Direct mail marketing has been around for decades, but some marketers may wonder if it still has advantages compared to email marketing in today's digital world. The answer is yes - when executed strategically, direct mail can be extremely effective. Though email is ubiquitous and inexpensive, direct mail has some key benefits that make it a smart inclusion for many marketing campaigns and budgets.

Direct mail stands out in a crowded digital inbox and grabs more attention than an email might. It also allows for more customization and creativity. Additionally, direct mail elicits a stronger emotional response and seems more legitimate to many consumers. Response rates are typically higher, and it supports an omnichannel approach. With proper targeting and testing, direct mail achieves measurable results. In many cases, it is a worthwhile marketing channel that complements an email strategy.

Higher open rates

Direct mail consistently achieves much higher open rates compared to email marketing campaigns. According to the Data and Marketing Association's (DMA) 2021 Response Rate Report, the average open rate for direct mail is 90% versus only 20-30% for email. This massive difference is likely because physical mail tends to catch recipients' attention more than digital messages crowded into an inbox.

People may overlook emails or mistake them for spam, but they'll usually at least take a glance at an envelope or postcard addressed to them. Direct mail is seen as more personal and less disposable. Even if the recipient doesn't thoroughly read a mailer, they've still opened and engaged with it on some level. This gives direct mail a leg up in making an impression and being remembered.

More attention grabbing

Physical mail stands out more than emails in today's digital world. Most people spend hours each day sifting through countless emails, social media notifications, texts, and more on their phones and computers. A piece of physical mail is a rare sight in comparison. The tangible medium naturally grabs more attention when it arrives in the mailbox.

Studies show that direct mail has much higher readership and engagement than digital ads and emails. Physical mail is more likely to get opened and read thoroughly. The recipient takes the time to sit down and review the mailer, rather than quickly skimming an email. Direct mail is also displayed around homes and offices much longer than fleeting digital messages. The unique format allows marketers to get creative with shapes, textures, scents, colors, and more to make the mail stand out. This memorability boosts engagement and brand awareness.

Better targeting

Direct mail allows for superior demographic and geographic targeting compared to email marketing. Marketers can tap into extensive databases to identify very specific subgroups based on age, income, gender, location, interests, and more. Direct mail campaigns can then be highly personalized and tailored to match the preferences of each micro-targeted audience. 

For example, an athletic apparel company can mail catalogs featuring running gear to suburban areas while sending catalogs with yoga and pilates equipment to urban centers. Or a university can send information about its engineering programs to high school students with high math SAT scores. Direct mail enables this level of personalization and customization to each recipient.

In contrast, email is far more generalized in its targeting abilities. Marketers can segment their email lists based on basic information like location and gender. But there is less ability to micro-target and customize email content itself. The core email message remains the same for all recipients. So direct mail has superior capabilities to target tailored messaging to finely defined audience groups.

More trust and legitimacy

Direct mail has a level of legitimacy that email often lacks. When a person receives a physical piece of mail, they perceive the sender as more official and trustworthy. There is something substantial about holding an actual letter or postcard in your hands. The sender went to the effort to print and mail this piece, as opposed to quickly typing and sending an email. This lends direct mail more gravitas.

Additionally, many people are wary of opening emails these days, especially from unknown senders. With rampant spam and phishing attempts, people are cautious about clicking on links or attachments. Physical mail does not present this apprehension. The recipient knows the mail has passed through official postal service channels. This removes the fear that it contains viruses or is a scam. Direct mail builds trust in a way that email struggles to replicate.

Better response rates

Direct mail consistently receives higher response rates compared to email marketing campaigns. While the average email open rate hovers around 20-30%, direct mail response rates are typically over 5-9% on average.

Part of this comes down to the nature of physical mail versus digital messages. When a personalized and relevant piece of mail arrives in a physical mailbox, it commands more attention and feels more urgent to open and read. Emails are easy to ignore or overlook in crowded inboxes.

Direct mail also drives higher conversion rates and sales. Recipients are more likely to take action whether that's visiting a website, calling a number, or making a purchase. One study found that direct mail achieves response rates 6 times higher than email.

The tangible format of direct mail marketing makes responses and conversions more likely. There's something more motivating and compelling about an offer received in the mail versus digitally. Direct mail's higher response and conversion rates make it a powerful channel that outperforms many digital options.

Supports multi-channel

Direct mail does not exist in isolation - it can and should work together with digital marketing channels for the best results. Direct mail has a unique ability to drive traffic to websites, social media pages, and other digital assets.

A direct mail piece can include a QR code, URL, or special offer code that incentivizes recipients to take further action online. The mail piece gets their attention and gives them a compelling reason to visit your website, follow your social media, or engage with email marketing. This crossover effect gives direct mail an advantage over email marketing alone.

Direct mail also enables more advanced digital marketing techniques like retargeting. You can serve digital ads specifically to people who engaged with your direct mail piece. This is much more difficult to do with generic email blasts. So direct mail provides a bridge between offline and online interaction with your brand.

In summary, direct mail should not be treated as an isolated channel. It can amplify the effectiveness of digital marketing efforts when integrated in a thoughtful multi-channel campaign. The physical medium grabs attention while driving traffic and retargeting opportunities online. This is a unique capability of direct mail.

Memorable and Impactful

Direct mail is often more memorable and impactful than email marketing. When someone receives a high-quality printed piece in their mailbox, it makes an impression. The recipient is more likely to remember that mailer and engage with the message, compared to yet another email in their crowded inbox.

Physical media tends to be more memorable than digital ads. According to research from Millward Brown, physical ads generate over twice the amount of long-term memory encoding versus digital ads. Direct mail is a tangible item that the recipient can hold in their hands, review multiple times, display on their desk or fridge, and share with others. This helps the ad's message stick in people's minds.

In addition, direct mail elicits an emotional response. Opening the mailbox to find a personally addressed envelope or package feels like receiving a gift. This makes the recipient more excited to open and engage with the mailer. Well-designed direct mailers in engaging formats can truly capture attention in a sea of digital distraction.

Measurable Results

Direct mail has very tangible and measurable metrics that marketers can use to optimize their campaigns. One of the most important is the response rate. This refers to the percentage of people who took action after receiving the direct mail piece, such as visiting a website, calling a number, or making a purchase. Direct mail typically generates response rates of 1-5%, which may seem low, but is very high compared to other channels. For example, email marketing open rates are around 20%, but click-through rates are just 2-3% on average.

With direct mail, marketers can calculate response rates by using unique codes, phone numbers, or landing pages for each campaign. They can then optimize future efforts based on what worked best previously. Things like the offer, design, targeting, timing, and messaging can all be tweaked to improve response rates over time. Direct mail also enables easy A/B split testing by sending two versions to similar audiences and comparing the results. Overall, the measurable performance makes direct mail a very accountable marketing medium.


In summary, direct mail has several key advantages over email marketing that make it a powerful marketing channel:

  • Direct mail achieves much higher open rates than email. Physical mail stands out and people are curious to open and read it.
  • The tangible nature of direct mail makes it more attention-grabbing than ephemeral emails. Creative mailers spark interest.
  • Direct mail enables superior targeting abilities using demographic, psychographic, and geographic data. Relevance drives response.
  • Consumers perceive physical mail as more trustworthy and legitimate than email. This perception increases response rates.
  • Overall, direct mail consistently generates higher response rates and conversions compared to email campaigns. The medium works.
  • Direct mail complements digital marketing channels. Using direct mail with email, social, and web campaigns creates an integrated strategy.
  • The physicality of direct mail makes it more memorable and impactful. Consumers keep and display appealing mail pieces.
  • Direct mail is a measurable medium, with detailed analytics on open rates, response rates, conversions, and ROI. Metrics prove its effectiveness.

In conclusion, marketers should leverage the unique advantages of direct mail as part of a multifaceted marketing mix for outstanding results. Though often overlooked, direct mail remains a powerful tool for engaging audiences and driving responses. Contact us at Anchor Software for all your direct mail software needs.


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