Email vs. Direct Mail


Since the introduction of email marketing, businesses have been questioning the differences in effectiveness between direct mail and email marketing. Which has a better return on investment? Which is more effective? Ultimately, which to choose?

The most effective way to utilize the two forms of mailing is to understand the differences and use the strengths of each to your advantage.


Both forms of marketing have an initial cost of developing the concept, writing the copy, and having a designer create the final product.

Direct mail has the extra cost of processing, printing and other forms of labor such as cutting, folding and addressing. Email blasts don’t require any physical materials aside from the computer from which the emails are being sent.

Both forms of mail require a mailing list. These can be created through data collection by your company, or can be purchased through a list company.

Purchased lists for direct mail are usually provided to you with either a one-time use license, or to be used as many times as you wish. However, when you purchase an email list, it’s common for the list supplier to require that they send the email. This mean you never actually receive a list, and have to pay for each email sent, even if you’re sending to the same list.


Although you can purchase targeted mailing lists for both direct mail and email, because of how long direct mailing has been around, the mailing lists for direct mail have had more time to be refined and thus are ultimately better for targeting efforts. Here at Printing Partners, we can even take your mailing list and run analytics on it to get demographics on the people you’re mailing to, refining it even more.

Another big difference between the targeting in direct mail and email is the fact that most consumers only have one mailing address, but it is very common for a single person to have multiple email addresses. Many people even have a separate email address they use solely for signing up for things to avoid spam.

Legal Issues­

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 establishes requirements for commercial email messages and gave the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rights to penalize violators up to $16,000. To read the requirements, you can visit FTC’s page here.

The CAN-SPAM Act requires an opt-out option to be included in each email, but unlike its European equivalent, US law does not require a consumer to opt-in (yet). Although it is not legally required, you should only send email messages to consumers who have opted-in.

If you decide to purchase an email list, include an opt-in option and only continue to contact consumers who have requested that you do so. This eliminates the possibility of being reported as a spammer, which can turn into legal issues and hurt your brand image.

Currently, direct mail does not have any legal ramifications for sending multiple messages to consumers. The only legal issue in direct mail is associated with HIPAA violations, so be sure to consider the receiver’s privacy if you are in the healthcare industry.

Interactivity & Tracking

It’s obvious that email is interactive. You can link to your webpage, embed videos and audio – and all of those things can be easily tracked. Many are unaware that you can also have tracking with print. PURLs (personal URLs) and QR (quick response) codes give print the same tracking capabilities. With our variable data capabilities, we can print unique QR codes or PURLs on each mailpiece. When the consumer scans the code or visits the PURL, you can get the same tracking capabilities as you would from a clicked link.


When talking to others about “junk mail” and “spam,” you’ll start to notice that there is much more hostility towards spam. Getting things in your mailbox is becoming so less common that it’s actually something people are beginning to enjoy. According to a survey by Two Sides, 70% of Americans, including 69% of 18-24 year olds “prefer to read print and paper communications than read off a screen.”

Direct mail has a more personal feel to it. It’s tangible, and it’s also believed by many consumers to contain more valuable coupons and offers than email.

When considering how receptive a consumer will be, you should consider what that person is doing while they’re sorting through their mail.

Generally, emails are either sorted automatically through filters (so the consumer never sees it), or they are sorted manually by scanning subject lines in a matter of seconds. In many cases, it’s very possible that even if you sent out an eye-catching email, the consumer will never even open it.

Direct mail, on the other hand, has to be physically sorted. The consumer has to touch it, look at it, and then decide whether or not to throw it away. If they aren’t near a trash can, it’s even possible it’ll get set on a table or counter, creating a longer shelf life, and possibly gaining exposure to anyone else in the household.

The time of day and actual mood of consumers is very different while sorting through the different types of mail as well. Emails are sifted through quickly before work, between meetings, or while the consumer has a minute or two to spare. Physical mail is generally looked at after work, at home, when all the stresses of the day are over and the person is finally more relaxed – maybe even bored and looking for something to do.


In terms of timeliness, email wins hands down. Once the message is sent, it’s received almost immediately, and can provoke immediate responses. Direct mail takes a bit more planning, and a few days to reach the consumer. However, once the piece is in their hands, a consumer can scan a QR code or type in a web address and give immediate response from a direct mail piece.

­Utilizing the strengths of both types of communication to your advantage is the most effective way to get the best return on your investment. Sending an initial direct mailpiece will drive people to your website, where consumers can opt-in for your email messages. Creating a first impression with direct mail and reinforcing it with email is one of the most effective ways to be sure to generate interest from your target audience.

At Printing Partners, we have the capabilities of designing, producing, and purchasing mailing lists for both direct mail and email blasts. Contact a customer service representative or sales representative for more information.


About Mallory MacDermott

Marketing Manager at Printing Partners, Inc. Indianapolis, Indiana.
This entry was posted in Mailing, Marketing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Email vs. Direct Mail

  1. Pingback: Email vs. Direct Mail | Connecting the Dots | Casino Marketing Exchange

  2. I always like to do direct mail marketing for my business . I feel that it is easy to implement a simple and powerful way to Promote a business. As the business reaches directly to the clients it will help us to get business leads and also increase the sales.

  3. Pingback: Paying more attention to your current customers can have a huge impact on your bottom line | Connecting the Dots

  4. Great sharing!
    Really, Directory email marketing is the best for promoting a business and business goes directly to the clients.And it generate business leads.

  5. Thanks for sharing this informative blog. I liked the way specification were given point by point. I would be preferring direct mailing lists has it delivers mass mail to your recipients with quality and efficiency. Bulk mailing prices are significantly lower than single-piece prices and this save a lot of money.

  6. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
    ADM Liverpool

  7. Thanks a lot for your post. It was really interesting and informative to read on. One of direct mail’s biggest advantages is its ability to make personal one-to-one contact with your prospect.

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