Andy Wood
Andy Wood 13 February 2019

Unlock the potential of combined print and digital communication

Comparing email campaigns to direct mail campaigns in an attempt to measure which one is the better marketing choice is an ongoing debate. Go Inspire Insight has drawn data from a large-scale randomised control trial (RTC) in order to gather meaningful evidence about the relative performance of direct email and direct mail.

4.4 billion pieces of direct mail[1] and 37 billion emails[2] are sent every year in the UK.  Yet, obtaining a balanced and objective view on the benefits and advantages of each is difficult to find. 

At first glance, the case for direct mail is easy to make. Based on average response rates of 4.4%[3] for direct mail versus click-through rates of 1.56% for direct marketing emails, and considering the fact that direct emails have an average lifespan of 2 seconds compared to 17 days for direct mail, the better option seems obvious.  However, a typical prospecting email might cost 20 pence per mail (mainly due to data costs), a cost that slides even further if permission for email marketing communication has been given.  Compare this to the average 70 pence per piece of direct mail for production and transmission[4].

However, the above evidence does not settle the argument.  Too many marketers keep targeting their audience with high frequency mail shots at short intervals, particularly because direct emails require minimum investment in creative and are perceived as inexpensive. Consequently, it is easy to understand why customers get irritated from being ‘spammed’ with large volumes of emails that are not relevant to their typical purchase behaviour.

In order to compare both channels equal effort has to be invested in creative, and time contributed and frequency also have to be equal. Go Inspire Group designed a Randomised Control Trial (RCT) putting equal effort into each channel in terms of creative, segmentation and equitable or equivalent timings. 

By developing a single campaign that incorporated both the email channel and the direct mail channel, with an equal amount of creative effort, the same number of creative variants and equally detailed segmentation applied to both channels, the RCT targeted 240,000 customers at random for a retail client. Specifically, one randomised  segment of the distribution database received offers by post alone, a second segment received offers via email only and finally, the third segment was targeted with both email and postal offers.

In addition to response rate, commercial outcomes were also recorded in the form of incremental revenue generated, thus measuring real business outcomes from offer, to response, to conversion, to value.  Results indicated that while response rates were close, there were significant differences across the three segments in terms of conversion and incremental revenue.  Compared to an average incremental value of under £1 generated by offers via email alone, offers through postal direct mail generated around £5 incremental revenue while offers sent through a combined effort of both email and post incited customers to contribute over £6 to incremental revenue.

This trial clearly demonstrates the power of channel combinations over stand-alone campaigns, especially on the level of commercial outcomes.  Championing superiority of one single channel over the other is no longer a valid debate between marketers.  Instead they should concentrate on how to combine both email marketing and direct mail into one powerful revenue generating medium.  Clever experimenting with combining both channels will not only lead to a better commercial outcome, it will simultaneously reduce friction and irritation for those prospects and customers that receive too many untargeted communications. 


[1] Wilmington Millennium Mortascreen

[2] DMA, Email benchmarking report 2017

[3] DMA, Email benchmarking report 2017

[4] Digital Doughnut, Direct Mail vs Email, 15 Feb 2017

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