Direct vs. Digital: Is There a Right Choice?

Planning an advertising or marketing campaign is never easy. People are unpredictable, technology evolves, budgets fluctuate throughout the years. It can feel impossible to figure out exactly what is the best move for your business, especially when faced with so many ways to reach the agriculture audience.

It becomes more complicated when you realize that, for the most part, no two choices are mutually exclusive, including direct and digital marketing. In fact, they sometimes overlap – as in the case of email marketing – and it’s often the case that they work best in tandem. The same can be said for any type of marketing: while, for example, traditional and digital can each come in many forms, no one medium works alone. It’s critical that business leaders make a coordinated effort to figure out exactly which formats are needed and then synchronize them to reach defined goals.

But because we know that budgets don’t always allow for both traditional and digital marketing efforts, we’ll pit the two against one another, in the forms of direct mail and email, to help you make the right decisions for your marketing plan and for your business.

The pros and cons of digital

Digital marketing, in general, is wonderful. It allows us to reach a new audience that isn’t local, can incorporate animation and encourages social interaction, depending on the medium. Digital ads, as found by the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General (OIG), more swiftly seized viewers’ attention and were on par with physical ads for levels of engagement, accurate memory retrieval and whether and how much potential customers were willing to purchase.

Email, specifically, is a great tool. It’s affordable and fast, with exceptional control and analysis potential from email campaign management programs like MailChimp and Constant Contact. You can quickly check out how your campaign performed with data on opens, opt-outs, bounces, click-throughs and more, and email marketing offers one of the best ROIs. And to top it off, as we noted in a previous blog, a 2015 study predicted that 87% of farmers would be using smartphones in 2016, and 75% of those would use them for email. The chances of them seeing your efforts are pretty good.

However, digital marketing – including email – does have significant downfalls. Many people have become blind to banner ads, e-blasts often go unopened or unread, and spam is the scourge of marketers and recipients alike. What’s more, building up email lists and search engine credibility each take a significant amount of time and energy. And from a creative standpoint, digital marketing and specifically emails are limiting, despite how far technology and the industry have advanced.

Direct mail lowdown

Much like email and other digital marketing, direct mail is also an excellent asset to employ, especially considering how important traditional advertising still is to farmers. As a form of direct marketing, which also can include meetings, events, one-on-one conversations and even coffee shop fodder, it’s used to share enough information to generate buzz and gain product advocates in the community.

While trends would suggest that traditional advertising may be nearing its grave, studies have shown that this is simply not so. In fact, when pitted against email, direct mail is the better performer. According to the Direct Marketing Association, direct mail yields a higher response rate (4.4 percent for direct mail versus 0.12 percent for email), generates more immediate action (79 percent versus 45 percent) and produces more customers (34 percent versus 24 percent) in comparison to email. It’s also exceedingly flexible, with fewer design constraints, the ability to choose different textures and finishes of the mailer and ample space for discounts and QR codes that lead back to your website. Customers also give direct mail the luxury of time – people spend more time with a physical piece of mail, which aids in memory retrieval, speed and confidence, as reported by the OIG. The study also found that direct mail instilled subconscious desire and value for the product or service.

Direct mail’s two biggest flaws are cost and measurement. While spend can vary greatly based on materials used and audience size, ever-increasing postage rates will always be an obstacle to overcome with this medium. Additionally, results are often very difficult, if not impossible, to measure, leaving you wondering about your impact and engagement.

Which is best?

To determine which method – direct mail or email – is best for your agribusiness and your campaign, you must carefully consider the following:

  • Do you want minimal cost or maximum potential?
  • What sort of reach are you looking for? Do you want local, national or global?
  • What can you do to grab your audience’s attention? Should it be physical? Animated?
  • Do you want to increase your engagement or get higher recall?
  • What is your call to action? How do you want people to respond to your marketing efforts?

For a successful campaign, all pieces must be carefully coordinated. Before you lay out your plans, be certain you’ve thoroughly evaluated the pros and cons of each medium and uncover what is most appropriate for your business.