Handwritten vs Direct Mail vs Email Marketing - Which Is the Most Effective?

by Rick Elmore on December 20, 2019

Modern marketers have an enormous range of options open to them. Classic mediums, like television, radio, print and direct mail are still available and are used extensively, though not at the levels they used to be.

Many marketers have abandoned these old formats for the myriad digital marketing channels, like email, social media, banners, pre-roll video, and more. Email marketing, the most heavily used of these formats, delivers a high ROI and decent open rates.

However, one format, handwritten mailers, outshines every other. It takes advantage of the rarity of handwritten cards to drive extremely high open rates, generally around 99%! It also features response rates an order of magnitude better than standard direct mail and email campaigns.

This article will take a look at the open rate of handwritten mailings and compare them to direct mail and email campaigns, examining engagement rate, response rate, and return on investment to demonstrate the power of handwritten notes when trying to reach consumers.

The Open Rate and Effectiveness of Email Marketing

Email marketing is the darling of the digital marketing world. Numerous studies, both formal and informal, have found that it delivers the highest ROI among the many digital tools available. The format’s open rates and response rates are less impressive, but still quite good.

According to MailChip, a leader in the field, email marketing enjoys a 22.7% average open rate and a response rate (measured as click-through rate) of 2.69%. However, the main benefit of email marketing, but also its downfall, is its low cost relative to other digital methods. 

Email generation is very nearly free. All of the costs associated with the medium come from the design process, and the prospecting, CRM fees, and related costs surrounding accumulating and maintaining an email list. These costs, amortized out over a large mailing, are exceedingly inexpensive. With such low costs, any response can quickly drive ROI. One study found that for every dollar spent on email campaigns, $38 dollars are returned. More conservative estimates put the ROI at 124%. These are both impressive but they require contextualization.

These figures assume the highest quality mailing list possible, culled almost exclusively to people that have already shown interest in the product or service in question and already have a favorable attitude toward the company. Creating a list like this that’s large enough to support substantial email campaigns takes quite a bit of time and dedication.

This is why total investment, open rate, and engagement rate are so important. On the face, email marketing’s open rates and response rates are good, and the ROI that they translate to sound impressive, but the extremely low cost actually undercuts your results. 

You might only spend $150 per month to reach your entire list. At $38 returned for every dollar spent, you would generate a return of only $5,700. An impressive ROI, but not an impressive figure in general. Very few organizations would consider $5,700 a month good revenue. A 37-fold increase on not very much is still not very much.

So how does standard direct mail measure up?

The Engagement Rate and Effectiveness of Direct Mail Marketing

Direct mail was once one of the most common print marketing channels before the internet stole away a fair portion of total spending. However, in recent years direct mail usage has started to rebound.

Due in large part to the ubiquity of email, a perception of its cheapness, and a general fear of online data breaches, many marketers have been reexamining more traditional marketing methods, including direct mail. Contrasted against email campaigns, direct mail is judged to be more authentic and more personal.

Response rates seem to bear out this perception. Compared to email’s 2.69% response rate, direct mail pulls 2.9% for prospect lists and an impressive 5.1% for house lists. Considering that email marketing achieves its maximum with the equivalent of a house list, direct mail nearly doubles its effectiveness.

This seems impressive, but it’s important to remember that direct mail campaigns are significantly more expensive to run, which translates to a lower return on investment. Direct mail campaigns, on average, return roughly 29%. Compare that to email marketing estimates, which run between 124% and 3,700%.

The open rates that drive these results a decent, but pale in comparison to the last item on our list, handwritten mailings.

The Open Rate for Handwritten Mail Campaigns Can’t Be Beat

Email is cheap, and that’s how it’s perceived. That’s why most people refer to email marketing messages as spam, and much of it gets culled by filters and never read. 

Direct mail has a slightly higher perceived value, but the lion’s share of direct mailers share the same fate as their digital cousins, getting chucked in the garbage without being opened.

Handwritten messages are entirely different. They’ve have become exceedingly rare in the modern world. On average, most American households receive only 10 handwritten pieces of mail each year. This rarity translates to a perceived value far in excess of generic, printed mailings. Handwritten cards require personalized effort, and consumers appreciate it.

That’s why handwritten, hand-addressed mailings enjoy a staggering 99% open rate. To put that in context, for every 100 handwritten cards sent out, only one of them is thrown away unopened. Imagine if email or direct mail campaigns enjoyed that sort of attention.

With open rates that high, impressive response rates are nearly assured, and the format doesn’t disappoint. Depending on the campaign, you’ll frequently see response rates between 8% and 20%. On the high end, this means handwritten campaigns are four times as effective as the best standard direct mail campaigns.

Nothing is more effective at retaining customers than simple, handwritten thank you notes. And marketing mailers feel far less like sales messages when they’re accompanied by handwritten messages.

But surely the time and effort required to handwrite and hand-address thousands of mailers renders these sorts of campaigns unrealistic. Well, yes. If you had to handwrite them. But with robotic handwriting automation, the time and expense required to create them are comparable to standard printed mailers.

That’s the power of the automated, “handwritten” marketing you get from Simply Noted. Not only do our robotic writing devices use actual ballpoint pens, but we can also scan and recreate your handwriting. We can generate large numbers of personalized, handwritten mailers that are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. 

You’ll enjoy the astonishing open rate that only handwritten communications enjoy, at a similar cost to standard, printed mailers. Standard direct mail and email marketing simply cannot compete.