Direct Mail vs. Email: Who’s The ROI Winner?

Decision makers are always on the lookout for the goldilocks between marketing costs and ROI.

Marketers are likely to pay twice as much for executing direct mail campaigns than using email marketing. Between the costs of buying paper, printing, and postage, not to mention inflation and supply chain issues in 2022, the price tag adds up. Traditional direct mail’s cost per acquisition is $43.90, according to the Data & Marketing Assn. (DMA), whereas email’s cost per is $22.52. 

Economies built into Postalytics bring acquisition costs down for our customers, but it will always cost more to generate postal mail than it does to blast out emails. Today, customer acquisition can be attributed to efforts in multiple channels, with direct mail being only one component of a comprehensive marketing strategy. Mail boosts the performance of digital channels and vice versa.

Why Print Mail?

Is the higher cost worth it? The short answer is “yes!”

First off, open rates triple. That’s right. More than nine in ten pieces of postal mail received get opened (or scanned in the case of postcards), compared to only 20% to 30% of emails, according to DMA survey results. That degree of response makes printed mail cost-effective.

“Savvy, omnichannel brand marketers view the paper and postage prices as investments in honing in on their audiences and more precisely targeting their messages,” believes Jack Noonan, VP of business development at the PRINTING United Alliance trade association. “

Lists get better and better with each [subsequent] campaign,” he notes, adding that many CMOs use mail as a revenue-producing tool. “They use QR codes, pURLs, and 800 numbers to track arrival and to measure success.” Agencies can increase profits with direct mail. (See below.)

A self-described “Post Office geek,” Noonan spent ten years working with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) on the Intelligent Mail Barcode. He’s very familiar with related mailing technologies, such as the data analytics software systems developed by innovative firms such as Postalytics Inc. 

Noonan is not referring to your father’s static, “shotgun” approach to direct mail, either. The goal for marketers, he says, is to design pieces that are “as customized and personalized as possible.” Postalytics’ experts can guide agency creatives in the use of A-B testing and with advice on variable text and imaging,” Noonan explains. The latter could be based on factors such as regions, holidays, language, or even which Major League baseball team a recipient may favor.

Even with increased postage rates from the USPS, direct mail marketing provides a strong return on marketing investment. Statistics published by Marketing Charts show that direct mail yields a 29% ROI, while social media has a 30% ROI.

Need more proof before taking the direct mail leap? Consider impressions. Only 44% of people can recall a brand immediately after seeing a digital ad, compared to 75% of people who receive printed direct mail, according to stats from B2B consulting firm MarketingProfs.

Direct Mail vs. Email

Over four in 10 Americans of all ages, including 36% of those under 30, look forward to checking their mail each day, according to a Gallup poll. Additionally, over 40% of direct mail recipients either read or scan the mail they receive, reports the DMA. Fewer than 23% say they don’t read it at all.

That being said, consumers aged 45-54 are most likely to respond (>14%) to direct mail pieces, the DMA notes. This demographic group is a better target audience for many businesses than members of “Generation Z,” who are more reachable via social media platforms, such as Snapchat. The bottom line: Know your audience!

In terms of response rates, here’s how the DMA breaks down campaign results from four primary mediums:

  • Direct mail: 112% ROI
  • SMS text messaging: 102% ROI
  • Email marketing: 93% ROI
  • Social media: 74% ROI

Nearly one in four American consumers (73%) prefer being contacted by their favorite brands via direct mail, Epsilon reports, because they can read it whenever they want—on their schedule! Many people don’t like when they’re browsing the web and, suddenly, an ad pops up.

Perhaps the best statistic of all comes from the USPS: Direct mail recipients buy 28% more items and spend 28% more money than people who did not get that piece of mail!