October 24, 2017

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

It goes without saying that digital marketing is booming. Digital ad spending in Canada is projected to hit $4.78 billion in 2017, and to nearly double by 2021. It allows us to reach a new audience that isn’t local, can incorporate animation and encourages social interaction, depending on the medium. A neuroscientific study conducted by Temple University found that digital ads 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. A Harvard Business Review study from 2012 found that email-only marketing campaigns had an ROI 95 times higher than direct mail or combined email and direct mail campaigns. It’s undeniable – email marketing drives results, with 44% of people making a purchase after receiving a promotional email.

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 Canada’s CASL laws have made the email marketing landscape much different than in the US. 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. Spending on direct mail advertising in Canada is an estimated $345 million annually, with a projected growth of 0.6%. And when pitted against email, direct mail is the better performer. A study by Canada Post revealed that the sensory experience of direct mail has a lasting effect on the viewer, with participants in the study interacting with direct mail for 118%
longer than digital ads. In addition, direct mail requires less cognitive effort to process, which can make it easier to understand, and more memorable.

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?
  • Ensure you have a 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.