Email Marketing vs Traditional Mail: A Comparison

Mary Clare Novak
Mary Clare Novak

Last updated on

August 8, 2023

There are two types of people in the world: those that cling to tradition with a fiery grip and others that will always prefer something new and more innovative.

While this holds true in various cultures all around the world, the same goes for marketing your business.

Originally, marketing took the form of either physical handouts, dramatized broadcast television commercials, or words from someone else’s mouth. Nowadays, in the age of computers where almost everything is done online, we can receive messages in more forms and from more channels than ever before, a primary one being email. But what about tradition?

Marketers have never had more methods for reaching their audiences. In any situation when we are presented with options, we typically find ourselves asking, “Which one is better?” In this case for marketing, where digital media becomes more and more enticing every day, the question boils down to this: “Is email or traditional mail better for marketing my business?”

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Is email or direct mail a better marketing tactic?

Structurally, email and direct mail could not be more opposite. One is online, the other is paper. One can be immediately interacted with, and the other takes some time.

venn diagram showing overlap between email and direct mail marketing

However, when looked at through the eyes of a marketer with something to say about their company, a similarity arises: they both can send a message. To see which one does it more effectively, we first need to define them and take a look at some of their pros and cons that can make or break their status as a valid marketing material.

Email marketing

Email marketing is the act of sending a marketing-centric message, typically to a large group of people, using email. The purpose of any marketing material is to gain brand awareness, get viewers to interact with your business, and to create relationships with readers.

Pros of email marketing

There are countless ways to reach an audience, but there are some benefits of email marketing that other tactics simply cannot bring. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of using email in your marketing efforts.


Email is one of the least expensive media channels. There is no buying time on a television station or space in a magazine. You have a marketing message, an email account, and a list of people and addresses to send that message to. If you craft the right message and send it to the right people, you might see some positive results.

Ability to analyze

Thanks to email being online, tracking the results of your efforts are made easy. When integrated with your web content management systems, you can track data on whether or not the email was delivered, how often it was opened by the recipient, whether or not they interacted with or clicked on the message, and more.

Fast delivery

It takes only seconds for an email to go from your screen to the inbox of the recipient, and once they see it, they can interact with it immediately. Not to mention the fact that you can deliver a message to thousands, or even millions, of people at once.

Cons of email marketing

Alas, with light comes darkness, with rainbows comes rain, and with pros come cons. Let’s review the inevitable downfalls of email marketing that accompany the benefits.


Ah, spam emails. Spam, also known as junk mail, accounts for 14.5 billion emails sent every day. Having an inbox stuffed full of emails you don’t care to read results in one thought: where do I unsubscribe? People can just as easily cancel their subscription to receive your emails as you can send them. You could be in love with the email you are sending: the copy, images, and call to action might all be home runs in your eyes. That doesn’t mean that everyone else agrees.

To avoid this, email marketers can include a survey on the unsubscribe page to ask former subscribers what turned them off from the emails. Was it the layout? Frequency of emails? Too much text? Use this data to restructure and come back from losing a potential customer.

Building a list takes time

You can’t send an email without an address. And those addresses don’t come easy. Organically building a list of people that opt-in to your emails takes time. However, it’s not impossible. Tools like MailMunch can help you capture leads from your website and convert those visitors into email subscribers.

pros and cons of email marketing

Direct mail marketing

Now that we have walked on the modernized side of marketing, let’s take a look at the more traditional approach. Direct mail marketing uses mail services to deliver printed promotional materials to a target audience. These materials can include catalogs, brochures, newsletters, and coupons.

Pros of direct mail marketing

Contrary to popular belief, those looking to keep marketing tradition alive aren’t completely wasting their time. There are a few key benefits to direct mail marketing.

Reach an email-less audience

Not everyone is on email. Older audiences and people that are disconnected from the business world might not be reachable by email. In this case, direct mail might be your best bet in reaching these groups and showing them the value of your business. Also, there is only one inbox for direct mail to be sent: the mailbox, meaning direct mail avoids being sent to spam.

Highly targeted

For companies that have a solid understanding of who their target market is, direct mail can bring about some solid returns. Direct mail messages can be highly targeted, meaning businesses can send direct mail to specific buying groups based on the different types of market segmentation: geographic, demographic, psychographic, and behavioral.

For example, a business that sells snow blowers would not target people in Florida because it doesn’t snow there. Instead, they would heavily target Minnesota and North Dakota, where they consistently get heavy snowfall every year.

Check out this great piece by Postalytics on direct mail marketing and its recent resurgence in popularity.

Cons of direct mail marketing

Unfortunately, there are more cons than pros of direct mail marketing. However, if your business has methods for jumping the following hurdles, then power to you.


There are a lot of moving parts to a direct mail marketing campaign. From designing, writing copy, printing, and mailing the materials, these costs will certainly add up, and it might happen faster than you think. Yes, some businesses can have a lot of luck and generate great conversions with direct mail, but they are most likely an established business that has been in the direct mail game for a while. If you are a new business looking for a cheap and efficient way to raise brand awareness, direct mail might not be your best bet.

Low response rates

Response rates for direct mail are low, in fact, it was only 4.9% in 2018. While there is no spam folder for your pieces of direct mail to fall into, there is the recipient’s garbage can. These days, if someone isn't expecting mail from a specific source or if they don’t recognize the return address, it is more likely that the mail will end up in the trash than anything else.

pros and cons of direct mail marketing in a table comparison
Skip boring emails with words like submit, enter or even click here in favor of more compelling CTAs relating to your specific offer. Try Mailmunch’s email templates library to improve your email copy with catchy call-to-actions.

Who does it best?

All in all, email marketing and traditional mail marketing both have their ups and downs. Nothing is perfect, and no matter how many more tools are developed for marketing a business, flaws will persist. However, when it comes down to cost, response rate, and tracking, email marketing is the safest and most effective option for marketing your business.

Author Bio

Mary Clare Novak

Mary Clare Novak is a Content Marketing Associate at G2 in Chicago. A recent graduate, she is happy to be back working in her favorite city. In her free time, you can find her doing a crossword puzzle, listening to cover bands, or eating fish tacos. 


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