E-mail is the cheapest method of communicating available as of this date. The advantage with email is that you can send email to many people at the same time just with the click of a mouse where as in the case of direct mails one has to go through putting letters in envelopes for each and every person, make different address labels, mail it and also have to bear the cost of mailing. Time is money and e-mail marketing saves a lot of time.
While e-mail marketing might look easy but if you compare the net result the story is totally different. When you are marketing through e-mail you go to make sure that you are e-mailing the right person otherwise the e-mail would end up going to junk folder. Also you got to be careful that you don't miss the subject or the body of the e-mail otherwise the net result would be same. In this age of spamming, spammers use variety of subjects, so you have to put the subject keeping in mind that it wouldn't send your e-mail to the spam folder again. In contract the direct mail gets a better treatment. Studies show that direct mail is more efficient and has better success than e-mail. First, it is not as easy to block direct mail as junk e-mail and secondly the process of blocking mails itself is not automated like e-mail. The other reason why people hate e-mail marketing is due to constant bombarding of e-mails from spammers and illegal marketers from Nigerian money scams to porn to online prescription drugs to stock quotes to what not. In addition to that, you also get promotional offers from big companies and who can ignore phishing these days. Due to all these people have developed a negative perception about e-mail marketing and they simply delete or spam the e-mail if they do not identify it as their regular e-mail. In contrast direct mail is seen with respect and people pick their mail as a daily routine and open them with a priority.
Direct mail has a personal feel attached to it, one of the reasons why people prefer mail greetings over an electronic greeting. It takes time to personalize a direct mail where as an e-mail is instant and the fate of e-mail is also instant i.e. immediate deletion. Researchers are constantly puzzled by the mystery surrounding why people are so enthusiastic about direct mail. But no worries this only good news for the marketers that they have something in their tool kit that works. So marketers have the mailing list of potential customers handy and send some nicely composed letters to them about your company and its products.
Snail mail has a potential of going through the hands of gatekeepers and administrative assistants before actually going to their boss which can end up being thrown in trash. The survival chances are rare unless its subject is business oriented and has some important information. But e-mail wins in this regard, as it reaches directly the person to which it is intended to go, after that its fate is left to the person whether to read or send it to spam folder.
A more scientific explanation of why direct mail is dearer to people than e-mail is the sensory perception of people. A direct mail uses three of the four senses of a person i.e. visual, verbal, listening and touching where as e-mail does not use sense of listening and touching. But this can be achieved by adding appealing graphics, text reading ability and streaming audio to the e-mail.
The statistics show that direct mail has not died and in fact the volume has grown by leaps and bounds in past few decades. A typical example is the fact that we receive more magazines, journals, mails from universities, DVDs etc. than we used to receive few years ago. This leaves the marketers with a dilemma about which method to use. The answer is simple, use email to contact only those people who you know and use direct mail for the people who don't know you.