Email vs direct mail

“Why didn’t you just email them?”

That’s what my aunty asked when she found out I sent a letter to 30 car dealers to negotiate for a new car.

And it’s a good question.

Why would I take the time to write 30 letters, sign them by hand, hand-address the envelopes, buy stamps and take them to a post box…

… when I could just send 30 emails and be done with it?

Why would I pay for postage…

… when I could email for free?

And the answer is simple:


You see, I knew I needed to get my offer in front of the right person. I knew I needed to get them to read it and respond. And, I knew I needed them to respond quickly; we needed to negotiate, choose a car and arrange to drive it home in less than a week.

If truth be told, because I was buying, an email might have done the trick. I don’t know. But here’s why I decided to go with a letter:

I could address the letter directly to the sales manager. An email to the general dealer address would more than likely have landed in the inbox of a sales executive with less negotiating power. This turned out to be a good move. In a few cases, the sales manager batted me off to an executive. Almost all of them completely ignored what I had written in the letter. So, if I’d emailed instead, the negotiation may have failed.

I suspected that car dealers very rarely receive enquiries in the post. My letter would stand out like a fart in a library. Sure enough, several dealers commented that they’d never received a postal enquiry before, and how it caught their attention.

I told the sales manager exactly what information I needed to compare their vehicle against those from other dealers. I told them when I needed it by, and how to send it. For the dealer to reply with this information, and for the negotiation to work, I needed them to believe I really was planning to drive away with a car a week later. And I needed them to believe I really would choose the best deal based on their email to me. I thought it would be easier to take me seriously in a letter. I mean, who would make that sort of effort if they weren’t serious?

Okay, how does this apply to marketing?

Well, if you can’t get your prospect’s attention, they won’t read your sales message, and they’ll never have an opportunity to buy.

And secondly: direct mail is still a very effective marketing channel.

Yes, there’s an upfront cost. But in some situations, all things considered, it’s much more profitable than other channels.

With one caveat.

It’s only profitable if you do it well. Otherwise, like any other marketing channel, it’s a waste of time and money.