Which is More Impactful – Direct Mail or Email?

Deciding where to place your carefully budgeted marketing dollars can be a difficult decision. With a variety of messaging options available to you – including print messaging, email and social media – it can be a difficult decision to figure out which channel is best for your message. So much so, that you might feel inclined to just look at the sticker price and decide from there.

Of course, you should never base your decisions solely off of price. If one method fails to reach your targeted audience or motivate them to contact your organization – but just happens to be cheaper – then what’s the point?

Until recently, however, measurements comparing call to actions (CTA’s) in direct mail and digital messaging – like email – were hard to find.

One non-profit medical organization, What They Think, decided to try an experiment to see which was more powerful. The results might surprise you.


This test was conducted by The Danish Cancer Campaign and focused on measuring how effective the same CTA was for email and direct mail. The study also analyzed if the channel the person ultimately responded to – whether that be email or direct mail – influenced their decision to respond.

So, the study sought to determine which CTA people responded more to and what percentage of people were motivated by the channel it was presented on. Here’s how they accomplished it.

Out of a 2,000-person database, three groups were formed and sent information regarding the group’s upcoming charity lottery. To begin with, each group received the same written invitation. However, two weeks after first receiving this message, the groups received new messages in different channels. What They Think lists these as, “Group 1 had opted in to receive emails and received an email reminder. Group 2 had opted in to receive emails but received the reminder by postal mail. Group 3 had not opted in to receive emails and received a reminder letter by postal mail.”

To encourage participation, all recipients – regards of communication method – received extra lottery numbers. From there, the results were obtained with follow-up phone calls.


Once all the information was collected, it was determined that the direct mail CTA proved to be the far more influential method of communication. As reported, “Only 25% of Group 1, who received the email reminder, recalled receiving the reminder email. However, 58% of Group 2 and 55% of Group 3 spontaneously recalled the reminder direct mail letter. Even after prompting, groups two and three had better recall of the reminder letter than the email community, recalling at 85% and 80%, respectively, against 63% for the email recipients.”

To add to this, 12% in Group 1, 24% in Group 2 and 29% in Group 3 reported making their decision “only after receiving the reminder letter.”

In other words, the direct mail messaging was twice as effective as email.


While this is just one case study, these results are difficult to ignore. Developing messaging like this is a heavy investment. It takes time to craft the copy, fine tune the design and yes, decide which channel(s) will give you the best return on investment. Choosing the wrong distribution method for your message can kill your project.

While email should by no means be discarded, these results provide some important feedback that supports the use of direct mail. Your most important messages – the ones you can’t afford to have your customers miss – may need to be sent on paper. So don’t ditch email or other digital messaging, but do build your campaign around utilizing all these channels in concert together, and use print to bring your messaging home.

Twice as effective? Who can afford to pass on that?

Planning for an upcoming print project? Contact us about our free guide below to make sure you’re avoiding unnecessary expenses:

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