Posted on Nov 14, 2018

Direct Mail vs. Email Marketing for Business Communication

The rise of email marketing is no secret. It’s not just the brands responsible for sending those emails that know that, we all do. Every day, email users are inundated with dozens (if not more) emails from marketing lists that you knowingly or unknowingly have subscribed to.

Interestingly, the surge of email from companies has actually transformed the way that people interpret the printed mail they receive. A study by Royal Mail found that 70% of consumers feel that they receive too many emails. In turn, printed mail is viewed as a more trusted and reliable source once again.

Direct mail vs email business communication, BP consulting1

The Pros and Cons of Direct Mail vs. Email

Research into this subject was conducted by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and Royal Mail. In the DMA’s study, they analyzed response rates and transactional data from marketing companies Bizo and Epsilon. Royal Mail conducted 18-month, in-depth investigation of consumer behavior and attitudes towards mail and other media.

Let's take a look at their key findings to compare the benefits and drawbacks of direct mail and email:

Email Pros
  • Email is relatively fast and inexpensive to produce and deliver
  • It’s the method that allows you to gather robust data about customer behavior and marketing effectiveness
  • It has great return on investment (ROI), around $38 for every $1 spent
  • More environmentally friendly than print
Email Cons
  • The average lifespan of an email is two seconds. Recipients are typically on the go when they open it, quickly catching up while they’re doing something else
  • Email generates an average response rate of 0.12%
  • Recipients are flooded with email content and often get the impression of spam
Direct Mail Pros
  • The average lifespan of direct mail is 17 days. Recipients are typically at home when they open it, with more time and attention focused on it
  • Direct mail generates an average response rate of 4.4%
  • Recipient gets the impression of trust, care and effort. Receive less quantity, so there is higher perceived value
Direct Mail Cons
  • More expensive to produce and time-consuming to distribute, relative to email
  • Can be difficult to track if thorough strategies are not in place
  • Lower ROI than email, at around $7 for every $1 spent

Evidently, there are strong benefits and drawbacks for each form of communication. Which is more memorable? Research by neuro-marketing firm TrueImpact found that brand recall for digital ads was just 44%, compared to 75% for direct mail.

Each method can lead to great results, particularly if executed well and chosen appropriately based on the content of the message. 

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When to Mail vs. Email

Customers have expectations and preferences for which medium should deliver which message from businesses they connect with.

Although these may vary by industry or business case, we've categorized common messages that work well for printed mail and email.  

Direct Mail Email
  • New customer acquisition
  • Welcome packages
  • Important company updates
  • Promotions/special offers
  • Upcoming events
  • Action required by account holders
  • Advertise a new product
  • Customer retention efforts
  • Bills or statements
  • Issues or complaints
  • Transactional messages (order confirmation, delivery, reminders)
  • Online survey or testimonial requests
  • Promotions/special offers
  • Thought leadership
  • Buzz building
  • Advertise a new product
  • Loyalty program rewards
  • Cross promotion of partnering brands 
  • Other efforts to stay top of mind


Take note, a survey by Epsilon found that 59% of Americans and 66% of Canadians stated that they enjoy getting printed mail from brands about new products. For email, those numbers fall to 43% and 53% respectively. Furthermore, Royal Mail found that people value mail that they can touch 24% higher than mail they could only see.

That’s key. Any message that you share with customers says something about your brand. If the medium of your message affects the perceived value of you or your offer, it will influence purchase decisions as well.

Direct mail vs email BP realty1

Other Communication Considerations

In addition to the content of your message, there are other factors to consider when deciding whether to mail or email your customers.

Is the message time sensitive? Do you have a strict budget? Does your industry carry a print vs. digital expectation? Have your customers expressed a preference? How much time is needed for customers to comprehend the message? What data is important to track? How important is the message to customers? What action will customers take? Do you have a good mailing list?

Mixed Media for Effective Messaging

Of course, there are many circumstances where a combination of direct mail and email is the best method.

Take the advertisement of a great promotion you’re offering, for example. On printed letterhead or postcards, you’re giving customers the time to check out the product imagery, consider the offer, and add it to the bulletin board to keep the promotion dates as a reminder. In emails, you’re instilling the message wherever they are, staying top of mind, and giving them a direct purchase path to your ecommerce site.  

Company news, product launches, account updates – these are all opportune messages for a combination of direct mail and email.

Printed letters and business communications are far from obsolete. As research has shown, each of them hold incredible value, and that value isn't necessarily the same as it was 15 or 20 years ago. No matter what mix of direct mail and email you test, have measurement strategies in place and closely examine the results. 

For the printed materials, choose high-quality letterhead, envelopes and postcards to give a great impression. 

SHOP LETTERHEAD     SHOP ALL BUSINESS PRINTING 

Topics: marketing, business tips