E-mail Marketing: Cost Effective . . . or Just Cheap?

Earlier this week, I had a phone call with a staffing company CEO who told me that she’s so inundated with marketing material that she generally ignores most of it. She receives at least 500 e-mails each weekday, and when she first opens up her inbox on Monday morning, she usually finds 1800 new e-mails that have accumulated over the weekend! The volume is so oppressive—and the content and format so similar—that she ends up deleting most of those messages without reading them.

My phone call with her was a follow-up to a piece of marketing I’d sent to her. Fortunately, it was one of the very few she didn’t immediately discard. The piece I sent her had actually grabbed her attention and piqued her interest enough to take my call. Why? Because it was a hard-copy piece with good design and a clear message. It stood out from the crowd.

Many companies rely on e-mail for messaging solely because it’s less expensive than print. Sure, e-mail has lower production and distribution costs than print. But it does have costs—it’s never 100% free. You might have to pay for mailing-list–management software, for example, or for design work. Even if you keep everything simple and in house, at the very least you’re paying for someone’s time to write, package, and send out the e-mails.

And there’s no guarantee that your e-mail will even be opened, much less read. People are so awash in e-mail these days that they barely even notice much of what passes through their inboxes. Keep in mind that just because people open an e-mail doesn’t mean they read it—and just because they read it doesn’t mean they engage with it enough for it to have an impact.

With marketing e-mail open rates hovering around the 13% mark (if you’re lucky—they’re often much lower), are you getting a good return on investment here? A low ROI on a low-cost effort might make you think, “Hey, it’s better than nothing.”

But “better than nothing” is an awfully mediocre goal. Don’t you want to aim higher than that? Set your sights higher—and hit that target—with marketing that delivers a lot more bang for your buck: print.

Adopting print marketing doesn’t mean you have to abandon e-mail marketing. E-mail does have its strengths, and some targets do respond to e-mail better than to other media. Overall, though, it isn’t the most effective tool in a marketer’s tool kit—especially when used by itself. So don’t put all your eggs in one basket: use print, e-mail, and other tools as part of an integrated marketing communications program.

At Mamu Media we believe that print offers the greatest impact and best return of any marketing media out there. On average, it attracts more attention, has greater staying power, and gets reshared more than other formats. People remember print-based messaging better and more often than they remember screen-based material. (That said, just printing something on a piece of paper and sticking it in the mail won’t guarantee results. You’ve got to have a good message—and good design to draw in your audience and get them to engage with that message.)

The point of any marketing campaign is to connect with people and get them to remember you so they’ll call you first when they’re in the market for your product or service. E-mail may be cheap, but it’s not always effective (especially if it doesn’t follow best practices) unless it’s part of a broader strategy that includes social media, interpersonal outreach (e.g., phone calls, in-person meetings), and print. Drawing on each form’s strengths (and using other forms to mitigate its weaknesses) will dramatically improve the odds that your message will be heard—and that you’ll make a connection with a customer.


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