Direct Mail or Email – Which is Best for Marketing

Direct Mail or Email – Which is Best for Marketing?

Most businesses today acknowledge the value of email marketing for personalising communications with their customers. It’s the most widely used marketing approach because it’s cheap to run and can reach a myriad of subscribers instantly.

What about direct mail? Is a printed brochure delivered in the post a relic of the past, with niche value only in a world dominated by digital channels and instant gratification?

In fact, no platform is inherently better than another. Each has a role depending on the purpose of a campaign, the characteristics of its intended audience, and the industry involved.

Paradoxically, the very advantages of email marketing (low cost and widespread reach) are contributing to the decline in its effectiveness. Seventy per cent of people surveyed recently said they received too many emails, and overkill is the main reason for subscriptions being cancelled. Printed mail, meanwhile, is undergoing a resurgence due to its potential for growing a brand’s desirability.

direct mail or email

Image and statistics source: Proactive Marketing

So how do you decide in any given  situation whether it’s direct mail or email?

When to use email vs direct mail


Email is quick, spontaneous, interesting, informative and smart.

Send communications via email about:

  • news and updates
  • confirmations and follow-up messages
  • add-on products and services
  • new information
  • deals and sales
Direct mail

Direct mail is formal, official, considered, believable and reliable.

Send people these communications by direct mail:

  • brochures and product catalogues
  • welcome packs
  • bills or statements (essential mail)
  • loyalty rewards
  • significant company news and stories

People want to be able to communicate about issues and complaints, and get reminders, equally by email and in the post.

Email and direct mail differ widely

Email features


  • Low-cost
  • Fast
  • Efficient
  • Digital data available to measure and refine campaigns


  • People are tired of too much email spam
  • Very short lifespan – now only about two seconds
  • Building a contact list takes time
  • Limited design opportunities
  • Less effective for gaining customers and closing sales
Direct mail features


  • Very long lifespan (i.e. more than two weeks)
  • Much more scope for design and storytelling
  • Much better brand identification
  • Makes people feel more valued
  • Triggers far more immediate responses
  • Much higher response rate overall
  • More effective for acquiring customers and making sales


  • Expensive to set up – lower return on investment
  • Expensive to send
  • Longer delivery time

For best results, combine mediums

People are increasingly seeking to customise how, where, and when they receive and digest business communications. They want marketers to use a combination of digital and direct channels to deliver messages. For example, most customers want to browse through a both a store’s print catalogue and its website before making a purchase.

The effectiveness of direct mail can be increased when it’s integrated with a digital campaign such as email. Direct mail is highly effective for encouraging consumers to interact with brands online. Use printed mail to stimulate social media activity, downloads, online purchases, and build brand rapport.

Direct and email combined features

Better brand awareness
Acquires more customers
Improved customer experience
Shoppers spend more

Newsletters both ways

Most subscribers will spend only around 30 seconds reading a newsletter delivered to their email inbox, if they open it at all.

Send your customers a printed newsletter in the mail as well as an emailed version. Even better, let them choose whether they receive a printed or an emailed newsletter, or both.

Why? Printed newsletters:

  • get delivered directly to people – no worries about being caught by spam filters, email protocols, or bad connections;
  • are more highly valued by customers;
  • are not subject to digital restrictions in terms of images, design values, and complexity – you can really let yourself go to capture your customers’ interest;
  • are more likely to get read cover-to-cover, and they will be shared around extensively (free distribution);
  • are easier to read and tactile – people can make notes on them, etc;
  • get noticed, whereas all inbox subject lines look the same.

A few takeaways

  1. Don’t underrate the power of direct mail. Email works well in some situations, but there are others where printed mail is more appropriate and effective.
  2. Understand when and how to harness the strengths of each medium to achieve your objectives.
  3. Enhance direct mail by including calls to action, or QR codes to direct traffic to your website.