Direct Mail vs Email Marketing

Share Guide
Direct Mail vs Email Marketing

Direct mail and email marketing can help you to reach out to large amounts of potential customers at once.

Email marketing is often a low-cost solution to reach customers quickly, whilst a well-designed direct mail campaign can make you stand out from the competition.

But how do these marketing channels work, and how can you make sure you’re making the right decisions for your business?

In this guide, we've teamed up with our friends over at Audience to talk you through how to reach the right people, with the right message and all the while ensuring you’re meeting GDPR requirements.

What’s the Difference Between Direct Mail & Email Marketing

Direct mail is a form of marketing that involves sending a physical piece of promotional material via post to a home or business.

Some common forms of direct mail include:

  • Brochures
  • Letters
  • Flyers
  • Newsletters
  • Catalogues
  • Postcards
  • Coupon envelopes

Email marketing is where you send promotional material to potential customers via, you guessed it, email.

Who Should I Contact?

The first thing to consider is when getting started with direct mail or email marketing is: what are you wanting to achieve with your campaign? This will help you to decide whether you’d be best to target your existing customer base or start reaching out to brand new customers.

Contacting Your Existing Customers

Your existing customer base can be an extremely valuable set of individuals. They’ve already shown an interest in your business and what you do, meaning you can be confident that there is an elevated level of intent there.

You can use your existing customer base to:

  • Introduce new products or services
  • Boost sales with a special offer
  • Keep customers informed and build a sense of loyalty

There are a number of benefits to contacting your existing customer base as opposed to trying to do a cold reach out. Response rates will usually be much better than the response from a bought-in list, and your existing customers are always your best source of new orders and leads.

If you’re planning a high volume of mailings, you might find it useful to use a database or CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software. Here re our top tips for keeping your database as up to date as possible:

  • Decide how much information you want to hold and how you’d like it organised before choosing your software
  • Keep track of when each name was last checked or amended
  • Record when you last mailed each person, how often they have been approached in the past year and whether they have responded to any of your marketing campaigns
  • Check and validate your data input regularly
  • Encourage recipients to confirm or amend their details regularly
  • Give recipients the option to opt-out of receiving information from your business each time you contact them

Contacting New Prospects

If you feel like reaching out to brand new customers – or cold data - is the best route for your business, there are many companies out there where you can purchase or rent data sets.

Cold data is perfect for:

  • Testing the market and generating interest
  • Collecting names and contact details to follow up
  • Making immediate new sales

You should use what you know about your existing customer profiles as a basis for your new data purchase, allowing you to reach out to people who are more likely to want to buy your products or engage in your services.

There are a few options you can explore if you’re wanting to reach out to a cold database:

  • Specialist websites, as well as conference or exhibition organisers, allow business’s to purchase databases
  • Most directories rent out their lists and will send out the mailing on your behalf
  • Some trade associations allow access to member lists, so it is worth approaching your own industry body if you operate in a niche sector
  • Most business support organisations also offer a mailing functionality which can be cheaper for smaller sends
  • If you want to blanket-mail every household in a certain area, Royal Mail Door to Door may be your best option.

The most important thing when choosing a data provider is that you use a company that adheres to the industry code of practice. You can find list owners, brokers and managers who operate above-board on the Data & Marketing Association.

If you’ve chosen a company, be sure to check that the owner of the list has recorded opt-in permissions for the purposes you wish to use it for, i.e. that all the people on the list have opted-in to receive email or written contact from a third party. If you plan to use telephone numbers you need to screen them against the Telephone Preference Service.

It would also be best practice to check any list you buy against your own list of people who have already opted out of being contacted.

How Much Does it Cost?

The cost of a direct mail or email marketing campaign can vary greatly depending on what method you’re using, who you’re contacting and the volume of your send.

Some common costs involved with this kind of marketing include:

  • Data purchases (if you’re buying a data set)
  • Software costs for keeping your database and sending emails
  • Any physical production and postage costs
  • Cost of labour
  • Any external services such as using a mailing house

You’ll often find that direct mail campaigns are more costly than their email counterparts – mostly thanks to the cost of physically producing and sending your material.

Which Should I Use?  

The best type of marketing for you will vary depending on your business’s individual goals. There are pros and cons to both type of marketing which we’ve pulled together for you below.

Email Marketing: Pros  

It’s Affordable

Compared to a lot of other online marketing options, email marketing is relatively affordable. As highlighted above, email marketing also tends to be more cost-effective than direct mail campaigns. With email marketing, you’ll have the initial costs of building a mailing list and investing in software, but after that, your costs will be minimal.

It’s Quick

With many other online and digital marketing strategies, it takes time to reach large amounts of people. With an email, you can quickly get your message in front of thousands or even millions of people.

It’s Trackable

With the right tools, it’s easy to find out how many people open your emails and click on links. This allows you to compare data to find out which of your markets are more likely to respond to you.

Email Marketing: Cons

Spam Inboxes

If the people in your target audience are already overwhelmed with commercial emails, they may mark yours as spam or delete it without opening it. Also, if you send emails too frequently, people will unsubscribe from your emails altogether.

Limited Creativity

Email marketing can restrict the creativeness of a campaign. There are definitely creative ways to reach your audience through email, and if email marketing is only one part of your digital marketing campaign, you can be more creative in other, complimenting tactics.

Direct Mail Marketing: Pros  

It Can Be Detailed 

The nature of direct mail means you have a lot of room to play with. Whether you're sending a letter, flyer, or brochure you’ll have the space to provide in-depth information that is tricky to convey in a text, Tweet, Facebook ad, or even an email.

Direct Mail Marketing: Cons

It's Expensive

For direct mail to be effective it needs to be visually appealing. This means you often incur larger costs related to design, printing and postage.

Low Response Rates

Response rates for direct mail are fairly low – usually between 2% and 3%. Also, some recipients lump direct mail in with junk mail if they don’t recognize the return address or aren’t expecting any information from a business. This means that all of the time and money you’ve spent is never even accessed, it’s just thrown in the bin.

GDPR Requirements

Regardless of which type of campaign you decide to run, you have to ensure you’re complying with the General Data Protection Regulations. Here are some key things you should do to ensure your business is fully compliant:

  • Store all personal data securely
  • Check if you need to register with the Information Commissioner's Office
  • Don’t send unsolicited email to individuals
  • Give your recipients the opportunity to opt-out every time you email them
  • Do not sell or exchange your list unless customers have given their consent to be contacted by other businesses
  • You should not send direct mail to individuals who do not want it

 Cross-check any purchased mailing list against your own in-house list of people who have already opted-out of contact from your company

There you have it, our ultimate guide to direct mail and email marketing. Whichever you choose, both will give you the chance to get your business in front of a large group of customers in a quick and effective manner. For any more information on nailing your email marketing campaigns, contact Audience at

Do you own a business? Do you know how much it’s worth?

Find out instantly with a FREE valuation. It takes less than 1 minute to complete and you’ll get your valuation on screen straight away.

Check it out below.

Click Here to Use Our FREE Business Valuation Tool

Get quick and easy insight into the real value of your business, without any obligations.

At Intelligent, all of our experts use a specific formula that will give you a free and highly accurate baseline valuation so that you've got a figure to work with that most realistically resembles the value of your business.

Timed popup