Is E-Mail Your Best Bet for Prospecting?

Clients often ask me whether to use e-mail or direct mail for the most effective and efficient customer acquisition campaign. Each has pros and cons, and it’s not uncommon to use both to achieve your prospecting goals.

Where are your orders placed? The first issue is your result – where can prospects order? Only at your Web site? Do you accept orders by telephone as well? Is a salesperson required to close the sale? The more reliant you are on capturing orders via the Web versus other channels, the more you will want to consider e-mail lists.

But even if you can accept only Web orders (and thus those who lack Internet access are not of interest to you), you still need to look at offline methods for acquiring customers as they may prove more effective and efficient in reaching your target market.

How much does it cost, and what names are available for your offer? It’s easy to get focused on cost: E-mail lists are expensive, but since you’re not paying for printing or postage, you almost always spend less than you would for direct mail. Cost, however, is only one piece of the puzzle. Consider how many customers you are trying to acquire. The number and variety of e-mail lists available for rent are severely limited compared with those for direct mailing.

Plus, if you want opt-in e-mail lists that were acquired online instead of by mail or phone, your e-mail universe will shrink further. Traditional targeted selections for things such as recency of purchase, frequency of purchasing and monetary value of orders is often unavailable for e-mail lists. If you need specific, narrow niche segments, your e-mail options may be zero. Direct mail lists get the nod for acquiring significant numbers of customers and selectability.

How fast do you need to communicate and get a response? What if you need to get your message out quickly? If you’re promoting something perishable, whether an event with a date that is fast approaching or a product that has a new version in the works, you’ll want to get the word out quickly and get responses fast.

Speed is an area where e-mail is a clear winner. Direct mail will take at least 13-15 weeks from the project start date until you can reliably project final sales and test winners. With e-mail you probably can get a campaign prepared and mailed in four weeks and have predictable results a few days after that.

How much audio, video or multimedia should you use? Do you need multimedia to get your message across, and if so, what sort? E-mail has the benefit of immediacy and impulse – an audio clip or a small video clip can be played with the simple action of clicking on a link. But if you truly need to get a video demo or other multimedia material to a prospect, you may want to stick with direct mail to deliver that demo on CD. Though you can post video files online, many visitors on dial-up modems will lack the bandwidth or patience to view your full demo.

What about integrating e-mail and direct mail into one campaign? What if you want to use e-mail to generate leads, who then receive by direct mail a video demo, catalog, samples or media kit? Now we see how these two types of mail can work hand in hand. You might find that a few of the best lists for you have opt-in e-mail addresses for small portions of their customer file. Your best bet may be to e-mail those you can and send direct mail to everyone else.

Another effective approach plays to the strength of each medium: Use the speed and cost savings of e-mail to test a variety of creative positionings and offers, then take the successes from your e-mail test to create your direct mail campaign and drive larger numbers of prospects to your toll-free number or Web site.

Customize the solution to your business need. In the end, you need to make decisions that take into account what is unique to the market you are targeting and the requirements for promoting the product or service your firm offers. The bottom line: Know the strengths and weaknesses of both mediums to get the best performance from each. n

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