E-Mail, Direct Mail or Both?

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Technology is ever-evolving. How direct mailers can make the best use of it is the question of the new year.


Clients are continually asking when and how to use e-marketing and e-fulfillment technology to their best advantage. When is sending bills, invoices, statements and marketing information through the Internet more efficient than sending hard copy through the U.S. Postal Service? How do response rates between e-mail and traditional mail compare? What are the overall return-on-investment differences between the two marketing and customer relationship management techniques?


Direct mail experts assist their clients in developing their own answers to these questions almost daily. Marketing executives nationwide are trying to use technology and the Internet whenever it makes economic sense. The direct mail fulfillment industry is growing into new technology available by implementing traditional and electronic methods of fulfillment, personalization and marketing. Marketers are using technology to deliver products and information to the same customers who traditionally would be targeted by direct mail campaigns. At the same time, marketers are exploring new technology that is making their efforts not only electronic, but also efficient and effective.


Fulfillment companies often set up focus groups with individual clients to discuss their marketing needs and to determine how and when the Internet should be used to communicate with their constituents, customers or members. While working in these groups, much can be learned about people's misconceptions about how e-fulfillment campaigns are implemented.


Many misunderstand e-fulfillment to be just the bulk e-mailing of a paper-based marketing campaign. They assume that the solicitation they would traditionally have had printed and sent via USPS instead would be e-mailed en masse. On the contrary, among other things, e-fulfillment allows companies to link their clients to more informative Web sites or electronic versions of brochures.


Direct mail and e-mail often combine to become a powerful tool. Used in tandem, marketers receive double the impact for about the same cost. Marketers can send a direct mail piece, then follow up with an e-mail, or send a preliminary e-mail to be followed by a hard copy offering through the USPS. This dual positioning faces just one challenge - it is difficult to find third-party lists that contain both e-mail and street addresses, unless your target is the technology market. However, this method is effective when targeting your own customer list and should always be considered an option.


Many marketing executives wonder whether their hard-copy direct mail pieces need to look exactly like the electronic version. Or should they use a second marketing method to explore new branding opportunities? While there is no one right answer, talking about it with direct marketing professionals will help executives determine what will work best for them. The bottom line remains that e-mail as a CRM tool is powerful because of the speed at which marketers can reach prospects.


But response rate challenges persist. While marketers receive encouragingly high click-through rates, actual e-mail response rates are similar to overall direct mail response rates.


Great differences are seen in the cost of producing direct mail compared with e-mail campaigns. With an e-mail campaign, the total investment consists of the cost of renting a list and a few hours of time. Compare that with the cost of a mailing piece's design, production, printing and postage.


Clients also wonder what happens to the e-mails that cannot be processed. E-fulfillment technology has enabled us to send an e-mail campaign, receive the e-mails that could not be processed, then resend the piece through the USPS.


Technology today enables information to be tracked, reported on and archived through the Internet. By combining fulfillment automation mailing systems with e-fulfillment capabilities, traditional lettershops can provide the best of both worlds to their clients by personalizing in-depth quotes, reports and statements, sending them electronically, then tracking results through the Internet.


But strict e-fulfillment is not always the way to go. Marketing executives need to research processing costs, time invested and the collective ROI before deciding when to use e-marketing methods and when to go the traditional route.


E-proofing is the next step in the progression of using the Internet as the ultimate CRM tool. By allowing clients to sign off on insertion orders or routing capabilities, e-proofing will enable clients to keep track of their marketing efforts at all times.


E-marketing and e-fulfillment offer alternatives to traditional business communications; however, marketing executives should not view the situation as traditional vs. electronic, but instead find ways for their companies to implement all forms of communication to target current and potential customers.


• Mitch Goldklank is senior vice president at Communication Concepts Inc., Ivyland, PA. His e-mail address is mgold@ccgroupnet.com.
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