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Email and Phone Uber Alles


A marketer lecturing senior management on the merits of direct mail and call centers is about as common as a clean-shaven hipster in a Brooks Brothers suit. But while mobile and social may have captured the hearts and minds of consumers and marketers, email, phone, and direct mail continue to do a better job of capturing sales.

That’s among the findings in the latest edition of the Direct Marketing Association’s new Response Rate Report. This may well be the most succinct handbook available to direct marketers. It gets right to the heart of the direct matter: measurable results. Whenever an interview subject of mine questions why anyone still uses direct mail, I always respond that it’s because it gets much higher response and conversion rates than digital and direct them to the 2012 Response Rate Report.

The new study–which calls on a survey of 485 marketers conducted in December and January–doesn’t tell a much different story about the efficacy of the old standbys. To wit:

  • Email, while eliciting one of the lowest response rates among channels, continues to be the leader in ROI. Campaigns conducted with house lists achieved an average 30 to 32% ROI. Those done using prospect lists achieved 15 to 17%. Conversion rates among digital media types were best in emails sent to prospect lists (5 to 5.9%). Mobile came next with 5%.
  • Direct mail outperformed all forms of digital media for response rates, with house list campaigns generating 3.73%. Such campaigns earned an average ROI of 18 to 20%. Social media, by comparison, had average click-through rates (CTRs) of 2.1 to 2.5% and ROI of 15 to 17%.
  • Spending on online display advertising in the year ahead will decline 17%. The display ad came in last among digital devices for CTR, at between 1.1 and 1.5%.
  • Phone calls registered the highest response rate of 9 to 10% and also earned one of the highest ROI percentages—though more than half of survey respondents said they were unable to determine the ROI of their call programs.

Be apprised that these are but a few data points lifted from the report for dramatic effect and, though authentic, must be weighed against all the other channel metrics for full effect. “Email is always going to have a high ROI, because people are going to say, “It didn’t really cost me anything,’” says Jerry Rackley, chief analyst of Demand Metric, which conducted the study with DMA. “But if you look at all the costs of data and technology that could be applied to email campaigns today, there should be a cost.”

So, just as I have done the past three years with the 2012 report, I suggest you get hold of the new one and send it around to your teams as a conversation starter for strategy sessions. It’s an easy read, packed with juicy numbers about every marketing channel. What will be hard is deciding how you’ll deal with some of the facts it presents.

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