Advertising via Snail Mail or e-Newsletter- which is more effective?

Entrepreneurship or Small Business

Let’s look at 2 common advertising mediums used by companies today. In this post, I will focus on brick-and-mortar business.

Traditionally, many companies maintain a mailing list of name and addresses of their customers. The list is compiled either from past buyers, bought lists or even the yellow pages.

Then, from time to time, these customers will receive product updates, highlights, events and seminars via mail. These newsletters are also inserted into credit card/bank statements, phone bills, etc- any company that do not insert marketing promotion materials with their billing could be undermining the opportunity to expose their products.

With so many people using the internet, or at least emails, many companies are moving into internet marketing- either via their websites or via electronic newsletters. Marketing via email and the company’s official website saves the company tonnes of money in priting and delivery.

An e-newsletter can be designed quickly and send out with just a click of the button- you don’t need to outsource to people to help you to stuff envelopes. Not to mention that it reaches the consumer much faster- because people tend to check their emails very often.

Many companies are now rushing into email marketing- and you will find email address in all forms: application, survey, change of details notification forms.  With that, companies think they reduce costs- so more money to the shareholders/owners’ pockets.

But is marketing via email as effective as snail mail marketing?

Let’s examine this: put yourself in the shoe of a normal consumer and ask yourself the following questions:

Q: How often do you receive emails from companies promoting their products?

Q: Do you have time to look at all these emails that often get mixed with other spam emails?

Q: What happens if you find that the e-newsletter are of non value to you? All you need to do is to hit the ‘spam’ button or flag it. Yahoo mail, hotmail or gmail is going send the next email from that company straight into the Junk or Spam folder. Most email users receive a lot of unsolicited or spam emails- so everyone does their best to reduce emails arriving at their inbox.

And once a sender is marked as spam, the emails to others also go straight to the junk/spam folder- which is often ignored by the user together with all the get-rich-scams, viagra promotions and ‘you have won a lottery’ emails.

Big corporations should never go totally paperless- unless they’re like Maxis (Malaysia’s major mobile company) who send the e-newsletter together with the phone bill statements via email. And, customers check these emails- almost with an adherence rate of 100%.

And how do they get their customers to sign up to receive statements via email instead of snail mail? Very simple- they offer to deduct RM5 each month if the customer is willing to opt out for snail mail and go for electronic statements instead. Which is easy because the mobile network is owned by Maxis- as such, Maxis get to set the charges and discounts. And many people rely heavily on their mobile phones- so they will want to ensure they pay their bills on time.

But a lot of companies (unless they’re telco companies) will be able to get their customers to view products and promotions like what Maxis does. Another company is Air Asia– because Air Asia sells its airtickets mainly via internet bookings- and if you book early, you really get a good bargain. So hardly anyone will want to mark Air Asia’s promotion notification emails as spam and miss out on their next free airfair offer, right?

So if a company shifts its focus to marketing via email and ignore snail email- they are missing out on a lot of potential revenue because their offers does not get out to customers. And when offers does not get out, customers will buy from their competitors. So, the cost (from paper and delivery) goes down- and so does revenue. And the decision makers will be stratching their heads and asking themselves why.

Take another look at the hypermarket industry in Malaysia- the major players: Tesco, Carrefour and Giant. Hypermarkets advertise mainly via full paper newspaper ads- and at the same time, they distribute flyers from door-to-door.  The flyers are often printed using low quality paper – but are they effective? What do you think? Your mom and wife will immediately zoom into the flyer like a hawk- even before opening the other snail mails, right?

And do they go out and buy? You bet!

All the hypermarket needs to do is to bring sell about 10 items with a slightly cheaper price- offers only valid from Fridays- Sundays (that’s when people are into the shopping mood). And you will have people swarming to the hypermarkets because they are attracted by one product- only to return home with a trolley full of products. I see this all the time.

So as the advertising manager or owner, what do you need to ensure the message gets clearly across but at the same time, you get to minimize your costs?

1. Use targetted advertising

Study the behaviour of your customers. Group your customers into groups. Figure out their buying patterns based on past purchases and from there, decide if you want you want to include them into which group of mailers. There are consultants that specialises in consumer behaviour and advertising- so you may want to engage their expertise for long term growth. With targetted advertising, you stand a better chance of reaching as many potential converts at the lowest cost.

2. Create a good website

Websites are indespensible and is your 24hours marketing tool. In the long run, websites are very cost effective to run. Potential customers who do not have access to your materials can refer to your website anytime of the day. Make sure the url ties the customer back to your company and is easy to remember. Keep contents updated, offer various perks and incentives (such as free gift or discount vouchers) for the customers to visit it. Let customer know the site’s name in gift premiums, company stationery, mails, yellow pages, your company signboard and advertisements.

3. If you must resort to e-newsletter, then build relationships

This is where I feel small business will have an advantage- establishing relationships and building trust with the customers. If the customer knows you, then the customer will tend to read emails sent by you and not just mark your emails as ‘spam’. But don’t overdo it and keep bombarding all your customers with constant emails. Be selective- again divide them into groups and remember to send a snail mail card once a while.

The cheapest advertising methods does not necessary mean is the most effective. Brick and mortar businesses are different from internet businesses or blogs. If you surf the net and like a particular website/blog, you can happily and voluntarily subscribe to their RSS feed via email (so that you get notified via email of their offers). We sign up because the bloggers/site provides us value- like giving great tips on areas that we like, etc. But it is a different game altogether if you are operating a brick and mortar business and trying to get people to visit your shop.

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  • Matt Hanson Nov 10, 2008 Link Reply

    Good writing. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed my Google News Reader..

    Matt Hanson

  • BIZI Nov 15, 2008 Link Reply
  • Yin Teing Nov 18, 2008 Link Reply

    Matt, thanks very much.
    Bizi, yes email campaigns help- just that my concern is that many of these emails are going to junk mail folders.

  • Cornell Mrozek Mar 21, 2010 Link Reply

    Another new addition, I truly couldn’t have reported that much better myself.

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