• Not to utter heresy, but did you know that direct mail can be more effective than email in some campaigns -- and that both channels work better when used together? Those are among the core beliefs of Ron Jacobs, CEO of Jacobs & Clevenger, a Chicago-based agency, and author of Successful Direct Marketing Methods, the book series started by the late Bob Stone, now in its eighth edition.  

Email Insider interviewed Jacobs to get his input on how the channels differ, and how they can be used in tandem. 

MediaPost:  Is snail mail really as useful as email? 

Jacobs:  There’s a perception that direct mail is obsolete. But there are now a variety of tools to capture intent and incorporate that into direct mail moments: automation, QR codes, on-demand printing. You can go beyond basic demographic and psychographic personalization to things like weather changes and sales. For example, we do a program for an auto company where we have a VIN number and can graphically show the interior of the owner’s car in the brochure.

MP:  Can’t you achieve that level of personalization in email?

Jacobs:  Sure. The key difference is that email has a limited amount of real estate to use. I look at a lot of emails, and they are little more than calls to action, with maybe a few bullet points, not even benefits. I still like the traditional direct mail package, with a letter, a buck slip and a brochure to tell the brand story in a way you never can tell it in email.

MP:  What about videos and web links in email? 

Jacobs:  In direct mail, you don’t have to click on an email to go to a landing page to get more information. Research shows that people spend more time with physical mail than they do with digital messages. Direct mail is more tactile — it’s a lot harder to ignore. 

MP:  How would you use the two media together?

Jacobs:  I still like direct mail for acquisition. You can’t use email in the traditional sense for acquisition because you don’t have the third-party data. I’m not a fan of emailing people who haven’t raised their hands and given permission. Initiating a relationship with people whose email addresses you don’t have makes complete sense as a starting point. Email is great for lifecycle marketing. But if you’re doing search or email, why not add direct mail as a retargeting tool to tell a more relevant brand story?

MP:  What about the cost of direct mail?

Jacobs:  Of course, direct mail is more expensive, between printing and postage. You have to factor in the costs and use it where it will do the most good. You typically use email for a welcome or onboarding campaign, and for winback, upsell and cross-sell, with marketing automation. Why not include direct mail in a campaign like that or test where the results are good enough to make direct mail profitable?

Email has limitations that can be complemented by direct mail, whereas direct mail has limitations — like its cost — that are complemented with email.

MP:  How would you ensure brand consistency?

Jacobs:  Start with the most obvious thing: use type fonts that are easily readable in these various email clients. Don’t use fonts that can’t be rendered well if they’re not on someone’s computer. There are a dozen or more fonts that people have on computers, so we limit our direct mail and emails to those fonts to keep image consistency.

As for graphics, I love to illustrate letters, but don’t tend to do this as much in email because they don’t render well, or because certain email clients don’t allow it. We used to be able to use the right rail in emails for bullet points, with the copy in the middle. You can’t do that in mobile — everything is in one single, long column.

MP:  And the copy?

Jacobs: There are so many similarities. We test teaser copy in direct mail, and in email you test subject lines or pre-headers — they’re pretty closely related ideas if you think about it.

I lament the fact that so many digital marketers think they’re reinventing the wheel or inventing the wheel in the first place, not knowing that many of these concepts have been around for over 100 years.