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Call us for a chat on +44 (0)20 7836 3678 or email Amanda Francis


Generating new business – the email vs snailmail debate

Anthony Miller wrote a great article on the Brand Republic website on the 18th March which addressed the research done by academics at Bangor University to determine if the brain acts differently to marketing messages delivered through direct mail in comparison to those shown on screen.

From what he’s written it appears that direct mail enhances a brand’s value for a number of reasons including:

  • When a piece of DM was held and read by a participant, their reactions suggested that they were experiencing thought patterns similar to those the brain exhibits when processing memories and emotions.
  • It appears easier for the brain to process messages from tangible direct mail compared to digital marketing material, and subsequently easier to remember.
  • When asked to keep or discard items, the physical direct mail provoked activity in the right-middle cingulate, a region of the brain that is associated with decision-making connected to emotions and social issues. Therefore the research suggests that direct mail has links to emotion-based decision-making.

Did I mention that the research was funded by Royal Mail by the way? No? Well it is.

However, cynicism aside, I thought about our own experiences between the incoming new business enquiries we generate through a result of our direct mail and email campaigns.

For the most part, our direct mail follows a very simple formula. It tends to be very short (usually no more than a few sentences) with a prompt for action at the end. And, like Marmite, people tend to either love it or hate it. But either way, most of the people who we speak to when we follow up the campaigns by phone (that is our rasion d’etre after all) have one thing in common – and that is they remember it.

I weighed up the pros and cons of the campaigns we sent by post and email and this is how they stacked up:

Email costs next to nothing to send and you can be reasonably sure that, providing you have the correct address in the first place, it is going directly to the in-box of your intended recipient. On top of this, the functionality that exists with our email marketing system allow us to see specifically who has opened it, who has clicked on a link, who has forwarded it, who has deleted without opening, etc. This gives us extremely valuable insight and allows follow-up calls to be targeted to recipients that are most likely to have an interest, even if they didn’t respond directly to the email.

Direct mail by comparison is much more expensive. Paper costs, printing costs, postage costs, the time involved in folding and stuffing, environmentally less friendly and after all that you can never be 100% sure that your intended target received it. Maybe after all the thought, time and effort that went into sending it, some vindictive PA intercepted it and binned it (no doubt a Marmite-hater) before the MD of The Jolly Nice Potential Client To Have Agency got to see it. Or maybe the postman delivered it to the wrong building, which – given the amount of post we get delivered here which is clearly marked for various other addresses – is a very real possibility. Or perhaps Royal Mail were just on strike again.

However, despite the pitfalls in the postal system, a very significant proportion of new business that we win has started with a response to a mailer. And this trend hasn’t shown any real sign of decline, despite our increasing use of email marketing in tandem with direct mail.

Now, I’m no scientist so I don’t know what part of my brain is being activated between the time it takes me to open any direct mail addressed to me and the time it takes me to throw it in the recycle bin 15 feet away from my desk. What I do know that in that time I will have glanced at it for a few seconds and those few seconds need to get the sender’s message across effectively, thus saving it from the bin. So if this applies to me, I’m sure the same rules apply to the very busy people we send Alchemis mailers to. Once you’ve opened the letter, you can’t help seeing the whole page. And if there’s not much on that page aside from one reason why it may be of benefit to you to respond, you could easily end up “accidentally” reading it even if you don’t want to.

The sheer volume of e-marketing shots I receive on the other hand may not even get a few seconds of my time. If the subject line doesn’t instantly grab my interest it’s likely to be deleted unread. If the sender is a company rather than a person, chances are I’ll assume it’s spam of some sort.

So what does the future hold for both mediums?

As far as we’re concerned we’ll continue using both direct mail and e-marketing campaigns whilst they are producing a decent return on investment, but the primary focus will always be on picking up the phone to demonstrate first hand to prospects our amazing telephone marketing skills. After all, you’ve got to practice what you preach.

One thought on “Generating new business – the email vs snailmail debate

  1. Rob, I think you have hit the jackpot with this post. Well-designed collateral both demonstrates an agency’s skills as creators of marketing material and does its job ‘catching the eye’ of the prospect so that you are remembered when the phone call comes.

    So many agencies describe themselves as ‘creatively led’ but so few have great examples from their own marketing.
    I delight in great marketing and of course it must make your job so much easier too!

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