Direct Mail , Marketing Head-to-Head: Direct Mail vs. Email Marketing

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There was a time when email marketing was considered a more straightforward, cheaper, and more eco-friendly approach than 'traditional' direct mail.

But is that still the case?

That's what this blog is all about!

We put the two services head to head and crown one a victor.

This comprehensive comparison aims to dissect both channels' efficacy, regulations, and practical considerations within the scope of the dreaded GDPR acronym.

While many perceive email marketing as cost-effective and direct mail as outdated, we'll delve into whether direct mail is making a comeback and challenge these assumptions.

There's also the controversial debate on which is more eco-friendly. With greenwashing so prevalent, we reveal facts that may impact your whole viewpoint!

So, let the battle begin!

1. GDPR Implications

GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a big (enormous) rulebook for how companies acquire and handle people's personal information.

It's about protecting your privacy and ensuring companies play fair with your personal info. However, it can be a minefield when it comes to knowing what you can and can't do regarding marketing.

Direct Mail

Direct mail operates within GDPR in terms of data protection and privacy. However, it's inherently less impacted by GDPR compared to email.

Marketers must ensure they have legitimate interest or consent to process personal data for direct mail campaigns. Data can be purchased at very reasonable prices for direct mail, often with 12-month licences.

The direct mail piece must clearly give the option to be removed from the mailing list. To get the full story on DM and GDPR, read our GDPR blog.

Email Marketing

Email marketing faces much more stringent regulations under GDPR, especially concerning B2C communications. Obtaining explicit consent is crucial, and subscribers must be able to unsubscribe easily.

Failure to comply can result in hefty fines from the ICO, a tarnished brand reputation, and loss of consumer trust. Recently, HelloFresh received a £140,000 fine by the ICO after it sent 79 million spam emails and 1 million spam texts!

Most data providers will now insist on sending the emails on behalf of the client (often at an additional cost) when B2C, and in fact, try to urge you toward direct mail because of the strict compliance of B2C emails.

Even when emailing your existing customers, the way you request permission to use their data is the difference between being compliant and not (as HelloFresh found out).

Winner: Direct Mail - Direct mail avoids many of the complex regulations that burden email marketing, offering marketers more flexibility and less risk in reaching potential customers.

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2. Cost and Complexity

When emails came into play, there were likely a lot of worried direct mail houses! However, as time has passed, there's still very much a place for direct mail, not simply because the effectiveness stats are more compelling, but because the cost is now so comparable to email marketing.

Direct Mail:

Contrary to popular belief, direct mail is no longer significantly more expensive than email marketing. While printing and postage costs exist, advancements in data analytics allow for targeted mailing lists, reducing waste and enhancing ROI.

The tactile nature of direct mail can increase engagement and brand recall. Furthermore, the data is much cheaper compared with email data.

Email Marketing:

Surely, email is the cheapest as it's free. Of course, that's rarely the case now. A poorly constructed email will have little to no impact. Even your email software (such as Mailchimp or Hubspot) can cost hundreds per month, and that's before you've paid someone to write the copy, design the email, and format how and to whom it's sent.

Acquiring and maintaining high-quality email lists can be extremely costly, and compliance efforts under GDPR add complexity. Additionally, email open rates and click-through rates have declined over time, diminishing returns on investment.

Winner: Direct Mail - While initial costs may seem higher, direct mail's potential for higher response rates and tangible impact justifies the investment.

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3. Response Rates and Engagement

Direct Mail:

How many times do you receive a letter and throw it away without looking inside? Probably not so often! And that's the beauty of direct mail; you can't help but look to see what's lurking within that envelope.

Even if you intend to recycle it immediately, you still need to walk from your letterbox to the bin. It's this small journey that's the marketers 'opportunity time' - the time to grab their attention and entice the receiver to keep it rather than recycle it.

Even when it comes to unsubscribing, it usually involves sending an email or returning the item.

Direct mail achieves higher response rates compared to email marketing. Its physical presence encourages recipients to engage with the material, leading to better brand retention and conversion rates. Personalisation and creativity in direct mail campaigns further enhance effectiveness.

"Mail is generally remembered by customers with research showing it has 35% better recall than social media advertising and 49% more than email." MarketReach

"The research shows that when people consume mail, the parts of their brain associated with laying down long-term memories were over 70% more active than when consuming TV and 40% more active than for email." DMA

Email Marketing:

Email marketing struggles with declining open rates and increased competition in crowded inboxes. While automation and segmentation can improve targeting, emails are often easily swiped or deleted without consideration.

Moreover, spam filters pose additional challenges in reaching the intended audience. Further, it's so easy to unsubscribe as there's a simple link/button to click, and that's it - or you can block if the email is sent with an unsubscribe option (as it's not compliant).

Emails are great to keep in touch with existing customers. Special offers, new product launches, genuinely helpful content, etc, are all great uses of email marketing.

Timing-wise, email is more agile than direct mail. You could compose a new design all within an hour or so (if keeping it basic). In contrast, the print and postage time alone would mean you'd need help to get direct mail turned around in less than three days.

Winner: ?? - The tangible nature of direct mail creates stronger emotional connections and better response rates than email marketing. However, email is often the most appropriate option when keeping in touch with existing customers, especially when something urgent is needed.

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4. Sustainability

Now, this is a controversial one! There's been an extensive campaign against 'greenwashing' of late. But what is greenwashing? This quote from Two Sides sums it up nicely:

"Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice."

So whenever you see statements like, "Go Green, Go Paperless", this is not actually better for the environment, just a little better for that business's bottom line, as sending an email rather than a printed item is cheaper.

Direct Mail:

‍With our direct mail services, we provide reports and certificates showing how many kg of CO2 you have balanced (offset) and the m2 of threatened tropical habitat you have protected and restored.

And as direct mail is paper (or card) based, you benefit from paper's natural sustainability and renewability - the circular economy.

As all our paper is both carbon-balanced and FSC, the primary raw material, trees, are grown and harvested in a carefully controlled and sustainable way - so successfully that European forests, which provide 90% of the wood fibre used by the European pulp and paper industry, have grown by an area the size of Switzerland in just 15 years!

Discover more on how we make your direct mail sustainable here.

Email Marketing:

The environmental impact of emailing is so much more than you could imagine. These quotes from Two Sides sum up where the overall push to online-based marketing places us:

" emissions generated by emails is estimated to be 300 million tonnes of CO2 a year - equivalent to the annual emissions of 63 million cars."

"The electronic waste problem is also colossal and growing. In 2019 the industry was responsible for a gigantic 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of e-waste across the world. That's the equivalent to the weight of 350 cruise ships, and up an alarming 21% over the past five years."

Therefore, email is less environmentally friendly than many people think.

Winner: ?? - The reality is that both email marketing and direct mail have an impact on the environment. The stats are startling for email and digital marketing in general. Direct mail uses natural and renewable materials, but it still has an impact, particularly from transport.

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In the landscape of modern marketing, direct mail emerges as a formidable contender against email marketing, particularly within the confines of UK GDPR.

While email marketing offers convenience, speed and scalability, the regulatory burden and diminishing returns make direct mail an attractive alternative. Its tactile nature, higher response rates, and compliance simplicity position it as a valuable tool for both B2B and B2C marketers.

Providing you keep on top of the GDPR aspect of emails, a multi-channel approach to your marketing is a great option. As a mailing house, we could biasedly showcase direct mail as superior. However, as the saying goes, two are better than one!

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If you'd like to explore direct mail marketing further, please contact us today. We'd love to help you take your business to the next level.