Direct Mail Services vs. Digital Marketing: Finding the Right Balance for Your Business

In 2024, if you’re not combining the power of both direct mail and digital marketing for your business, you’re behind the curve. These are both vital channels in the new-age marketing industry, with each having its own best uses and limitations. Finding the ideal balance between these two marketing methods is crucial for any business that wants to survive and thrive in the rapidly-evolving landscape of the modern business environment.

Direct Mail: An Oldie But Goodie

For anyone born before 2000, there’s nothing like going out to the mailbox to retrieve the day’s delivery, thumbing through each item in hopes of finding something exciting or, at the very least, something that’s not a bill! Direct mail campaigns can be very effective when targeted at the correct demographic, as they provide a stimulating sensory experience and invoke feelings of nostalgia. Businesses can use varied styles, colors, and even textures in direct mail to communicate their brand’s story, offer discounts and exclusive deals, or just to reach out and say hello to new neighbors. This makes the mail feel more personal, leading to more engagement and a higher ROI.

Digital Marketing: A Dynamic Contender

Digital marketing is a newbie in the marketing world and still going through significant growing pains, but it can be an invaluable addition to a business’ marketing strategy. Digital marketing combines several online communication channels, including email, social media, search engines, and more, to deliver a business’ message consistently across platforms. Digital marketing allows viewers to engage in immediate interaction with the advertisement, meaning viewers can click links, watch media, and view feedback about a service or product without ever leaving the ad. Each user view and interaction is meticulously documented behind the scenes, allowing impressive analysis capabilities that make each successive digital marketing campaign more effective.

On the Issues: Direct Mail vs. Digital Marketing

Return on Investment (ROI)

While all businesses want to get their name and story out there to potential customers, what they really need are sales to keep the business going. Direct mail offers an impressive 29% average ROI, beating out both paid search ads and online display ads and staying in line with social media ads in a 2017 study. Furthermore, direct mail recipients typically buy more items and spend more overall with businesses than customers who have not received any direct mail from the business.

Response & Engagement

If we’re talking engagement with the advertisement and response rates for direct mail campaigns versus digital campaigns, direct mail is the clear winner. According to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the average response rate for direct mail campaigns across all industries is around 9% for house lists and around 5% for prospect lists, while the average email campaign response rate is below 1%. That’s a significant difference! But why is direct mail so much better at getting a response out of recipients? It’s probably because many of the emails sent out in digital campaigns never even get opened. The ANA estimates that up to 90% of direct mail is actually opened by the recipient, while only 20-30% of emails are opened. Direct mail offers a tactile, sensory experience that digital media just can’t match, and the response rates prove it.


Personalization is almost an expectation these days, with businesses in all sectors proudly offering an array of personalization and customization features to better connect with the end consumer. Marketing is no different. Anyone viewing an advertisement wants to feel like it speaks to them on a personal level, and if it does, the chance of them following through for more information or to make a purchase is much higher. So which marketing method offers more personalization options?

The truth is that both direct mail and digital campaigns can offer vast personalization options. Messages can be targeted with not just basic information like name and location, but also with specific details about the recipient’s interests, hobbies, history, and more. With a well-thought out personalization plan, both direct mail and digital campaigns can skyrocket in engagement and ROI. However, direct mail takes personalization to the next level by giving the sender many different mediums on which to deliver their message, from basic paper to glossy or matte coated stock to soft touch and more. Direct mail campaigns can even be scented, textured, or require special interaction to really engage recipients and increase the chance of response. Imagine sending prospective day spa clients a special introductory offer on pink linen paper that smells like lavender and vanilla…with direct mail, it’s possible!


Trust is essential for any advertising campaign to be effective. Potential customers need to believe that what they’re being advertised is exactly what they will receive if they buy, and that the business they are purchasing from is reputable and deserving of their hard-earned cash. With the flurry of online scams circulating, and more being brewed up each day, trust in digital marketing is shaky at best. In fact, less than 50% of Americans report that they trust varying forms of digital marketing according to a MarketingSherpa survey, such as online pop-ups (25%), mobile phone ads (39%), online banner ads (39%), or social media ads (43%). Compare that to a whopping 76% of Americans who trust ads they receive via direct mail or catalogs, and you can easily see why direct mail gets such great response rates. People trust direct mail to lead them to quality products and services and give recipients a familiar way to learn about local businesses.

Finding the Balance: Integrating Direct Mail and Digital Marketing

There is no winner or loser when discussing direct mail vs. digital marketing…smart marketing managers know that only a strategic combination of both marketing methods will yield optimal results. By creating a marketing plan that includes both distribution channels, businesses can reach an even more expansive base of highly interested potential customers with purchase intent. A very common hybrid marketing technique is to send out a direct mail content piece first, then follow-up with a personalized email or social media message shortly after. This approach helps build recognition of your brand as you educate the potential customer about your product or service. By finding the best mix of these two powerhouse marketing methods, businesses can position themselves to maximize profits and build a solid customer base.

Action Mail is a direct mail service provider focused on helping businesses thrive in San Diego County with a wide variety of marketing services, such as printing, direct mail advertising, letter & statement automation, personalization, corporate mailings, and more.