Is postal mail more effective than e-mail?

E-mail has matured and gained popularity among marketers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it completely beats out postal mail. Two experts take sides in the debate

Rory Carlton

Principal and creative director, Arketi Group
25 years of advertising and marketing experience

Yes. E-mail is the new junk mail. It is tired and ever-diminishing in impact. Direct mail, on the other hand, is hot, fun to receive and gets attention.

How did this happen? To put it simply, e-mail has jumped the shark. Every inbox is flooded with spam, and everyone has signed up to — or mysteriously found themselves on — way too many lists. Heck, even my shoeshine guy has a newsletter. (I’m serious. This month: “Caring for Cordovan.”)

We’re all overwhelmed, and the same filters that routinely consigned junk mail to the circular file now work even faster in our electronic mailboxes. As all the low-dollar, high-volume junk mailers move online — where it’s even cheaper and faster for them to blanket us with their coupons and phony offers — the big opportunity for serious marketers to get noticed is to go postal. There’s a lot less filling up the mailbag these days, so it’s easier to stand out.

But you’re going to need a twist. So why not take advantage of what e-mail can never do: let me feel it. For example, the lumpy mailer — it’s hard to resist opening an envelope with some type of physical object inside. It doesn’t have to be expensive. We’ve used a penny, a bead, even a toothpick, provided it’s relevant. Another tack is the formal-invitation-looking envelope, with a crisp, clean appearance and prestige paper. E-mail can never convey that level of must-see-inside anticipation. And nothing beats postal mail for letting customers touch, feel, smell and even taste a sample of your product.

George DiGuido

VP of e-mail marketing at Zeta Interactive

Seven years of e-mail experience

No. Is sending direct mail more effective than sending e-mail? Let’s ask the US Postal Service what it thinks. It’s proposing a five-day mail delivery schedule. There just simply isn’t the volume of mail to deliver any longer because marketers are starting to realize the ineffectiveness of the channel. As more and more people move to digital consumption of media, direct mail is going to become even more ineffective.

Direct mail does not have the ability to evoke an immediate response like an e-mail does. The flexibility of the channel also allows marketers to more nimbly approach different segments of their audience and allows them to be more relevant to each consumer. There are other areas where e-mail continues to trump direct mail. The first is immediacy: By sending an e-mail, you are reaching a consumer in a medium by which they can take immediate action.

Then there’s cost-effectiveness: Right now, you can send an e-mail out to your audience for about $5 per thousand. The cost of a stamp for a six- by 4.5-inch piece is $0.28 each. In cost alone, it is $275 more expensive to send a postcard — not including printing fees

Finally, there’s ROI. At the end of the day, effectiveness is measured by the return generated by the particular marketing effort. The math is simple. Let’s say you’re selling a $10 widget and send both an e-mail campaign and a print campaign to 1,000 people. You only have to convert two people to cover your costs in e-mail, vs. 28 for mail. The numbers speak for themselves.


There are many strong reasons to use postal mail in campaigns – the physical nature of it, to name one. However, traditional mail can’t top the value of e-mail — and cost is surely a trait

that is top of mind for marketers, especially during tough economic times like we’re in right now.

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