Has e-mail rendered direct mail obsolete? Nonsense!

Published: April 15, 2009

It is beyond dispute that e-mail is a proven tool for maintaining effective communications with your customers and others who choose to interact with your brand across one or more channels.

On the other hand, if your objective is to generate sales for your catalog, sell insurance, or to drive new buyers to a point of sale, the jury is out on whether rented e-mail lists are more cost-effective than their direct-mail counterparts.

When you look critically at campaign results using both mediums for a given offer, direct-mail campaigns may actually work better and cost less than e-mail. Does that surprise you?

Unlike direct mail, which has a long history of success for customer acquisition, e-mail works best when it is used for Customer Relationship Management (CRM), including retention and reactivation. While it is true that e-mail can be used successfully for prospecting, it is more effective when it is tied to highly promotional offers such as Investor Relations, Self-Improvement, Debt Consolidation, so-called B2B FREE “white papers,” or “webinar” offers. Using rented e-mail lists to drive strangers to a landing page for a one-step, high-dollar purchase is less likely to succeed. Visitors may fill out a short questionnaire to refinance, but getting them to buy something pricey online is another story, at least with rented names.

Most commercial e-mail lists are compiled from diverse web sites whose visitors have responded to various online promotions or incented surveys. The site registrants may or may not be asked by the site owner to opt-in to third party solicitations from “partners.” These names are harvested by the millions and have a short shelf life.

A growing number of e-mail lists are available from branded transactional lists. These branded e-mail lists should perform better than their generic analogs, particularly if they are co-branded by the sender with your offer, and are deployed to verified third party opt-in names from sites that match up well with your offer.

When it comes to generating retail sales, SMS mobile marketing is getting a lot of traction these days because it works for a variety of offers, including retail and financial services. If you have a relevant and timely offer in either of these vertical markets, by all means, give it a try. Mobile Marketing campaigns can be tied to direct mail and e-mail as well, so there is a lot of opportunity to forge a relationship with a prospective customer, or renew an old acquaintance via multiple channels.

If you are still on the fence whether it makes sense for your company to test rented e-mail lists versus postal lists, consider these facts:

  1. Direct mail addressing is more deliverable than e-mail. For example, if there is a spelling mistake, e-mail will bounce. Direct mail will get delivered.
  2. What about the time-honored “Circular File” or “Palace Guard”? If direct mail is relevant and timely, it is much more likely to get opened. E-mail is much less forgiving. It can be blocked at the ISP, file server, or workstation level, not to mention the fact that if it is not authenticated, per DMA guidelines and best practices, it may bounce as well.
  3. With e-mail, regardless of pedigree, responders’ “Opens” and “Clicks” may not translate well into Return on Investment (ROI) or completed forms for complex sales, especially when compared with direct mail responders’ calls or reply mail.
  4. With direct mail, you can use graphics and promotional copy on the envelope and inside the envelope to incite action. With e-mail, if you attempt a graphic-heavy creative approach or use common promotional words (such as “free”) and symbols (such as $ or !) in bodycopy copy or subject line, the e-mail may be treated as SPAM and relegated to e-mail purgatory. Or, worse, your server can be blocked by your ISP, or your company may be listed as a SPAMMER.
  5. One other thing to think about: As mail volume declines, your direct mail offers will actually receive much more attention, and yield much higher response rates. You can’t say the same thing for e-mail, because SPAM seems to have a life of its own. It keeps multiplying, so that e-mail has more obstacles than ever to keep it from getting delivered.

If you rent a targeted postal list combined with the right offer and timing, chances are that, when the results are tabulated, your mailing will be more successful than attempting the same campaign with a generic e-mail list.

Don’t take my word for it. Try this test strategy on one of your future campaigns — and learn that postal mail is still alive and kicking you know what. Of course, e-mail has its place in the marketing and CRM mix. When it comes to keeping in touch with your customers for a token sum, e-mail has no peer.

Our clients use both well-sourced e-mail and direct mail lists with confidence. If you plan for success, you can still make “mo’ money,” as successful multi-channel marketers have discovered.

David Kanter is the President and CEO of Ventura, CA based www.acculist.com.

About Acculist

AccuList USA® provides a broad spectrum of services to direct marketers and their agencies including consulting, list brokerage, list management, list enhancement, merge-purge, response analysis, campaign planning, graphic design, copywriting, printing, mailing, and predictive modeling services.

AccuList USA is headquartered in Ventura, California. It maintains a list and insert management office in Laguna Woods, California, along with affiliates in La Quinta, Oxnard, and Thousand Oaks, California.

AccuList USA is an active member of the following professional associations:

Advertising Federation of the Desert (Desert AdFed)
Association of Fundraising Professionals
Direct Marketing Association – (National – List Leaders)
Direct Marketing Association Southern California (Charter member)
International Association Of Exhibitions and Events


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