Direct Mail vs Email Marketing: Which is More Effective?


Direct mail marketing and email marketing are two prominent strategies in the vast landscape of marketing, each with its distinct advantages and applications. In recent years, the surge in digital marketing trends has led many to overlook traditional methods, such as direct mail. However, a deeper analysis reveals that, despite being an older method, direct mail marketing still holds significant advantages over its digital counterpart, email marketing. In this blog post, we’ll embark on a comparative journey between these two marketing giants, ultimately showcasing why direct mail might edge out email marketing in specific contexts.

The Tangibility of Direct Mail

One of the most compelling arguments for direct mail marketing is its physical nature. In a world increasingly dominated by digital screens, the tangibility of a piece of direct mail can break the monotony of endless emails, which often are deleted and never opened. This presence ensures the message stands out and adds a personal touch that digital communications often need to improve. Research conducted by the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General in partnership with the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University found that physical advertisements, like direct mail, have a pronounced effect on consumer decision-making and are more effective in leaving a lasting impression than digital ads. This research, conducted in 2015 and expanded in 2019, indicated that physical ads are particularly effective at certain stages of the consumer journey, such as exposure to and retrieval of information, due to their ability to elicit more robust emotional responses and create more memorable impressions​​.

Additionally, a study by Neuromarketing firm TrueImpact, conducted on behalf of Canada Post but cited in discussions about direct mail’s impact in the U.S., found that direct mail requires 21% less cognitive effort to process and yields a 70% higher brand recall than digital advertising.

The Trustworthiness of Direct Mail

In an era where cybersecurity threats loom large, and inboxes are often filled with spam and phishing attempts, trustworthiness becomes a significant factor. Direct mail, by being a physical entity, bypasses many of the digital security concerns. Recipients are more likely to trust a well-crafted brochure, mail piece, or a postcard in their mailbox than an email from an unknown sender, which they might dismiss as spam or a potential security risk. This inherent trust can lead to higher engagement rates with direct mail.

Targeting and Personalization

While email marketing is known for its ability to segment and target specific audiences, direct mail is just a little behind. Advances in printing technology and data analytics have made it possible to personalize direct mail to an extent that was previously unimaginable. Marketers can now use variable data printing (VDP) to customize each mail piece to the recipient’s preferences, buying history, and other personal details. This level of personalization can create a more intimate and engaging experience for the recipient, fostering a deeper connection with the brand.

The Enduring Impact of Direct Mail

Direct mail has a staying power that digital communications often need to improve. An email can be deleted or lost in an overcrowded inbox within seconds. In contrast, a piece of direct mail can linger in a recipient’s home or office for days, weeks, or even months, constantly reminding the brand. This enduring presence can reinforce brand awareness and increase the likelihood of conversion over time.

Response Rates and ROI

Regarding response rates and return on investment (ROI), direct mail consistently outperforms email marketing. According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), direct mail response rates are 5.1% for house lists and 2.9% for prospect lists, significantly higher than email’s average response rate of just 0.6%. Furthermore, the median ROI for direct mail is 29%, closely trailing behind social media (30%) and ahead of paid search (23%) and online display ads (16%).

The Synergy with Digital Marketing

It’s important to note that direct mail doesn’t have to exist in isolation from digital marketing strategies. Integrating direct mail with digital campaigns can amplify the strengths of both. Q.R. codes, personalized URLs (PURLs), and augmented reality (A.R.) features can bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds, creating a seamless omnichannel experience that leverages the tactile impact of direct mail with the interactive capabilities of digital platforms.

The Environmental Considerations

One of the criticisms often leveled against direct mail is its environmental impact. However, the industry has made significant strides in addressing these concerns. Many direct mail campaigns now use recycled materials and environmentally friendly inks. Moreover, by targeting more precisely and personalizing content, businesses can reduce waste by ensuring that their mailings are relevant and valued by the recipients.

The Cost Factor

It’s undeniable that direct mail can be more expensive than email marketing in terms of production and postage. However, direct mail can justify its costs when considering the higher engagement rates, better response rates, and more substantial ROI. For businesses aiming for quality interactions over quantity, the investment in direct mail can offer significant long-term benefits.


While email marketing remains an essential component of a digital marketer’s toolkit, the distinctive benefits of direct mail are apparent. Its palpable form, perceived reliability, customization possibilities, lasting presence, and notable response rates position it as a compelling marketing approach. In a digital era characterized by information overload, the tangible aspect of direct mail offers a standout means of engaging with target audiences, providing a notable contrast to the digital backdrop. Companies aiming to make a memorable impact on their clientele might find direct mail an advantageous option. By weaving it into a broader digital strategy, they can forge a comprehensive marketing methodology that harnesses the strengths of both digital and traditional tactics, fostering a productive interplay between the two as the marketing landscape evolves.

Ink Etc Marketing has a wealth of experience in providing direct mail services to our clients. Over the years, we have developed a high level of expertise and proficiency, enabling us to offer the best options to meet our customers’ requirements. If you’re looking to promote your brand, give us a call today. We are always excited to hear from our valued customers!

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