Direct Mail vs. Email Marketing

We have long been fans of direct mail. Sometimes we believe that we are among the few folks who still understand and appreciate the art and science behind this medium. At the same time, we have done our share of email marketing over the years and recognize it as an effective tool as well. We’re often asked by clients to utilize one or the other for various campaigns and situations. Which one is most effective? Before we answer that, let’s examine the differences and evaluate each of their strengths.

Strengths of direct mail

Direct mail is tangible and more deliberate. It is harder to ignore. Direct mail has a much better chance of being opened and having at least some of its message retained by recipients. They may not read every word, but they may see your logo and offer, and you’ve instantly generated an impression. By comparison, 95% of all email is never opened. They can be easily deleted or blocked by SPAM filters. And, strangely enough, direct mail has recently become more interesting and believable to consumers. A recent Epsilon study found that 25% of consumers found direct mail offers to be more trustworthy than email offers.

In addition, the quality and quantity of obtaining targeted lists is more abundant with direct mail vs. email, mainly due to opt-in policies and stricter rules for sending email. For this reason, all email lists are missing the majority of targeted prospects you are looking for. Typically, a direct mail list offers 80% more prospects than a comparable email list.

Say what you want, but the U.S. Postal Service is still very reliable and typically has a 95% delivery success rate whereas a great majority of prospecting email delivery is somewhere around 50%. And, finally, direct mail has a much better response rate. A study by the Direct Marketing Association shows direct mail being 10 to 30 times more effective than email (see the study at

Strengths of email

Email marketing is fast and easy to implement. But the best thing about email is its measurability. You can instantly analyze click-through rates, clicked links, and submission rates to determine successes on a daily or even hourly basis. That is a critical benefit of email.

You can also start an email campaign with very little expense. For smaller quantities with a reliable opt-in list, you can manage and send out emails yourself with programs such as MailChimp or Constant Contact. For larger quantities, you may need to use an external email service company to manage and deploy your campaigns. Either method, however, is still infinitely less expensive than traditional direct mail. Email eliminates the cost of printing and postage—the two largest cost components of direct mail.

The speed at which you can get an email campaign up and running can be measured in days instead of weeks with direct mail. And, finally, the convenience of including links in email messaging to enhance your presentation and engagement is huge. Links allow email recipients to understand what the entire offering is about and spend more time with it on their own terms.


Each of these communication options has its strengths and drawbacks for usage. You have to be the judge of which works best and test both types of communications. Often using them together in an integrated campaign can yield even better results than if each was used separately. In any case, direct mail is still a powerful marketing channel, and email provides an easy—and easily measurable—way to reach prospects and customers. Which one is more effective? Your circumstances will provide the answer.