The benefits of email marketing are undeniable. Emails have become ubiquitous in our personal and business lives, and in an increasingly digital world, a strategic email campaign has become the penultimate way for small businesses to communicate with current and potential customers. That said, email has its downsides. This has left the door open for a traditional outreach strategy – direct mail – to make a comeback.

For decades, direct mail was a leading marketing tool for reaching new and steadfast clients. Postcards, letters, and other creative pieces of hard mail have their own set of advantages for small businesses looking to make a mark with their messaging. In fact, technology has enhanced direct mail in many ways, making it an effective tool for things like getting prospects to visit a webpage or encouraging customers to buy online.

So which form of mail – tangible or digital – is the most profitable marketing tool for small businesses today? We have outlined some of the key advantages for each tactic to help you decide what best fits your needs.

Advantages of Email

Efficient Tracking

The digital sector allows not only a cheaper method of communication, but also offers richer insight into customer habits. One of the major advantages of email over hard mail is that small businesses can track who opens, clicks through, and makes a transaction via email. This creates a more streamlined way of improving efficiency and communication for a specific marketing campaign. You can quickly and easily adjust your messaging, frequency, and call to action in order to boost results. In addition, while hard mail allows you to track a discount code’s usage by geographic region, email enables even more detailed performance reports.

Quicker ROI

When planning a direct mail campaign, you need to build extra time into your schedule. You have to proof the postcard or letter, send it to the printer, mail it out, and wait a few days for the piece to reach customers’ mailboxes. Email is instantaneous, meaning you can send out a hot deal in the morning and see sales climb by noon. People regularly check their Inboxes and read emails everywhere, from their computers at work to their phones at the beach. So while direct mail involves waiting for would-be customers to get to their home or office, grab the mail, and open and read each piece before signing in online to act, an email accomplishes this with a single link and click.

Combatting Shopping Cart Abandonment

Email offers the benefit of a first line of defense against online shopping cart abandonment. This is the term for what happens when a customer opens your email, clicks through and browses your website offerings, but doesn’t complete the purchase. Email tracking and analytics allow you to see what items or services your customer has shown interest in and whether or not they went so far as to put them in their virtual shopping cart. You can then strategically send out an email a day or two later reminding them about the items, perhaps even offering an incentive that will result in a sale.

Advantages of Direct Mail

Inbox Overload

As the world has shifted toward an increasingly digital market, we now receive far more emails than we do direct mail pieces. The number of emails sent each day is expected to reach 246 billion by the end of 2019, a fact which has led many consumers to feel inundated if not overwhelmed. In addition, some of the email marketing tactics used by businesses have given the platform a bad name among certain consumers, many of whom delete unsolicited emails before opening them.

There is not nearly as much competition in a standard mailbox, and direct mail has an element of surprise and delight. Postcards and mailers have the power to capture attention with color, imagery, and compelling copy. One could argue that people also toss their physical mail without reading it, but statistics show people enjoy receiving snail mail. According to data from the U.S. Postal Service, 98% of consumers collect their physical mail the day it’s delivered and 77% sort through their mail as soon as they receive it.

It’s Personal

There is a limit to how personal digital campaigns can be, but something tangible can generate an emotional connection that has lasting impact. Direct mail is as close as a small business can get to being face to face with a customer or prospect, and it skirts the possibility of annoying people by engaging in phone or door-to-door solicitation. Recipients of direct mail are also less likely to be distracted while reading your marketing piece, spending dedicated time to consider their options before moving on to the next item in their stack of mail. Online, a reader may exit out of your email when one that seems more interesting pops up on their screen.

Stronger Response Rates

The Data and Marketing Association released findings from a recent study that said direct mail sent to homes had a 5.1% response rate verses email’s 0.6% response rate. There are numerous reasons for this, including the fact that because direct mail campaigns require a significant budget commitment, the targeting and messaging tend to be more precise. However, the simple reality is that a letter or postcard kept on someone’s counter, table, or refrigerator is a constant visual reminder of your business and your offer. It has the potential to live on in someone’s thoughts much longer than an email that lies buried deep in their Inbox.

Digital marketing has in no way completely replaced hard mail, and each marketing tactic offers its own set of perks. Small businesses who are testing the waters may want to try a combination of the two: after sending an email with an offer, try following up with a direct mail piece to those who did not initially engage. In today’s fast-changing world, using a variety of communication tools in tandem can reach more prospects, create unique impressions, and generate more sales.

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