By Andrew Neitlich

Email vs. Direct mail; Interrupt vs. Permission

By Andrew Neitlich

In the last post, worchyld asked if sending mail to prospects without permission should be considered spam, not to mention whether visiting them is also an intrusion.

Great question.

It is somewhat strange that for well over 75 years, the direct marketing world has had success sending unsolicited mail (junk mail) to consumers — and receiving responses. While laws are in place about SPAM and telemarketing calls (to residences), no laws are in place forbidding us from sending mail to a list.

Having said that, it is essential that your direct mail piece works. In the case of selling professional services, this means NOT making a pitch about who you are and what you do.

Instead, it means providing offers for free, valuable information and education to your audience. For instance, one of my clients is investing in direct mail to their target market, offering a specialized, informative white paper about the challenges the industry faces and how to address them (partly by implementing his type of solution). Then he follows up to get advice about that paper — improving it, helping recipients understand where they stand.

Similarly, another client is sending out a series of 4-5 educational letters to his target market (while also following up with in person visits and calls). Each letter informs the market about one key issue, and how to address it. For instance, one letter introduces the recipient to new ways to make project tracking easier for them. Another talks about how technology can help grow their specific business, in the language that people in that industry use. Another describes 5 fatal flaws that people in the industry are making with their technology. Etc.

In both cases, direct mail is not enough. It is also important to follow up, build rapport, and generally stay on the top of the prospect’s mind.

Again, many of you will hate this approach, and that’s fine. It’s not for everyone. It does use interrupt tactics — although by educating prospects and gradually demonstrating value and building credibility/trust. Then, over time, prospects will be more likely to give permission and be receptive to receiving more information and education.

  • Well, personally I don’t mind getting junk mail in my mailbox. It’s non-intrusive. I go to the mailbox and can easily throw it away. Phone calls on the other hand interrupt what I’m doing and annoy me to no end. I think automated telemarketing systems (with recorded messages) should be against the law. They’re the most intrusive of all of them, and they give you no way to opt-out.

    I think email marketing should be legal, but only under certain circumstances. I think that once asked to be removed from a list it should be honored, and that you should have to opt-in to a list to be mailed. I think that some personal email marketing should be allowed, such as if I wanted to send a potential client a personalized email. However, bulk mailing purchased lists is a no-no. Anyway, this post was not about SPAM so I’ll get back on the subject.

    I’ve never had a great response with direct mail pieces. I do think there is more to them than simply offering a really good piece of information and following up. There has to be a serious need for the client to even be interested in the first place. And, as mentioned in another comment in the last post, they have to have time to read it in the first place.

    I’ll try direct mail again, but not with 100 prospects. I would rather target a specific industry or niche, sending very targeted information to 15-25 businesses. Build a solution that works and market it to a specific niche. Even go one step further and do some research on each firm in particular and use that information in your letter. Let them know you actually spent time on them, rather than sending a mail-merged letter.

  • aneitlich


    That’s an excellent strategy, too.

  • beley; out of a 100, I would only expect 15-20 to respond favourably anyway (see 80-20 rule).

  • Thanks for answering the question directly Andrew… I’m famous now *grins stupidily*

  • ris

    I use direct email very effectively. The keys are simple to understand but not always easy to carry out.
    1. The call to action must be simple for the prospect to execute. I market network training courses and my edm pieces contain an impossible to miss link directly to the registration form. They are also bright, colour full and fit on one page with more than 50% white space.
    2. Most importantly the mailing list must be current and relevant. Purchased lists are probably useless. I use my own data base of previous course registrants plus personal recommendations.
    There is no more cost effective method I can think of to market services but the message does have to be relevant. It is even easier to delete from the inbox than the mail tray.

  • georgina

    Interesting. I guess I’m in a minority in that I see both unsolicited email and unsolicited print mail as spam. If you’re writing to me, and I’ve never heard of you or given you my contact details, you’re a spammer. Deleting junk email and binning print direct mail amounts to the same thing for me: a pain. I often get addressed mail from companies I’ve never ever ever (EVER!) dealt with and, frankly, I find it offensive. Unaddressed direct mail is not so offensive, but it is still annoying — as annoying as spam.

    I am perfectly happy to receive email or direct mail from a company to which I have voluntarily provided my details. I think the key is permission in both cases.

    I would have to strenuously disagree with the argument that the fact that there are laws against spam, but not against direct mail, that there are direct mail industry bodies, but no spam industry bodies, means people don’t mind being spammed in print. I’m not saying it doesn’t work.

    But I think I *am* saying that, if you’re mailing people who have not given you their details voluntarily, either on- or off-line, you’re spamming.

  • I think direct mailing can be good if you don’t abuse it. If I receive a mail with some offer or usefull informations I usually don’t get too much irritated … the whole thing change if you keep sending direct mailing each week … that can be considered spam :)

    Anyway in Italy we’ve a very severe law on privacy (but obviously no one cares about it) and any mail sent without explicit request from the receiver is considered spam and the sender can be punished.

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