British consumers would rather receive traditional direct mail than an email marketing campaign. That’s the conclusion of new research conducted for the Institute of Direct Marketing. Less than one in five people surveyed wanted to receive marketing material via email – they preferred to get it in the post.

So why is this? Well, take a look at traditional, postal-based direct mail. Usually it is easily identifiable as such; it does not appear the same as a “normal” letter. Direct mail is often bright, colourful and in an unusual size. It catches our attention.

Because it stands out, it makes it easy for us to deal with traditional direct mail quickly. We can chuck it in the bin without much effort. Unless, of course, something really does make us stop for a second. Direct marketers know that much of their material is thrown away, but they use sophisticated targeting techniques and creative design to get past our human “junk mail filters”.

With email marketing there’s a problem. There’s no easy way for us to identify the marketing from the ordinary messages. Everything that comes into our inbox looks the same. That means it takes us longer to sort it out – hence we don’t like it. Also, there are few really creative email campaigns. Email marketers appear to spend much less time and effort on creativity than their colleagues who work on printed direct mail.

So what does this mean for businesses engaged in email marketing? It suggests that you cannot rely on it alone. Mix it with direct mail and you might achieve more. But being more creative is certainly necessary – particularly with subject lines. You need to get your message across in five words or less. And that takes effort and time – something which few email marketing campaigns appear rich in.

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