Direct Mail vs. Eblasts: Snail Mail or Email Marketing?

In the marketing world, it’s common to be inundated with notifications about the so-called-next-big-thing. Every day, there’s a new social media app, a new digital fad and a new startup with a name ending in “-ly”. So, imagine my surprise when I noticed an email from Canada Post, calling on brands to consider reverting to good old-fashioned snail mail marketing.

I have to say, it reminded me a little of text messages I would get from my parents while I was in college, letting me know the house was feeling a little empty and to maybe consider coming home for Thanksgiving.

At Sherpa, digital is our bread and butter. A lot of the value we bring to our clients is thanks to our company-wide obsession with jumping on new digital trends and analyzing results to the finest detail to optimize our efforts. But even as “plugged-in” as we are, we still do our fair share of strategic direct mail campaigns.

The keyword there is “strategic”. In fact, the keyword for any kind of marketing effort is “strategic”, and that means different things for different media. In the showdown between direct mail and e-blast marketing, there is no undisputed winner. The winner depends on your specific objectives. Review the following tips to see which one makes sense for your brand’s goal.

Money is Money

Every transaction, from your morning coffee to your daily commute, starts with a cost-benefit analysis. Stick with my usual $2 cuppa joe or splurge on the $5 autumnal latte? Jump in the car and fight for parking or call a cab and coast?

With both e-blasts and direct mail, there is a way to do it cheaply, and a way to do it well. The two seldom co-exist. Direct mail comes with the unescapable costs of bulk shipping and materials. The choices you make in terms of what you produce directly impact the effectiveness of the tactic, as well as the cost of your investment.

Generally, your goal should always be to appeal to your target’s senses and sensibilities. Will you send them a blank white envelope with your call-to-action printed in Times New Roman on Xerox paper, or invest in higher-quality materials and a designer’s touch? It’s true that people like receiving letters more than emails, but that’s only because they’re highly personalized. If your direct mailer arrives at its destination camouflaged between bills and flyers, you might as well be writing a letter to your local waste management professional.

...And Money Talks

The same principle applies for e-blasts, but your up-front investment is infinitely easier to manage since the costs stay pretty much the same whether your audience is 10 or 10,000 people. For the cost of a few hours of a talented designer’s time, it’s possible to create a beautiful and compelling message. Your challenge, however, is enticing your audience to read it. The keys to an attention-grabbing subject line are based in psychology, so you really need to consider how your audience consumes information and speak to their interests.

Fashion and cosmetic brands Fashion Nova and ColourPop have had huge success producing e-blasts that their customers want to open. If you have a look at their typical daily emails, the subject lines are littered with slang and emojis. Inside, the graphics and copy glow with a carefree, youthful energy. But make no mistake—just like Elle Woods, this is seriously smart strategy disguised with furry stilettos and pearlescent lip balm. These brands work overtime listening to their audience on social media, learning how they talk, what styles they like, the colours they love and the other brands and influencers they follow. Their e-blast strategy works because they’ve used social listening both to develop products their audience want and tell them about it in their own language.

 

Be Goal-Oriented

So, let’s say you’ve done the heavy lifting and you’ve got a perfect direct mail piece hot off the printer. Who are you sending it to? The only wrong answer to this question is “everyone”. The worst thing you can do is negate all the conversions you get from your tactic with explosive production and shipping costs, not to mention the environmental impact. For a successful direct mail campaign, it’s incredibly important to use goal-oriented targeting for your recipients.

At Sherpa, we painstakingly examine which postal codes fit the demographic for our clients’ target audiences. A flyer for canola seed looks a bit out of place on the granite countertops in your kid nephew’s downtown bachelor pad. Avoid the temptation to believe your recipients will pass on your flyer to a more appropriate audience. Remember that cost-benefit analysis also extends to people’s energy, and if the effort required to act exceeds the offer’s value to that person, you can count on poor results. That’s why we Sherpas strongly value the principle of delivering the RIGHT message, to the RIGHT person, at the RIGHT time.

 

Set Yourself Up for Success

Even though e-blasts don’t come with the same budgetary restraints, you are generally competing with a much fuller mailbox than the analog kind. A common trap is to send every e-mail address you acquire every piece of communication you produce. You don’t want to be the business who cried wolf, where your audience misses messages that apply to them because they’ve learned to filter out the ones that don’t.

Set yourself up to avoid this pitfall by strategizing where you’re pulling those emails. If you engage in e-commerce, the order confirmation system is chock full of useful information about your customers’ purchasing trends. If you’ve been shipping Sally Hotmail two cases of cat food per month, she might want to hear about your rewards program, or your sale on pet stain remover. On the other hand, if you’ve been shipping Ricardo Gmail a monthly copy of Aquarium magazine and a can of fish pellets, he may have marked you as a Junk sender after your tenth offer for BOGO freeze-dried sardines.

Also, Be Attractive

I don’t mean that way, but don’t worry, darling—you sparkle. When it comes to messaging, whether you go snail mail or email, make it good. Use language that gets to the point of why your offer is the bomb-dot-com. Sound excited. Look alive. Energy attracts energy, and people are easily influenced by messages that are confident and cheerful. Think of your communication as an invitation. Personally, I’m unlikely to RSVP if the invite seems lukewarm. Your race isn’t against your brand’s competitors in this game, it’s against the other fifty senders wrestling for attention. Step in the ring with your most brilliant, lovingly-crafted luchador suit and steal the show.

 

Good Luck!

Whichever medium you choose, always mix with equal parts strategy, planning and pizzazz. If you’re feeling out of your element with these complex marketing terms, like “targeting” and “luchador”, don’t be shy. Shoot us an email. No pearlescent lip balm required.

 

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