digital world, but it’s far from obsolete. Many businesses still find it an effective way to catch their audience’s attention.

Meanwhile, email marketing plays the digital game; it involves sending promotional messages, newsletters, or special offers via email to win over potential customers and keep the current ones engaged. 

Email marketing has enormous potential. In 2023 alone, a staggering 347.3 billion emails zipped around the globe every day. 

So, whether you lean towards the tactile impact of direct mail or the instant reach of email, both strategies can be excellent ways to spread the word about your products. 

Let’s review the basics of executing both strategies to help you understand how to incorporate them into your marketing strategy. 

Direct Mail and Email Marketing: 4 Examples

Let’s demonstrate the differences between email and direct mail with four examples. 

Example 1 — Direct Mail: Expect More Smiles from Amazon 

You’d probably think that, as an online company, Amazon wouldn’t go into the trouble of sending physical mail. But you’d be wrong. 

Each year, the company sends a lively catalog showcasing holiday toys, packed with gift suggestions, games, and stickers. 

In 2020, Amazon distributed this gift guide to over 20 million American households. By 2021, its popularity surged among kids, leading some parents to resort to eBay to secure a copy. To respond to this demand, Amazon introduced a digital counterpart alongside the physical version. Since 2022, Amazon has enhanced the digital experience by offering free virtual items within the catalog.

amazon catalog
Amazon’s holiday gift catalog for children

Example 2 — Direct Mail: Discounts from JOANN

JOANN is a fabrics and crafts company offering both in-store and online shopping experiences. 

They once ran a direct mail campaign where they mailed out postcards to greet new members of their rewards program. After signing up, customers received special discounts and personalized offers. 

Joann direct mail campaign
JOANN’s discount campaign sent through physical mail

Example 3 — Email Marketing: Promoting New Flavors from Surreal Cereal 

Surreal Cereal is a brand that makes high-protein, sugar-free cereal for grown-ups. In this email campaign, they directly reach out to their subscribers and spark their interest with the teaser of a new flavor.

The ad includes a tempting, high-quality picture of the new flavor, sneakily hidden inside a jar. It encourages readers to click on a catchy CTA, filled with fun cereal wordplay, to find out what the new flavor is.

This shows how a company can send promotional messages through email and make money.

Surreal Cereal email design encourages subscribers to try their new flavor
Surreal Cereal email design encourages subscribers to try their new flavor

Example 4 — Email Marketing: Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Language Drops 

Email marketing isn’t just about selling stuff. It’s also a great way to keep in touch with your subscribers and make sure they remember you. 

For example, the Language Drops app took advantage of Saint Patrick’s Day to tell their subscribers they can learn Irish using the app.

With this special occasion campaign, the app showcases the wide range of languages you can explore while celebrating cultural traditions and events. It’s a clever way to emphasize that learning languages isn’t just about words and grammar but also about appreciating different cultures.

This indirect approach is beneficial for two reasons:

  1. It keeps your brand in the spotlight. An email can be a gentle reminder that you’re there, ready to help your subscribers whenever they’re interested. 
  2. It enhances subscriber engagement. Creative messages can make subscribers more interested in what you have to say. Instead of just selling, you’re sharing interesting, relevant content. 
Language Drops encourages subscribers to learn Irish using its app on Saint Patrick’s Day
Language Drops encourages subscribers to learn Irish using its app on Saint Patrick’s Day

Is Direct Mail Marketing Still Effective? 

Choosing old-school marketing methods doesn’t mean your business will look outdated. In fact, if you get creative with it, you can save money and get more value from your investment. 

With direct mail, you would have the exact physical address of each recipient. This lets you tailor your message just for them based on the unique locale, which can make your message stand out even more.

The top four benefits of direct mail are: 

  • It has high open rates. These days, people don’t get as much mail as before. But when they do, they’re curious and often excited, kind of like getting a surprise. That means they’re more likely to open your letter.
  • You get more visibility. A physical letter or brochure pops out more than an email. It’s right there, in their hands, not hidden among a hundred emails. Plus, if they like what they see, they might keep it around, which keeps your business in their mind longer.
  • It feels more personal: There’s something special about getting a physical piece of mail. It shows you put in the effort to reach out to your audience personally. This can make people feel a closer connection to your business.
  • It can spread the word. Direct mail doesn’t just stop with the person you send it to. If someone else sees your brochure or letter and likes what they see, they might become a customer, too, even if you didn’t send it to them directly.

Where Direct Mail Fails

Direct mail isn’t always the best choice for marketing. It has its challenges because it relies on the traditional, physical way of doing things, which might not work for every marketer.

These are the drawbacks of using direct mail for marketing: 

  • It’s expensive: Creating great content costs money. But when you add the cost of printing, materials, and mailing, it often doesn’t seem worth it. You also can’t skimp on the quality of your materials because that could make or break your campaign. 
  • It’s slow: Besides being pricey, putting together a direct mail campaign takes more time compared to sending out emails.
  • You’ll reach fewer people: You could theoretically send mail anywhere in the world, but you’re probably going to stick to sending in your geographical area. Plus, many people hesitate to give out their home address due to privacy concerns. So, it’s harder to build up a big mailing list compared to an email list.
  • It’s hard to measure success: Once you send out your mail, figuring out how well your campaign did is tough. You can’t easily track who opened your mail or what they did after that. This is a big drawback if you rely on campaign metrics to make decisions. 
  • It’s not great for the environment: The postal system uses a lot of energy and resources. It also adds to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. While this might seem like a minor issue, it’s something to think about if you’re trying to be more eco-friendly.

Check out this table for an overview of the pros and cons of direct marketing. 

High open ratesCosts more
More visibilityTakes longer 
Personal connectionLess reach 
Chance to go viralHard to measure 
Not good for the environment 
Pros and cons of direct marketing

Where Does Email Marketing Shine?

Email marketing is like the tech-savvy cousin of direct mail marketing. It has some clear advantages. Let’s go over its benefits. 

Email Leverages the Power of the Internet

Since email marketing is all online, it’s:

  • Cost-effective. You don’t need to spend money on printing or postage, which saves you a bunch.
  • Quick. Once you prepare your email content, you can send it out and it’ll reach your audience instantly.
  • Easy to measure. You can keep an eye on every email you send using tracking pixels to see who opens your emails. Plus, you can conduct A/B tests to see what gets the best response. 

Better Content Management

Email marketing lets you get creative with your content in ways that direct mail can’t match. 

The benefits are: 

  • Flexibility. You’re not stuck with static images or text. Emails can include GIFs, videos, polls and even dynamic content to make your messages more attractive and engaging. 
  • Automation. With direct mail, you don’t have much control over the subscriber’s customer journey. Email marketing, however, allows you to send automated emails for each step of the customer journey, helping you target your audience more precisely. 
  • Personalization. Direct mail offers a level of personalization by allowing you to send targeted mail based on geographical locations. But it doesn’t come close to the personalization that email marketing offers. For example, you can target subscribers based on their previous shopping behaviors and even psychological factors
  • Multi-channel engagement. Email marketing can be used in tandem with other marketing channels, including social media. By placing social media buttons inside your email copy or crafting a luring CTA, you can easily direct subscribers to these pages. On the other hand, these social media pages can help you grow your email list

Email Marketing Challenges 

No marketing channel is without its flaws. If you’re planning to use email marketing to help your business grow, you need to tackle its biggest challenges head-on to make it work for you.

These are the top five hurdles you’ll face with email marketing:

  1. Deliverability: Deliverability is all about making sure your emails land in the primary inbox, not the spam folder. It ensures your subscribers see your messages. 
  2. Sender reputation: Establishing your email sender reputation means making sure ISPs recognize and trust your domain. 
  3. Spam and privacy: You need to stay compliant with laws like CAN-SPAM Act, which protect your subscribers’ privacy. What’s more, email companies continue to take tougher stances on spam senders
  4. Engagement: If your emails are often ignored, your marketing efforts will produce no tangible results. That’s why you need to build an audience that’s eager to receive your content. 
  5. Security: Following best practices in email security can help safeguard your sender reputation and your subscribers’ information. You don’t want your company or your subscribers to become victims of BEC or phishing attacks

Let’s review the benefits and challenges of email marketing in the table below:  

Benefits Challenges 
Costs less Deliverability
Faster deliverySender reputation
Easy to track results Spam and privacy
Automation Security
More personalization
Multi-channel engagement
Benefits and challenges of email marketing 

We’ll discuss how you can overcome these challenges later on. 

Surpass Email Marketing Challenges with Campaign Refinery

When you sign up with Campaign Refinery, you’ll notice that we’ve tackled and gotten rid of all these challenges. Our platform prioritizes getting your emails right into the inbox, and we’re proud of our top-notch delivery rates. 

We also have strict rules against sending unwanted emails and only work with approved clients, which helps keep our standards high.

These are some of the other tools you’ll get with Campaign Refinery: 

  • Automatic list cleaning. 
  • Impactful analytics dashboard. 
  • Gamification system to boost engagement. 
  • Mandatory domain authentication from the first day.

Email Marketing vs. Direct Mail Marketing: Which One Is Better for My Business?

Even though email marketing stands out for its advantages, direct mail still holds its ground as a valuable marketing channel in certain situations. But before we explore when to choose each option, let’s quickly recap the email vs. direct mail debate.

FeatureDirect mail Email
Personalization Tailored based on addressHighly customizable content
Targeting Geographic and demographicBehavior and interest-based
Analytics Difficult to measureDetailed tracking and metrics
Automation Limited to printing and mailingHighly automated campaigns
Speed SlowInstant 
Direct mail vs email

Based on these insights, direct mail might be the right choice for you if: 

  1. Your customers aren’t online. Believe it or not, some people still prefer the offline world and might not have an email address. They can be perfect for direct mail.
  2. Your business is local. If your business focuses on a local area, sending out direct mail can really work well. Sending mail far and wide, though, can get expensive.
  3. You’re targeting an older demographic. Some groups, particularly older generations, may be more likely to read and engage with physical mail than email. 

If you’re thinking about whether email marketing is right for you, consider these points:

  1. Your business loves data: With email marketing, you get detailed insights on your campaign performance. This is super handy if you like making decisions based on solid data.
  2. Your budget is tight: Email marketing won’t break the bank. It’s a great choice if you’re just starting out with marketing and need to watch your spending.
  3. You want quick action: Email is speedy. Send out a message, and it lands in inboxes right away. It’s perfect for reaching lots of people quickly.
  4. You care about the planet: If being eco-friendly is important to your business, email marketing is a green choice. It’s all digital, so there’s no paper waste.

Going Hybrid: Email and Direct Mail Marketing

Picking between email marketing vs. direct mail marketing can be tricky, especially if your audience likes both digital and traditional ways of getting information from your business. If you can fit it into your budget, it might be smart to use a mix of both methods.

Consider a hybrid approach when:

  • Your audience is diverse: If your customers range from tech-savvy to old-school, using both email and direct mail ensures you reach everyone.
  • You want to maximize impact: Some messages might be more memorable in print, while others work best online. Combining both can make your marketing stronger.
  • You’re aiming for multiple touchpoints: It often takes several interactions to get a customer’s attention. So, a mix of email and direct mail can create a more effective campaign.
  • You’re testing the waters: Not sure which method will hit the mark? Trying out both can give you valuable insights into what your audience responds to best.

Overcoming the Challenges of Email Marketing 

If the challenges of email marketing seem intimidating, you’re not alone. Securing a spot in subscribers’ inboxes and getting them to open your email and interact with it takes colossal dedication. Still, with the right tools, you can navigate your way through the clutter and position your campaign for success. 

Follow these tips to ace your email marketing. 

Build an Organic Email List

Having an organic email list means your emails are more likely to be opened and clicked, keeping your engagement rates healthy.

Consider these tips when growing your list: 

  • Use legitimate list-building methods. Never buy lists of emails. Always aim to get people to sign up because they’re really interested in what you have to offer.
  • Use double opt-in. Just because someone uses your website doesn’t mean they want emails from you. Double opt-in asks them to confirm they really want to hear from you, which keeps your list full of people who are genuinely interested.
  • Perform list cleaning. Regularly look for unengaged subscribers and invalid addresses and remove them from your list to avoid spam complaints and hard bounces

Craft High-value Content 

Creating content that people can’t wait to read is key to getting them to come back for more. When readers see that you’ve put real effort into giving them useful information, they’ll pay you back by paying attention and engaging with you.

Follow these tips to make it happen: 

  • Grab their attention with a compelling subject line. Make them want to open your email because the email subject line is so intriguing.
  • Make your content helpful. Even when you talk about a product, focus on how it can solve their problem.
  • Use enticing CTAs. Encourage subscribers to do what you’d like, whether it’s reading more, signing up, or making a purchase.
  • Steer clear of pushy sales talk and spammy words. Keep the language friendly and genuine to avoid turning off your reader or triggering spam filters.

Use Segmentation and Personalization Wisely

No matter how you’re reaching out to people, blasting the same mass email to everyone is a quick way to watch your subscriber numbers drop.

Instead, follow these practices: 

  • Segment your subscribers based on age, location, interests, etc. This lets you send them information and offers that they’re more likely to care about.
  • Send messages that matter to each person. If you know what they like, tailor your emails to fit those interests.
  • Look at how your subscribers act. Keep an eye on what they buy and what emails they open, then use that info to send them targeted messages.

Maintain a Steady Sending Schedule 

If you send too many emails, too often, people might get email fatigued and unsubscribe or mark your emails as spam. Timing your emails means figuring out when you can send them for the best chance of a good response.

Test sending your emails at different times to see when you get the most opens and clicks. This way, you learn when your subscribers are most likely to engage with your emails. Ultimately, you’ll figure out  the right time of day and week to send each email. 

Campaign Refinery: Your Email Marketing Ally

Email marketing is essential for every business, whether you’re already getting results from direct mail or not. It’s a powerful way to stay connected with your audience, and that’s where we come in to make things a whole lot smoother for you.

At Campaign Refinery, we put email deliverability at the top of our priority list. We understand that your emails can only do their job if they actually land in inboxes — and that’s what we’re best at.

Our platform is packed with tools and services that seasoned email marketers swear by, but it’s also super user-friendly for those just starting out.

So, if you want to make sure your emails don’t just get sent but get seen, apply to become a customer today! 

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