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Direct Mail vs Email: which is the most efficient?

Direct mailing and emailing are both powerful marketing tools for finding new, or connecting with current, customers whether your business is big or small.

Choosing which method is the best for you and your firm will depend on a number of factors: how much you have to spend on the marketing campaign, how much time you have to set it up, how much personalisation you want to add, whether you have a list of recipients and who’s on it.

Direct mail

In 2011, 21.9 million adults in the UK took action thanks to direct mail they received, according to Royal Mail statistics. The response saw 6.2 million going online to order something and 7.3 million went to the store to order something in person. Furthermore, according to FastMAP, 9 out of 10 people open direct mail. So it’s still an appealing advertising medium with consumers. Ignore it at your peril.

Printing and postage costs need to be taken into consideration of course, not to mention a well-targeted mailing list, and these expenses will have to be measured against the positive ROI direct mail can still generate. There are time issues too – although good quality digital printing is fast these days, it’s not instant. Then there’s the delivery time.

However, as a promotional avenue, direct mail affords the opportunity to add all sorts of marketing materials in an envelope or package and personalisation seems to know no bounds. Make sure the outer wrap is eye-catching; it’s the sort of thing that will make you stand out in the marketing crowd.


It’s here, like it or not. As a marketing tool emailing can be invaluable. It’s quick. It’s cheap. It’s easy to use. There are companies that will prepare and send for you and there are DIY options available. Email campaigns are easily trackable online, you can respond to market changes quickly, you can add customer-friendly links directly to your website and you can get virtually instant responses and order conversions.

Email marketing campaigns are not without their pitfalls though. Emails can be lost in the big black holes known as spam or junk. Recipients may be overwhelmed by their Inbox traffic and delete anything that looks like advertising without opening it.

Don’t be surprised with an open rate as low as 11 per cent, as this is the industry standard for acquisition email campaigns (compared to a 91 per cent open rate for direct mail).

Although it can be cost effective, you may not have your own email list and need to buy one. Building your own is time consuming and probably not a good use of your day (or weeks!). To ensure maximum success, you need to target the recipient list accurately and there are plenty of segmented mailing lists available, for a price.

Going green

While there are pros and cons for both methods, being environmentally aware is another argument. Printing and posting may use paper and fuel, but emailing, it could be argued, uses electricity. If this is an issue, look for an ISO 14000-accredited mailing house, like Asendia UK. This means they have been endorsed for working in an environmentally responsible way.

Asendia UK

Digital printers and mailing fulfilment specialists Asendia UK run an ISO 9001 and ISO 14000-accredited facility, offering various options for mailings, not to mention competitive postage rates, being part of Europe’s second largest international postal operator.

Using variable data and high quality digital printers, Asendia’s Digital Print Plus and Maileva hybrid mailing systems  can produce complete, personalised mailings, with or without inserts, from start to finish, and send them to addresses at home or abroad. Consolidating direct mailings with other volume mail enables Asendia to keep postage costs down, and coping with the whole process provides welcome time savings for the customer. With such response rates to direct mail, this is a viable option.

Reliable mailing lists are key. If you need a targeted mailing list, Asendia can supply one. If you want to supply your own, they can clean the data for you, cutting down waste in paper, fuel and effort, and maximising your success and ROI.

The verdict

There is room for both direct mail and email in the world of marketing, and the truth is they work best in tandem as part of an integrated marketing approach. It will also depend on the availability of postal addresses or email addresses in different markets, whether you are targeting consumers or businesses, and what you are trying to sell.

Having said that, direct mail response rates are on the up and email response rates are in decline. So if you’re currently achieving a good return on investment from direct mail, stick with it.

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