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Phone, Mail, or Email Marketing? The Pros and Cons

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There has always been one eternal question in marketing: what is the shortest path between you and your next paying customer?

We already know the right answer to this question: “It depends.” But a better answer is that effective marketing is very context-dependent. So let’s look at the pros and cons of three of today’s key marketing approaches – phone, mail and email marketing.

Telemarketing has practically been with us ever since Alexander Graham Bell first solicited his assistant Watson from the next room in 1876. Its key advantage is that it is the only one of these three approaches that builds an interactive personal connection with a prospect – one that allows you to qualify him or her, ask questions, and respond to their needs. Big-ticket products and services, particularly in a business-to-business environment, are often sold as the result of a sales process that begins with a phone contact. Conversely, large scale telemarketing often is a key ingredient of selling consumer products and services in large volumes.

Telemarketing also has numerous drawbacks. It is labor-intensive, time-bound, and requires a good telecommunications infrastructure when used on more than a small scale. Perhaps most importantly, it requires the right business context. If you are selling an airliner or high-end financial services, those prospects may expect an initial phone call, while carpet-bombing consumers with telephone sales pitches at dinnertime may provoke mostly negative responses. Moreover, unsolicited calls to consumer wireless phones can lead to large fines under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

Direct mail marketing gives businesses an opportunity they do not have with phone or email: the chance to deliver content-rich information in print or even multimedia form. (For example, anyone who belongs to Generation X or older remembers those ubiquitous AOL CDs that were a fixture of the 1990s.) Anyone with a valid mailing address is a potential prospect, it is a medium that lends itself well to A-B testing as well as demographic targeting, and there are few if any regulatory roadblocks to targeting consumers with a direct mail campaign.

Drawbacks of direct mail include its expense per prospect, in terms of time, content costs, and mailing costs. This is particularly a disadvantage for smaller businesses, given the economies of scale that reduce per-unit printing and mailing costs for those who can afford very large campaigns. Response rates are generally low and can vary widely, and the accuracy of your contact data is a critical factor in your costs and profitability.

Email marketing is, relatively speaking, the new kid on the block – even though it now has its own decades-long track record. It has one towering advantage over the other two approaches: a much lower cost per contact that only minimally scales with the size of your prospect base, once you have a list that opts in. Email also gives you the opportunity to include rich media content, or make “warm call” introductions to individual prospects as a precursor to telephone contact.

Disadvantages of email include being the easiest mode of contact for people to ignore – particularly as the inbox sizes of busy people continue to expand – as well as the need to have accurate contact information from people who have opted in to hear from you, to avoid consequences for spamming from your internet services provider.

A common thread through each of these marketing approaches is data quality. Inaccurate, incomplete or outdated contact information will cost you in time and marketing expenditure at the very least, and in the worst cases could subject your business to substantial penalties. And in a world where up to 25% of your contact data is bad, and up to 70% goes out of date each year, a data quality strategy is absolutely necessary for effective marketing.

The best marketing strategy? As we said earlier, it depends. But with the right approach to data quality, you can get the maximum ROI from any approach that fits your business.

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