DM and EM: A Comparison

Direct marketing (DM) pioneers Bob Stone, Martin Baier, and Henry J. Hoke Jr. once described the DM discipline as “an interactive system of marketing that uses one or more advertising media to effect a measurable response and/or transaction at any location, with this activity stored in a database.”

Truer words were never spoken. And another truth is that OUR particular discipline — that is, the discipline of email marketing — uses and is enhanced by a good number of traditional DM principles and practices.

Suffice it to say that we all know the similarities between the two: the interactive nature of the media, the immediacy of the call to action within a given promotion, the benefits of retention versus acquisitions marketing, the range and scope of testing possibilities, and plenty more. However, there ARE differences, subtle though some may be. Namely…

Speed and timing. In the traditional DM world, it may take two or three or more months for a campaign’s final results to come in. And, depending on the mailer, the peak order time could be one, two, or three weeks out from the drop.

An email campaign, of course, is typically finalized in three or four days, and the peak time is usually within the first 24 hours. The advertising web site (or customer service call center) needs to be prepared for the largest number of hits within that time frame. Conversely, a traditional DM advertiser needs to prepare his or her internal staff for the deluge at a completely different time.

And because offline DM typically deals with a much broader time frame, results differences based on variables such as day of the week are not typically as substantial as they are for an email promotion. For instance, a large direct mail campaign’s complete drop may be spread across several days, so the differences between a Monday and a Wednesday are insignificant, in most cases.

However, as most email marketers know, these same differences can be staggering within an email campaign. In fact, some of our clients have seen 50 percent and higher lifts or falloffs based on differences in days of the week, even when all other variables are the same.

Offer placement. A lot of offline DM pieces –including direct mail, direct response print advertising, and television with a DM bent — put the primary offer (the main product/service that they are selling) at the top, or at the beginning of the ad. They then save the carrot — the bonus or free gift — for the end. Of course, this strategy is used to push near-converters over the edge.

We’ve seen the opposite strategy work for most email promo clients — that is, a better response can usually be had from putting both the primary and secondary offers at the top, or, at the very least, somewhere where they are immediately visible. Sure, a “P.S. Act now and get…” at the bottom of a message can be a nice added enticement; however, we haven’t seen consistent lifts with this tactic — with any client — to feel confident enough to regularly use it in subsequent mailings.

Size. While a 24-page “magalog” or a multicomponent promotional package may pull in gangbuster results offline, I don’t believe anyone has figured out a way to make a promotion of that size work within an email. (If anyone out there HAS, please email me!)

Therefore, the email platform is a major restriction to certain types of offers. For instance, there are direct mail packages out there promoting offers to acquire new customers in the $995-plus range, and many do it without trials or a “Bill me later.” How? With miles and miles of words and graphics, typically in addition to some outstanding prospecting lists.

The issue may be, at least in part, a bandwidth issue. Or perhaps it’s an “impatient online reader” issue. But the fact is that it would be virtually impossible for an email to offer a high-dollar product right out of the chute to a complete stranger. Offline, we can target and qualify a lot easier, plus the printed medium leaves a ton of room to sell.

There’s the word “sell” again. Seems like a good word to segue into a concluding quote (since we started with one). This one comes from Ray Rubicam, Young and Rubicam cofounder:

“The object of advertising is to sell goods. It has no other justification worth mentioning.”

Very simple. Very true. And timeless.

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