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EmailPrint and direct mail3 min read Email vs. direct mail: Using the right channel at the right time

How direct mail compares to its digital alternative

July 26, 2021The Coffey Team

We live in a fast-paced digital world, so maybe the thought of snail mail makes you cringe. But there are advantages to both email and direct mail marketing—and knowing when to use each can ensure your campaign meets your expectations.

Experienced marketers know that either channel, backed by strategy and with data guiding your decisions, can be effective. But each have their advantages and disadvantages.


Email gets your message to your healthcare consumer quickly. Additionally, it’s free and it drives traffic to your website. Email marketing can be instantaneous and allows you to react quickly to industry news, urgent health-related information, or special events and classes. And, because we’re a digital society, there’s something to be said for utilizing a channel that delivers your message to the same place your consumers get their personal and valued messages—their inbox.

But the disadvantages of email are not to be dismissed. If you don’t target the right audience, there is the risk that people may unsubscribe. Many internet service providers filter out email with words that indicate possible spam. So you’ve lost the opportunity to send email in the future to those who have unsubscribed.

Keeping subscribers engaged in your email can be a challenge. Even once a consumer opts in to your email, you still must work to maintain a level of engagement to keep your reader from jumping ship.

Perhaps the biggest challenge with email marketing is information overload. While an email inbox is likely checked far more often than a physical mailbox, many consumers have created a separate inbox to receive any email that is not from their family or friends. This makes it easier to instantly delete or skip over the many solicitations they receive in their inbox each day. Even consumers who use one inbox often delete anything that is not familiar—without ever opening it.

Direct mail

What seemed to be a trend from the past, direct mail has all but disappeared. If designed well, a direct mail piece lends a personal touch and emotional connection where email cannot. Think about how you feel when you receive a handwritten letter. Direct mail can elicit a similar emotion. Many consumers still consider direct mail to be more trustworthy than online ads. They’re skeptical of online scams and more likely to trust a business with a physical address. When you reach a consumer through direct mail, you add legitimacy to your brand and help build brand recognition and trust.

Today, there is less competition in the mailbox. Since much of marketing has moved online, you can benefit from the relatively low clutter of your audience’s mailbox. And by targeting your consumer based on attributes such as interests or lifestyle data, demographic or geographic data, and even health conditions, consumers are more likely to engage with your direct mail piece.

However, in an eco-friendly world, some consumers may find direct mail wasteful and damaging to the environment. And those who consider direct mail to be “junk mail” will immediately file it in the circular bin. With careful targeting and a compelling message, you are more likely to avoid these pitfalls.

The expense of direct mail makes it a less suitable choice for marketing departments with a limited budget. Direct mail also requires long lead times, and the inconsistency of mail delivery can rule it out as a channel for your campaign.

Better together

While direct mail and email can differ significantly, healthcare marketing often benefits from the use of both in a multifaceted campaign. Consider the following to align the strengths of both email and direct mail:

  • Send direct mail to email non-responders. If you have postal address data for your consumers and your email campaign is not engaging, direct mail may bring them back.
  • Follow up on a direct mail campaign with email. Again, it’s about reaching customers where they may be most comfortable engaging with you.
  • Send an email teaser for a high-value print piece. Build anticipation for a direct mail campaign.
  • Use direct mail in a drip campaign. It provides a different experience for your consumer and may move them closer to conversion.

Whether you are a current Coffey client or not, our team can help you take on your day-to-day communications challenges. If you’d like to find out more about our print and digital services, call 888.805.9101 or email us—we’re here to help.