For many years the marketing world has been deliberating between direct email and direct mail to determine which strategy is the most effective.

A number of different opinions and studies have been voiced throughout the years, none of which put an end to this debate.

Every year 4.4 billion pieces of direct mail and 37 billion emails are sent in the UK; however, quantity doesn’t always equate to results. According to a survey by Proactive marketing, 70 percent of consumers in fact say that they receive ‘too much’ email; the click-through rates for direct marketing emails (1.56 percent) are lower than the average response rates for direct mail (4.4 percent) and the lifespan of an email is just two seconds – compared to 17 days for a piece of direct mail.

To add to this a direct mail campaign costs much more than a direct email campaign. On average, a typical prospecting direct mail piece costs 70 pence to produce and transmit, while an email costs 20 pence (mainly due to data costs). This is why it comes as no surprise that cost is one of the main factors that drives direct email to be the channel of choice for many.

Email campaigns are perceived as inexpensive and easy to be issued in high volumes; this however, often results in filling consumers’ inboxes with low quality and low relevance emails, without taking into consideration the important variant of customers’ behaviour.

In light of this data, there is evidence in favour of direct email as well as for direct mail – so how can we objectively identify the best strategy? In order to solve this conundrum, Go Inspire Insight decided to run a large-scale randomised control trial (RCT). The goal of the trial was to  gather meaningful evidence about the relative performance of direct mail vs direct email; putting equal creative effort, creative variants, the same level of segmentation, as well as equitable or equivalent timings into each channel.

Among the 240,000 customers randomly selected to receive the dedicated campaign, one randomised segment received offers by post alone while another segment received the offers via email. Finally, the third segment received the offers via both channels. Segmentation was also applied with the same level of detail to ensure an objective channel evaluation.

What this RCT reveals is that the success of a campaign cannot only be measured through response rates; commercial outcomes turned out to be an important differentiator between standalone email and standalone postal mail. This exercise shows in fact, that response rates are relatively similar, while conversion and incremental revenue rates diverge significantly across the three segments – providing us with the data needed to find an answer to our question.

The numbers show that the incremental revenue per customer generated by those who received the offers by email is just under £1; those who received the offers only through postal direct mail generated an incremental revenue per customer of around £5; and finally, those who received the offers through both post and email generated an incremental revenue per customer of over £6.

What these numbers reveal is that marketers should not be looking to choose one channel over the other; it is in fact the combination of the two channels that can make your marketing strategy a success. Marketers should start seeing the benefits of a combined strategy and understand that one option doesn’t exclude the other one; they should in fact start experimenting with these two mediums and try to understand how to create the perfect mix for the best result.

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